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    Wednesday
    Oct192011

    Direct Response Copywriter on the Split Infinitive

    Among writers, the split infinitive is one of the most controversial style issues.

    It’s not a grammatical issue. Simple agreement is part of being grammatically correct.

    We write: ‘I like you’ not ‘I likes you.’

    But the grammatical rule books vacillate when it comes to the split infinitive.

    ‘To boldly go where no man has gone before.’

    Ummmmm….

    What would you write in place of the most famous split infinitive of all time?

    I’m not a TV writer so I won’t venture into outer space with our friends at Star Trek but I’m a direct response copywriter so I’ll discuss the split infinitive as it relates to sales and persuasion…and conversion. To me, shunting a clause or an adverb in the middle of the infinitive is unnecessary 99.9% of the time.

    If I wrote ‘to boldly go’ in copy, I would replace the split infinitive with a more vivid verb.

    I might write...

     

    • To venture
    • To travel
    • To globetrot
    • To voyage
    • To explore

     

    In general, a verb like ‘to go’ is weak and, even in direct response copywriting, strong verbs make for better copy.

    I’m always finding ways to reduce word count in direct response copy and will always work to use two words instead of three. Yet another reason to avoid the split infinitive. 

    Now, in non-commercial writing, I always avoid the split infinitive. I hate it.

    BUT in direct response copywriting, if a split test shows that a headline with a split infinitive beats a headline without a split infinitive, then I’m all for the split infinitive. Even if the stylist in me is squirming a touch.

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    I'm a direct response copywriter based in Charlotte, North Carolina. I specialize in providing copy and content for the direct marketing environment for clients around the world. Enter your info to the right for my free series: Seven Steps to High Converting Copy. Or contact me here.

    Sunday
    Oct022011

    Direct Response Copywriter on Crispness

    I spent my formative years in England. There were three TV stations and two of them only broadcast 10 hours a day. So I listened to the radio and I love radio to this day.

    BBC Radio 1 had a show called ‘Pick of the Pops’ and the DJ for decades was Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman. He began each show thus:

    Greetings Pop Pickers

    Look no further for an example of crisp copy.

    The wonderful Alan 'Fluff' Freeman on Pick of the Pops...THIS WAY to crisp copy...

    I worked with one of the giants of direct response copywriting and he wrote that he admired the crispness of my copy. One of the nicest things anyone has ever said about me. I work hard to keep the copy tight and readable. Yes, direct response copy must be conversational but it must also avoid tongue-twisters.

    She sells sea shells by the sea shore…

    ...And similar structures will not appear in my copy.

    Let’s go back to our friend, Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman. ‘Greetings pop pickers’ includes obvious alliteration: 'pop pickers' and this comes from the alliteration in the title of the show ‘Pick of the Pops.’

    Alliteration, according to my dictionary, is the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words.

    I would go one step further and describe ‘Pick of the Pops’ as consonance…alliteration with clear use of a consonant: ‘Pop Pickers.’

    For the copywriter, consonance is a powerful weapon I like to use sparingly. Why? Normal conversation rarely includes alliteration.

    ‘Fluff’ might come up to you and say, ‘Greetings Pop Pickers’ but I won’t—at least not in regular daily conversation.

    The opposite of consonance is assonance and this has nothing to do with donkeys. I avoid assonance: alliteration with vowels. I go one step further and include ‘internal’ assonance as writing to be avoided.

    Some examples:

    • An interesting interlude…
    • The eternal…
    • You use…

    Internal assonance trips up the reader quickly and a tripped up reader will stop reading.

    Let’s take a look at some crisp writing. Martin Amis, who is stylistically all over the place and whose quality can vary, can also be supremely brilliant and his writing can be textbook crisp.

    From his novel, London Fields. The novel’s main characters have crisp names.

    • Nicola Six
    • Keith Talent
    • Guy Clinch

    From the book.

    Keith’s account of the football match. I’ve heard many such summaries from him – of boxing matches, snooker matches, and of course darts matches. At first I thought he just memorized sections of the tabloid sports pages. Absolutely wrong.

    BUT…in the previous paragraph…Amis slips into some internal assonance.

    "How will we teach the children…"

    I would avoid, ‘will we’ because of the double ‘whe’ sounds.

    I’m glad, I think, that I never met Hunter S. Thompson but there’s no doubting the power of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I once made the mistake of renting a cassette featuring Thompson reading this book and it was unhearable…just pure mumbling. But let’s take a look at some crisp prose from the pages of the book.

    Suddenly I felt guilty again. The shark! Where was it? I tossed the paper aside and began to pace. Losing control, I felt my whole act slipping…and then I saw the car, swooping down a ramp in the next-door garage. Deliverance! I grasped my leather satchel and moved forward to meet my wheels.

    The world’s crispest writer might be copywriter Herschell Gordon Lewis. From his excellent book about copywriting, On the Art of Writing Copy.

    That’s a marketing problem, not a copy problem. But copy can set the right climate. A product enclosure, properly worded, can head off arguments. For example: You sell consumer electronics. Into each box goes a neatly typed or printed piece of copy.

    Gloriously crisp.

    There’s no correlation between short sentences and crisp writing and it’s a mistake to turn copy into a series. Of short sentences. And phrases. Now. Kept short. Truncated.

    A long sentence can be crisp even though I would typically avoid long sentences in direct response copy, and press release writing, and TV scripts, and any writing that’s striving to sell products or services—even products and services I’m trying to sell to writers who enjoy long sentences and are looking for a way to garner more information about the art and craft of constructing elongated sentences replete with adjectival clauses, adverbial clauses, and, in fact, all types of clauses but only those clauses that clarify the ultimate meaning of the sentence so the copy motivates the reader to take the next step, whether it’s handing over an email address or pulling a credit card out of their purse or wallet.

