Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008

Do you "we" on potential customers?

Ever been on a blind date with someone who chatters incessantly about himself or herself, never bothering to ask a question about YOU? As the unrelenting drone of "blah-blah-blah-me-me-me" anesthetizes your brain, you plot to escape out the bathroom window. You wonder if your date would notice.

It's amazing, but some advertisers act like that boorish blind date, using advertising communications that "we" on their prospects. In other words, they unintentionally turn off potential customers by focusing exclusively on themselves. For example:

"Here at Acme Corporation, Inc., the Midwest's largest widget manufacturing company, we produce 3.2 million widgets daily, and we ship them to more than 2,300 major customers across the nation with our fleet of 250 tractor-trailers.

"We have won more than 40 "Widgie"® awards from the Widget Association of America (WAA) for excellent safety records in our state-of-the-art production facility."

As a potential widget customer, all I hear is "we-we-we." What about "me-me-me?"

I'll do business with a company that offers me ways to solve a problem, save money, or find a better way to get something done -- not a company that just crows about how great they are. I'm thinking of buying widgets from Apogee Corporation. Their brochure says:

"You have a problem: leaky dolyflappers. We have the solution: Apogee customized widgets.

"Wouldn't it be great if you could eliminate the safety hazard of dolyflapper leaks on your plant floor and the time and labor costs of cleaning them up? Now you can, with Apogee customized widgets.

"Customers told us their number one headache is leaking dolyflappers. Those leaks occur because most widgets are manufactured to such wide tolerances that they can't possibly prevent leaks in every application. But Apogee widgets can, because they are custom-manufactured to your dolyflapper specifications. . . ."

As a potential customer, I think, "Hey. Leaking dolyflappers IS my biggest headache! These folks really know my business! I'm calling Apogee!"

To reach new customers, communicate using less "we" and more "you." Be interested in learning about potential customers' challenges. Develop a dialogue with them, as you would with a fascinating blind date. Find a way to meet their challenges, and tell them about it in a compelling way. Now, that could be the start of something big!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Korean Air: Zombies in space?

A jet plane is something that gets you quickly from one part of the world to another, preferably on time and without too much inconvenience or discomfort. Along the way, you may get some beverages ($$), a pillow ($), and a blanket ($). What you don't get or expect, I would imagine, is high-fashion models and cabin attendants. So maybe I'm dense, but I don't get Korean Air's current TV campaign.

It's black and white, except for certain details which are rendered in washed-out turquoise. For instance, part of the high-fashion outfit of a model twirling on the runway; pieces of the uniform of (what I assume is) a Korean Air cabin attendant looking off to one side and shown diagonally in slo-mo, as if she's tripping; and, of course, the logo. Some words appear on the screen from time to time, seemingly unrelated to the visuals. Inscrutable.

You can see similar images on their website here. But the part of the site where you can "experience" their TV commercials doesn't work. A bad omen for your Korean Air travel experience.

Down to practical matters. If I had to guess, I would say this commercial is aimed at a very specific (microscopic) target audience: female fashionistas who are traveling from the U.S. to South Korea. Or, and this just occurred to me (I'm pretty dense sometimes): perhaps it's aimed at male sex tourists anticipating an aperitif of sensuality to get them in the mood for what awaits them in Seoul. Aaaargh. If that's it, I don't want to know.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Starbucks' Big Mushy Hit: Oatmeal?

Who knew a homely menu entry like oatmeal would win the hearts of Starbucks customers? Is it because as our 401(k)s get thinner and thinner, we're starving for the comfiest of comfort foods? Something warm, sweet, easy to digest, and soothing to our nervous tum-tums?

Does it remind us of home? Of Grandma? The good old days before 9/11 and global economic collapse? Perhaps. And there's nothing wrong with that. We all need a little love these days, even if it comes in a cardboard cup with a plastic spoon.

But isn't several dollars a bit much to pay for a big dollop of piping-hot good feeling? It takes virtually no time to make quick oatmeal or instant oatmeal at home for a lot less. Only Grandma never made quick or instant oatmeal. And something about making it for yourself takes away that pampered, cared-for feeling. So as odd as it sounds, oatmeal at Starbucks may be a truly brilliant idea, one that can save Starbucks' bacon, so to speak.

Wonder what Starbucks' next big comfort-food hit will be. Meat loaf and mashed potatoes? Mmm.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Protect yourself against "clickjacking"

There's a new way for Web baddies to get control of your computer. Apparently, so simple a child could do the code.

Clickjacking has been identified as a vulnerability for the Adobe Flash player, as well as for every major browser, including Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, Safari and even the newly released Google Chrome.

"It is a very serious problem," said Giorgio Maone, the author of a widely praised free Firefox extension called NoScript, which blocks potentially malicious scripts from running in the Firefox browser.

So don't hesitate. Download NoScript now. It's free, and it could save you a whole heap o' trouble.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Please don't write your own copy

Successful business owners, particularly entrepreneurs, are amazing people. They fight the odds to get financing, get a business up on its feet and make a success of it. A business goes from nothing to something big by the sweat of the owner's brow.

