the humble hang tag

it’s there when I return home with my new clothes, no doubt a well-designed and colorful little reminder of what i’m about to enjoy. it’s not big enough to be too flashy or gaudy or cumbersome, and sometimes it’s in a clever shape that i simply have to admire: it’s the hang tag, which presents another opportunity to impart brand personality.

if you don’t pay attention to a hang tag, then it’s not pulling its branding weight, even if it is a lightweight. it should be your last reminder of the unique brand copy voice, graphic style and overall message. just as with direct mail or billboards, it can be oddly shaped and have strategic cut-outs, even a scent for tucking into a drawer as a clothes freshener (and brand reminder for the user). it can bring a smile to your face and remind you of a website. it can double as a luggage tag, or it can be made of seeded paper to present you with flowers or herbs later.

the next time you snip a tag off of something, take a closer look at it to see what it’s really saying. if it’s up to its task, then it’s a sweet little reminder of why you purchased the item.

— kim taylor

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guest post: quickly learn the lingo of brandspeak

perk up your work with a word list

perk up your work with a word list

work on any account and you’ll quickly discover that every industry has a language all its own. on top of that, you’ll notice that every brand has its own special way of saying things, too.

when you’re writing for an account for a while, both brand and industry lingo become second nature. but when first starting a project, the words and phraseology of that trade may not be so obvious. and if you’re presented with a looming deadline, you’re going to need to learn the vernacular fast.

whenever i’ve been thrown into this situation, i’ve devised a little trick to get “word savvy” and build creative momentum. before ever writing a line of copy, i create a “words & phrases list.”

quite simply, i scour both the client’s and competitor’s websites and marketing materials, and jot down 50 to 100 industry-related words, phrases, and expressions for inspiration.
for instance, i recently started writing website copy for a brand of coffee. to avoid using the word “coffee” a gazillion times, my research provided me with alternatives such as blends, brews, roasts, beans, and grinds that i could sprinkle in.

and while i’m sure the coffee is “delicious,” it would be pretty boring if i kept describing it that generically. some alternative adjectives I came across for my list included aromatic, bold, balanced, complex, decadent, delicate, exotic, flavorful, full-bodied, handcrafted, indulgent, lush, premium, rich, satisfying, smooth, and seductive.

because coffee was not top of mind prior to starting this project, would these words have popped into my head without doing this research? probably some, but not all.
another good way to find helpful terminology is to Google industry-related news stories, and to choose the “related words” options at rhymezone.com and the OneLook.com dictionary.

putting the list into practice

during my first week, when assigned to write emails promoting a $5 sampler offer, i pulled out The List. With a menu of coffee-related words at my disposal, the process of generating strategically-sound headlines became that much easier. here’s the result:

SIP, SAVOR AND SAVE.
Try these blends for just $5 each.

GET BEANS FOR BEANS.
Find new favorites for just 5 bucks.

New Perk for New Customers:
BUY & TRY FOR JUST $5.

while wordplay like this may be frowned upon by some brands, others just love it. so know your client.

beyond words, are phrases. and if you’re working on an established brand, chances are, they have an established way of saying things. as writers, we should all strive to develop original and inventive copy. however, some clients are loathe to veer too far from their approved terminology, which they prefer to use again and again to “reinforce the brand.”
so, if in your brand word audit you see the same expressions used over and over again, you may want to throw them in here and there to put a smile on the client’s face. for this particular brand of coffee, pet phrases i massaged into the copy included:

– Distinctively rich, smooth taste that’s never bitter.
– Make your life rich and flavorful every day.
– Experience a uniquely luxurious coffee indulgence at home.

once you’ve compiled your word and phrase list, you then have a database of thought starters you can refer to whenever you need inspiration.

something to keep in mind: the word list may not be the best approach for highly conceptual projects, which initially, are less about words and more about big ideas. but when faced with fast turnaround for a brand or category that’s new to you, the word list could be just the thing to quickly get your creative juices flowing.

what writing tips and tricks work for you? share them here in the Copy Lab!

by mitch lemus, copywriterMitch

over the course of his copywriting career, mitch lemus (www.mitchlemus.com) has written about everything from automobiles to airlines, fast-food to fashion, and technology to travel at some of new york’s top agencies. accounts include Wendy’s Hamburgers (The Kaplan Thaler Group), Ford (Razorfish), and Citibank (Atmosphere BBDO). mitch has also worked directly with Barnes & Noble, American Express, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Capital One. when not getting people to buy, he hopes he can get them to laugh — reading his short stories, parodies and social satires on Pen & Pixel.