    I kept that one short.

    Pop pickers.

    Copy cognoscenti.

    I wouldn’t use the phrase ‘crisp copy’ in my copy because it’s a tongue-twister and could trip the reader.

    Oh and if you want to meet the wonderful Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman, go here. The king of all DJs.

    Not arf!

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    I'm a direct response copywriter based in Charlotte, North Carolina. I specialize in providing copy and content for the direct marketing environment for clients around the world. Enter your info to the right for my free series: Seven Steps to High Converting Copy. Or contact me here.

    Saturday
    Oct012011

    Direct Response Copywriter on Spam and Other Meaty Issues

    When you're marketing by email, the subject line is extremely important. Here's a subject line for a recent, and totally unsolicited, email I received. 

    This email is a DIRECT response to a resume that you posted on Career Builder, THIS IS NOT SPAM!

    It IS spam and it's amateur to write 'it's not spam' when it's pure 100% spam. And I know all about spam: I live in North Carolina, the home of spam.

    Proven direct response headlines work well as subject lines...with one caveat: subject lines have to be shorter.

    But "How to" and "Five ways" and "WARNING:..." headlines work well. Subject lines that introduce stories are effective--as are topical subject lines. Many spam filters kick out emails with subject lines that include a question.

    If you want to destroy trust with the reader, include the sentence: THIS IS NOT SPAM!

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    I'm a direct response copywriter based in Charlotte, North Carolina. I specialize in providing copy and content for the direct marketing environment for clients around the world. Enter your info to the right for my free series: Seven Steps to High Converting Copy. Or contact me here.

    Thursday
    Sep292011

    Copywriter Falls Prey to the 'Bait and Switch'

    The wonderful lady who ran the local coffeshop I used to frequent is moving. She's always in a great mood and I got to know her quite well. So I went to get her a 'thank you' card today. I absolutely refuse to pay ridiculous amounts for cards (it's the thought that counts) so I went straight for the '99 cents' section in the card store.

    When I went to pay, it turned out the card cost two dollars.

    "But it was in the 99 cents section," I said. "In fact, it was right in the middle of the 99 cents section."

    "It's two dollars," repeated the sales assistant.

    The classic bait and switch. And I fell for it. In a card store run by a big company...Hallmark. I expected more.

    My local shopping center includes eight stores where I can buy cards and related 'stuff' and I'll be going to those from this point forward.

    When I tell people I'm a direct response copywriter and I detail what I do, many people think I'm in some type of 'rip off' business. A business that would use 'bait and switch' tactics.

    One of my personal copywriting rules is to be clear, truthful, and straightforward. There's NEVER a time when it's appropriate, or useful, for a competent copywriter to lie in order to convert. Plus it's not ethical.

    I'm writing to build trust and 'bait and switch' destroys trust.

    *

    On another note, here's a headline from my local newspaper's website.

    BOOK LOVERS AND WRITES UNITE

    Oh for an 'R' and some competent copy editing.

    I believe that grammar and spelling are extremely important for the professional direct response copywriter. Again--some readers are going to stop reading when they see a typo. Let's remember, we're in direct response to maximize response and it's our job to use every technique and tactic to achieve this goal--including solid grammar and spelling.

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    I'm a direct response copywriter based in Charlotte, North Carolina. I specialize in providing copy and content for the direct marketing environment for clients around the world. Enter your info to the right for my free series: Seven Steps to High Converting CopyOr contact me here for a direct response copywriting quote.

    Wednesday
    Sep282011

    Copywriter Looks at Beautiful Website...and Weeps

    What's the point of investing in a new website?

    This might seem like an obvious question...along the lines of 'why put gas in your car?' But very few companies know how to answer the question, 'what's the point of investing in a new website?'

    Just this afternoon, I received an email (unsolicited) from a company trumpeting the launch of their new website.

    Take a look here.

    It's beautiful and expensive (I'm certain) and the photos are professional.

    BUT...what's the point of the website?

    • To look great?
    • To enhance the brand?
    • To get great search results?

    The site is for a chain of marinas. A marina makes money by renting slips and providing boat services. A marina needs leads; it needs a database of prospects; it needs repair business...and all the marketing 'juice' it can get to generate revenue from its core business.

    Yet this gloriously produced website lacks:

    • A call to action. (DUH!)
    • Any way to opt in to a database.
    • An offer (DOUBLE DUH!)

    If you feel so moved, check the site against my direct response checklist.

    Does this company want a pretty website or does it want leads and revenue?

    I don't design and develop websites, but, as a direct response copywriter, I write copy for websites. There's only one goal of every word of my direct response copywriting: persuade readers to take the next step in the sales process. So I get a bit upset when a company spends a small fortune on a new website yet completely misses the point...or boat...

    A couple of additional notes:

    • Big Flash presence (distracting).
    • Cliché copy with no meat or CTA (shoddy).
    • I don't blame the website company but I question the marketing knowledge of the decision maker at the marina company.

    Memo to all business owners: TELL YOUR WEBSITE COMPANY YOU WANT YOUR WEBSITE TO HELP YOU MAKE MONEY.

    Apologies for getting ornery and weepy, even. In future posts, I'll focus on websites that 'get it.' Send me examples.

    *

    I'm a direct response copywriter based in Charlotte, North Carolina. I specialize in providing copy and content for the direct marketing environment for clients around the world. Enter your info to the right for my free series: Seven Steps to High Converting CopyOr contact me here for a direct response copywriting quote.