Yes, these business owners are courageous, tough, capable and determined, and they can do almost anything they set their minds to. Note that I said, "almost."

Having just finished reading an advertorial supplement featuring local small businesses, I have learned interesting facts about some companies I didn't know existed. I also have learned that a few of their owners could use help from someone who knows their way around a sentence.

There is a rhythm and music to well-written prose, and the rules of English are intended to make your sentences sing on-beat and in tune. However, many brilliant and creative people have stored those rules in the basements of their brains, behind the unused exercycle and Great-Aunt Ellie's company china. As a consequence, their prose sounds more like a high school musical than a Broadway blockbuster.

In the advertorial supplement, one company's piece was a minefield of grammatical, usage and punctuation goofs. Not to mention one very weirdly structured sentence, a diagram of which would look like the zig-zag path "Billy" in "Family Circus" takes on the way home. Billy always makes it to his own back door in the end, but some of this advertiser's sentences veered off the path and became irretrievably lost in the woods.

Awkward sentence structure is a common pitfall for amateur writers. But improper punctuation comes in a close second, for example, being too generous or too miserly with commas. The phrase, "big black Labrador dog," doesn't require commas to clarify its meaning, ala "big, black, Labrador, dog." If you substitute the word "and" for the commas, and it sounds silly, you don't need the commas. Say, "big and black and Labrador and dog," and then delete the superfluous commas.

But you do need commas in a sentence like, "There ahead of the Jeep just a hundred feet away he saw a rhino and he was scared out of his wits." (Hemingway would have made that two short sentences, but that's another subject.) You need commas after "There," "away," and "rhino." The last one is needed because "and he was..." is an independent clause. The test for an independent clause is to substitute a period for the "and" and see if the following phrase is a complete sentence. This one is. The previous two commas are needed for clarity. I'm too lazy to look up the technical reason. Please, just trust me on this.

It isn't easy to remember all those picky, sometimes arbitrary-seeming rules of grammar, syntax, punctuation and usage. The good news is that you don't need to. Because some of us have heads full of that kind of stuff, and we can put it to use writing your copy. You've got better things to do, like run your business. Save yourself time and energy, and improve your company's image by hiring a professional copywriter -- me, for instance -- to write your ads and other communications for you. So your company will sound as smart as you are.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Sarah Palin can't talk good.

Professor Henry Higgins' judgment of women in general in "My Fair Lady" was curmudgeonly and unfair. But it does seem true of Sarah Palin in particular: "[Sarah is] irrational, that's all there is to that. [Her head is] full of cotton, hay and rags." And maybe a little moose stew to boot. Even Republicans seem to realize McCain chose a bimbo as his running mate, now that it's too late to kick her off the ticket.

I contend that a person who can't construct a decent sentence can't frame a rational thought, either. Sarah Palin speaks English the way a salad shooter fires out sliced vegetables: quickly and indiscriminately. We have cringed for eight years over Shrub's mangled English. We don't need more word salad in the Executive branch (Yes, Sarah, the VP IS part of the Executive branch. I don't care what Dick Cheney told you.).

In the following Slate article, a brave diagrammer takes on Sarah Palin's "sentence constructions." Be sure to drop breadcrumbs as you venture into the dense underbrush of her verbiage. If you get lost, follow the crumbs back to the beginning of the sentence and try again.

Sarah's tongue-tiedness is all the more amazing since all of her answers were scripted on notecards. Apparently, she doesn't read well, either!

The sentences of Sarah Palin, diagrammed

Can Sarah Palin's sentences stand up to a grammarian?
By Kitty Burns Florey
Slate Magazine - Updated October 1, 2008


So let's take a crack at a few of Palin's doozies. From the Katie Couric interview:

It's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where—where do they go?

A diagrammer doesn't care about who "they" are in that last stuttered question or fuss over the problem of the head-rearing Putin coming into our "air space." A diagrammer simply diagrams. I didn't have a clue about what to do with the question that ends it. Otherwise, in its mice chase cats way, the sentence is perfectly diagrammable.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Badvertising for Jim Slattery

If I were a political candidate, I would not want my name associated with a lot of bare asses. But what do I know? I'm just an average viewer who, upon seeing Jim Slattery's TV spot for the first time, said, "EEEeeew."

The spot features rear views of a number of people going about their daily activities dressed in hospital gowns that are ... revealing of certain areas of the body we usually like to keep secret from others, aside from our loved ones. The idea being that Sen. Pat Roberts, our current representative in Washington, has left Kansas "uncovered" by health care. OK, I get it. But how come these people aren't even trying to cover their derrieres? Are they unaware their asses are blowing in the wind?

Jim said the other night that the new spot would "get some attention." But boy, howdy. Is it the right sort of attention? I don't think so.

To be clear, I am FOR Slattery. Pat Roberts has done a lot of harm during his tenure as U.S. Senator from Kansas. And in my opinion, if anybody should be associated with asses, it's Pat Roberts. But this spot is not going to help get rid of him. Unfortunately.

Everybody wants to get into the act!

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