email copy that equals stellar sales

need help connecting the dots between your email copy and its sales results? sophie donelson, editorial director of C. Wonder and Monika Chiang, presented pertinent tips on how to make your subject lines, headlines and subheads rock the analytic charts. here are a few quick tidbits from our charming guest speaker if you weren’t able to join us:

tap the inverted pyramid technique.the inverted pyramid
break out your notes from journalism class and use this article-writing tactic to prioritize your message. the premise is simple: the most important info goes at the top, followed by significant details, followed by the least newsworthy stuff.

grammar rules: bend (or break!) them.
emails should be evocative and stir feelings. do whatever you have to do to make them that way. have a field day playing with fragments, hyphens and weird punctuation as long as your message stays clear.

subject lines: don’t get in the way of what’s tried and true.

new arrivals
sale!
introducing [insert new product]

you might balk at these subject lines because they seem so… blah. but sometimes what seems boring is actually just a straightforward way to get results — according to sophie, the three lines above are almost fail-proof when it comes to scoring good open rates. want some extra oomph? sophie swears by an ellipsis to add intrigue and up your opens.

stay out of spam: avoid these words.
don’t use the words “free,” “help,” “reminder” or “percent off” (the symbol % is okay though) in the subject line and you’ll help keep the email from the junk folder.

think of the subject line as a promise.
then ensure your content fulfills that promise once the email is opened. sophie offered a tip she read at copyblogger.com, a writing resource she recommends: the best subject lines tell what’s inside, the worst sell what’s inside.

hop online to cwonder.com and monikachiang.com and sign up for their mailing list to check out some of these tips in action.

we’ll see you next month (tuesday, march 12th to be exact) when brand strategist jean railla discusses the digital frontier and the space where brands and culture collide. reserve now to save your spot!

–kelley granger

guest post: nail polish and power tools

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“are mermaids real?”

“i’m not really a waitress.”

no one creates deep-seated want based on name alone like the makers of nail polish.
those are actual names, and yes i’m the sucker who bought that shimmery purple and that garnet red, convinced into purchase by clever names. ok, it didn’t hurt that they were cheap too, but if they had simply been called purple and red, I might have thought twice.

why? what is it about a great name that worms its way into the lizard brain and drives desire? in the case of frivolous stuff like nail polish, it’s the abstract concept; like Infiniti first sold the idea of a car, products like this sell the idea of the color.

the right name makes you smile, conjures images of personal meaning, maybe makes you laugh til you pee a little. imagine if nail polish were sold the way power tools are: “OPI red: 8 grams polyethylene sparkles per ounce, spreads easily.” yawn.

speaking as a woman who’s handy with jigsaws, nail guns and drills, i know i’d be loathe to purchase any power tool marketed like nail polish. Dewalt would lose respect overnight if they created a women-only power tool campaign.

who are you? an opalescent-tailed mermaid? a reliable carpenter installing that hot tub I want in my bathroom? don’t condescend, tell me a story. engage me to dream about what I could do with your brand. speak to me in the voice that makes sense for you.

michele gilman

a creator of copy + visuals for Trader Joe’s, michele also has years of improv comedy experience and brings a signature quirkiness to her blog at www.whatisabrand.wordpress.com. she’s currently working on a Mediabistro advertising certificate, and helming Designvoice, Inc. (when not enjoying her 7-year-old daughter). follow her on twitter at @mamagills.

CL snapshot: sophie donelson

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a flash interview with sophie donelson

editorial director, C. Wonder & Monika Chiang

three words that sum up your job:

deadline is today. (or, collaborative, challenging and super-fun.)

C. Wonder's first New York Times ad, 09/12

C. Wonder’s first New York Times ad, 09/12

the highlight of your career (so far!):

despite spending almost a decade as an editor and journalist for national magazines, the return policy on the C. Wonder receipt is probably my widest published and most-read “work” and therefore a highlight. but opening the C. Wonder store last fall and seeing my work simultaneously splashed across The New York Times, taxis, tv and billboards was a crazy and memorable high.

the best advice you’ve ever been given:

don’t kiss up, kiss down. (i.e. it’s your intern, not your boss that’ll give you a big break one day.)

if you weren’t a creative, you’d be:

happier. just kidding. probably a zumba instructor or a d-list cable show tv host. <– not kidding.

when i say i write a lot for c. wonder, i mean i really do write it! this is me on opening day of our soho flagship.

