Monthly Archives: November 2014

How To Write a Great Headline? Ask Gorbachev.

Here's a picture of Putin. But the 9-word snapshot of him by Mikhail Gorbachev is even more informative.
Here’s a picture of Putin. But the 9-word ‘snapshot’ of him by Mikhail Gorbachev is even more informative.

It’s in the running for the best headline of the week.

Just nine words.

But it’s so jam packed with information and authority that the world from Obama on down is probably taking notice and nodding their heads in affirmation.

Maybe you did that as well.

“Vladimir Putin views himself as second only to God.”

It’s from Mikhail Gorbachev.

So you have a testimonial from an insider that explains a lot.

It’s a full story of why we could be facing a second cold war.

There are other lines that tell a complete story.

One is known as a six-word novel.

“Baby shoes for sale. Never worn.”

That’s something Ernest Hemingway created on a bet.

It’s used to teach young copywriters how to tell a complete story in the most economical way possible.

Similarly there’s another that serves the same purpose. It’s 14 words.

“Drum kit for sale. Call the owner’s mother when the owner isn’t at home.”

How about the headlines you and your agency develop for your brand?

How strong are they? Can they tell a story that will stop your target audience and make them read on?

Do they have narrative quality?

Can they compete with a headline for a language-learning course?

The visual is an Asian woman, a close-up on her face.

The headline is “She wants to put her tongue in your mouth”.

Another for Colgate Toothpaste shows a sandwich with one bite taken out of it.

The line is “The Next Thing That Gets Eaten Is Your Teeth”.

Yet another is for a special video system for learning. It’s aimed at those who run school districts.

“A Video System So Advanced Kids May Ask To Come in On Saturday.”

One more, from a writer called Richard Foster …

Aimed at girls 11-14.

The visual is a close-up of a woman’s hand trying to get a thread to go into the eye of a needle.

The line is “Like most things in life, inserting a tampon takes a lot of practice”.

It’s for Lil-lets Tampons.

So what happened to strong headlines? Where are they when it comes to online ads, emails, white papers and Website content?

Where’s the well-judged audacity?

Too many messaging efforts these days are the height of drabness, a yawn.

But you already knew that, right?

Because isn’t that why you often go out of your way to avoid advertising?

Share with us. How do you and your agency go about creating the kind of messaging that’s the opposite of inert and dull? Leave your comment in the box below. Thanks for reading, Steve Ulin



Three Fst Fwd Ways For Learning.

Learn to play guitar in a day? Seems like an uphill battle, doesn’t it? But with Bert Weedon’s book many without an ounce of talent did it. Oh yes, and rock stars you know well started that way.
Learn to play guitar in a day? Seems like an uphill battle, doesn’t it? But with Bert Weedon’s book many without an ounce of talent did it. Oh yes … and rock stars you know well started that way.

We’re all in a rush. Urgency rules.

So what can you do in say, a day?

One Day University for starters.

The name rates high with those who know it. It’s an innovative thought.

That’s not just my opinion, but the take of thousands who’ve attended.

Those people would be the first to say it’s a breakthrough.

Because it starts with something that’s long and arduous and remakes it as short and fun to do.

So you get a whole new product category with no competition.

Imagine not having competitors, life would be sweeter in the office, wouldn’t it?

One Day University comes with the tagline ‘Go back to college for just one day’, an appealing thought for its ‘time-travel’ overtones.

Parents with kids in university respond to it. Their enthusiasm runs off the charts.

Maybe because it’s a fresh way to keep up with young people and experience college with a new mindset.

It’s the joy of learning personified. No 15-page papers, no pop quizzes, just a pure feast for the brain.

It’s all about lifelong learning with famous professors on the podium. A ‘great minds’ series come to life.

You can experience it in New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Boston, Phoenix, Naples, Fl. and Seattle.

I’m signing up for ‘Learning from Leonardo: Thinking Creatively about Creativity’ given by a New York University professor.

