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Scott McKay is a Toronto strategist, writer, creative director, patient manager, half-baked photographer and forcibly retired playwright.

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    "They had their cynical code worked out. The public are swine; advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill-bucket."

          – George Orwell






    "Advertising – a judicious mix of flattery and threats."

          – Northrop Frye






    "Chess is as an elaborate a waste of time as has ever been devised outside an advertising agency."

          – Raymond Chandler


    « an undercurrent of fear | Main | how to be a genius on absolutely no budget whatsoever »

    what to say when they say no one reads any more

    I recently got a DM package from a large telecommunications concern, trying to get me to choose their Internet service and save money by bundling it with some other service of theirs.

    The letter was clear and succinct, less than one page with lots of white space. The offer was strongly laid out, but the art director had managed to do a nice job designing it.

    Great direct mail, right?

    Nope. Complete waste of time.

    It was like they'd put a billboard or newspaper ad in an envelope, or like they'd sent me an email that was one large, single jpeg. Nothing personal about their communication in a space where I expect and require personal communication.

    I know why it happened. I've been in the kinds of meetings where these things get decided, and I have become vocal in opposition.

    "The letter copy's long," somone says. "No one reads any more." Forgetting that 75% of the Internet is words, and I understand that it's still somewhat popular.

    "Yeah, let's cut that," says someone else. "People these days are so busy they want to get right to the point. Let's get the product and/or service right up top." Forgetting that if I happen to be interested in your product and/or service, I will actually want to know about it, and this quest for knowledge will probably entail reading about it. Why not deliver that information instantaneously, i.e., in the letter, instead of forcing people to go to a computer and find your site so they can get it?

    Two gross generalizations and the entire room has turned against, not just your copy, but the idea that your copy has any value beyond stating what the price and offer are.

    If you're a writer, you can't wait until this point to feebly mount a defence. The moment any point like this is made, you have to, without getting antagonistic, immediately begin to assert the positives of copy. You have to remind people of the basics of DM – that most people who get your letter aren't going to look at it, no matter how long or short your copy is. And you don't care about them. It's the people who do want to know more, the people who are interested; they're the only ones you care about. And you must give them the info they need to click or pick up the phone.

    And an essential part of that is a story, a way of connecting emotionally with the product and/or service. A way of making your communication personal. A way of helping people understand your product's value and getting them to understand that they need it.

    If you don't give this audience what they need, you get 1% response, or 0.1%. If you do give it to them, you get 3% response. Or 10%. Or more. You go from being a very bad method for acquiring customers, to being staggeringly successful at it.

    Having worked in a marketing sector for a year now where stories are essential and copy is a primary way of delivering those stories, I have a new appreciation for building a message with long copy, and telling stories. I think there are a lot of marketers out there who need to relearn this fundamental truth.

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