That should be a day well spent in the fifteenth century.

Another thing you can do in a day is learn to play guitar.

It seems daunting, doesn’t it? Six strings, 24 frets and you’re all thumbs.

But with Bert Weedon’s book, Play in a Day, why not give it a whirl.

It turns the idea of ‘difficulty’ on its head.

The title ,‘Guitarist’, could become your claim to fame at an open mike night in your local bar.

Imagine being able to get up and play something like Stand By Me after only just a few ticks of the clock.

Weedon’s book has made musicians of more than a few people.

Those like Eric Clapton, Mike Oldfield, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John Lennon, Pete Townshend and Sting.

This is where they all started when there was urgency to get a band together and become a rock star overnight.

What I like about One Day University and learning guitar in a day is their ‘Just Do It’ qualities.

After all, we can achieve more than we think if we can just take that first step.

To boost your abilities as a marketer overnight, there’s

Since last visiting the site I see you can quickly learn everything from How To Unspoil a Child, to How To Prevent Ebola and How To Travel Cheaply in Europe.

Professionally speaking, you might want to have a look at How To Create a Narrative.

You’ll find it can get your brain working in new, more effective ways.

We’ve all decided that storytelling is key to presenting a product or service. It a powerful driver for engagement and memorability.

So getting your narrative right can help you frame your messaging and create content to avoid ideas that are wearily familiar.

We’re talking thinking that’s deadeningly ordinary and inert.

When you brief your agency or judge their work you’ll be more effective and more aware of what will interest your target audience.

With you can improve your thinking by the time you go back to work tomorrow morning.

When you think of it, that’s even faster than One Day University.

PS. Fast learning for your kids? Don’t overlook Kahn Academy. It could be the best news about algebra since the days chalk squeaked on a blackboard.

Share with us. How do you keep up with technology, changes in the marketplace and the progress of your competitors? Thanks for reading. Regards, Steve Ulin



Original Thinking. And Not So Original Thinking.

Aston Martin. The car you saw in all those James Bond films. Great speed ... and yes, nice grillwork.
Aston Martin. The car you saw in all those James Bond films. Great speed … and yes, nice grillwork.


These days there are a lot of copies running around our roads in the form of the grillwork of Ford cars.

You might have noticed.

The new grill design lifts Ford away from an indifferent look. It gives their cars panache and brio.

It adds oomph and an expensive bearing.

The new Fords gain in appeal because of it.

But I liked the Ford grill better in its original form.

On Aston Martin cars. They came up with it in the 1950s — I believe with their DB4 model.

Of course, Ford owned Aston Martin not so long ago.

Maybe that’s when the Aston Martin grill design made such an impression that it subconsciously re-emerged on new Ford cars.

Well, they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

On that subject let’s move from Ford to Rolls Royce and a famous ad by David Ogilvy.

You probably studied it somewhere along the line:

‘At 60 miles an hour the loudest

noise in this new Rolls Royce comes from

the electric clock.’

Thirty years before, in the February 27th, 1933 issue of Time Magazine, the Pierce-Arrow car company ran this ad:

‘The only sound one can hear in the

new Pierce-Arrow is the ticking of the

electric clock.’

Both ads sold cars.

The Pierce-Arrow ad, originally written in 1933.
The Pierce-Arrow ad, originally written in 1933.

Yes, there are similarities, but the point is many learn from the past.

People take inspiration from what’s gone before. It’s a fact of life.

You can bet if an idea is good enough it will usually get picked up again and again.

That thought could be a starting point if you’re trying to improve the effectiveness of your email campaigns.

At a recent conference, a marketer asked how he could learn to write better copy for his email blasts.

He said he and his agency could use some ‘ideas that really work’.

The good news is a lot of thought has already gone into that area by an Advertising Hall of Fame Winner.

That’s John Caples in his books on direct marketing from the 1960s.

Read them, study them, consider the approaches he highlights.

You might be wondering … why look back to the 1960s for a better way to create a digital form of communication?

Strangely enough, not everyone realizes that email blasts are really direct response efforts.

These days they’re propelled by technology instead of stamps from the US Post Office.

So it pays to go back and learn about direct response techniques.

Techniques that have been tested over and over again to prove that they engage people and sell product.

This is summed up best by the direct marketing expert and author of many books on the subject, Drayton Bird.

He said something to this effect … ‘ways to communicate may change, but human nature doesn’t’.

Of course, he’s right. People are still human in 2014.

They respond to basic needs, desires and fears … to earn more, to improve themselves, to gain an advantage, to save money, to learn, to avoid difficulties.

So with motivations like these, John Caples is there for you with ideas on how to add power to your email campaigns.

Have a look at his book, Tested Advertising Methods.

Especially a section called ‘35 Headline Formulas’.

You’ll find they’re an effective way to learn to make your emails more engaging and pay their way with sales.

Use them as starting points for your thinking. Update and adapt them to your needs.

They’re a study in adding more purpose to your communications.

Okay, so we’re not exactly talking about original thinking here.

But we are talking about learning more and being able to profit more.

Share with us. How do you and your agency go about getting fresh ideas for your brand(s)? What books do you read? What conferences have been most helpful? Thanks for reading. Regards, Steve Ulin




Where Are We, 1999? Or Is It Worse Than That?

Here's a selfie of me heading into the future. Of course, like many there may be confusion as to where the future lies. It may be in the total opposite direction.
You could think of this as a selfie from  companies intent on dashing into the future. It’s how many see themselves. But there’s often confusion as to where the future lies. One thing’s for sure, it’s not in the way we did things yesterday, or in how we operated in our old companies.

How can the future be the future if it repeats the past?

In marketing and advertising we’re often doing the same things, have you noticed?

Old ideas on a digital platform are still old ideas.

They’re a groan no matter what.

After all, when you disrupt YouTube videos with commercials isn’t that a backward step?

Few would wish those spots were a millisecond longer than they are.

They’ve got just enough inventiveness and engagement power to reach the mediocre level.

That’s not just me grousing.

Keep your ears open next time you’re in Starbucks. More than a few people are irked by boring online ads.

Now, how about television?

The North Carolina Senate race has set a record for spending.

$100 Million plus, with more than 20,000 ads in the last two weeks.

Most of it is on TV.

But is everyone watching television these days? Not really.

These spots come on when anyone with a life is doing other things.

Like shopping for lululemon pants, reading directions to build an Ikea coffee table,  waiting for an upgrade at the Verizon store or getting carrots, kale, apples and wheat grass together to juice up a smoothie.

The TV screen isn’t the priority it once was, or haven’t the political campaign planners heard that.

Why haven’t both sides taken this to heart and replicated the President’s social media strategies?

The ones that put him the White House.

How can you spend so much and ignore the way your target audience gets its information?

In any case, election day is tomorrow. But even before the North Carolina polls open there’s already a clear winner.

Media companies swimming in campaign millions.

In my hunt for the future I’m going to have to go back to reading about innovations like a thought-controlled wheel chair.

It’s being developed by a 27-year-old engineer called Jordan Son Nguyen.

Or maybe next time I rent a car I’ll get one that parks itself. Then head in to a clinic to be fitted with a microchip in my hand.

That way, with something called a ‘RFID transponder’, I can do away with credit cards, a passport and the need to recount my medical history if I’m brought into an ER Room unconscious.

More on the subject of exciting new things, I’ll be looking forward to February 2015 for the new Vince Gilligan series, Better Call Saul. On my iPad, of course.

For those who love a good story and an involving narrative, that clearly defines the future.

Share with us. How do we go beyond contenting ourselves with ‘likes’ and ‘click through’ rates? How do we start using digital in ways that aren’t ‘last year’ or ‘last century’? Thanks for reading. Regards, Steve Ulin