when i say i write a lot for C. Wonder, i mean i really do write it! this is me on opening day of our soho flagship.

copy or campaigns you admire:

i’m always delighted by the inventive copy penned by Kiosk, the soho (and online) shop. they tell funny, honest stories and never let fancy language hinder the message. it’s a remarkably effective sales technique. and Journelle. it’s hard to spin lingerie in a fresh way almost every day and they do it with elegance and verve. and i like the way Land of Nod and Boden include thoughtful messages on collateral like e-com packaging.

best two reasons to attend your Copy Lab event:

1. high probability you or your employer (and probably both) will make money off some of the ideas i’ll share. 2. you’ll probably laugh a bit. i’m prone to using inappropriate language and telling off-the-record stories. sign up now    more details

enliven a mailbox!

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advertising and catalogs have migrated to digital, and direct mail has waned, yet it can still serve a unique purpose and present creative challenges. useful for micro-targeting key groups (neighborhood residents, surfers, horse owners), it’s most effective when it arrives with a sweet offer you simply can’t refuse, or a gift, or something that will elicit a smile. all three would be ideal.

an example would be a lingerie boutique on the lower east side mailing an announcement for a grand opening to women in the area. the mailer could be shaped like a garter, made of plantable seeded paper, feature an offer of 25% off of a purchase, and include a silk stocking for one leg – the other has to be picked up in the boutique (in the correct size, if necessary).  that’s so much more engaging than a digital experience.

here are some angles to save direct mail from the trash bin, or to keep it interesting for you as its mastermind:

–  an unusual shape or presentation, or a shape that shifts into another shape such as a pop-up box.

–  a coupon or ultra-tempting offer (free glass of wine with dinner)

–  include a promotional item that will be of use; examples: a fridge magnet, breath mints or color wheels

–  the mailer pulls double-duty as something else — an origami animal shape or paper wallet

–  recipients love games and challenges such as cracking codes, filling in blanks, crossword puzzles, holding copy up to a mirror to read it, pinwheels and other unorthodox presentations

–  recycle-able paper, preferably seeded – scented paper is interesting too

–  if you can tell a story with your mailer, all the better – people love stories and being entertained. If you’re going to intrude upon someone’s mailbox and time, be prepared to make up for it with something very amusing.

enjoy these crazy brilliant direct mail examples: http://tinyurl.com/7hzss93

and tell us which piece of direct mail stands out as best in your memory (to keep our inspiration flowing).

by kim taylor

design crash course for copywriters

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last night design pro roy wiemann translated years of experience (illustrating for the likes of the New York Times and the Smithsonian) into actionable nuggets of info for eager copywriters looking to transform their spec copy into something visually portfolio-worthy. if you weren’t able to join us, here are a few quick pointers to steer you toward a better designed DIY piece.

Shutterstock and Google Images = your new best friends.

DIY on the cheap? Google Images if rife with pictures you can borrow for your designs. If you’re prepared to invest time and a little more money, consider a month’s membership to Shutterstock, where you can download a couple hundred images for a spec copy project now (and a few to inspire another project down the road). roy’s tip—make it even cheaper by splitting the cost with a designer who needs some new images too.

don’t underestimate the influence of your font.

as roy illustrated in his presentation, the font alone can change the entire mood of your piece. he suggests sticking with a simple font to keep the focus on your copy, not on fledgling design skills.

resolve to check your resolution.

a poor resolution makes any piece look a bit off. 300 dpi is the standard for print while 72 dpi is fine for digital work. (stick to 300 dpi if you can, you can always size down!) also a quick reminder—work in RGB colors if your final piece will be digital; CMYK if you’re planning to print it out.

give your background some forethought.

a background that’s too busy will detract from your copy and overall design, and a background’s that’s too boring might make it fall a little flat. roy likes adding a little gradation to give a hero image a nice glow.

get familiar with Photoshop alternatives.

we know you’re not a designer and probably don’t want to shell out a small fortune for Adobe software. we were amazed and encouraged by the alternatives our event attendees had used to create some pretty impressive designs. don’t underestimate programs like MS Word and Powerpoint, and also check these out: Sumopaint, Gimp and Photoshop Elements (a pared-down, way-way-cheaper version of Photoshop).

you’re not a designer, but you know what looks good.

roy mentioned a thought from a j.d. salinger character who said to “write what you want to read.” keep that in mind when you’re plugging away at your design—use your intuition to make it something appealing. if you’re at a total loss, team with a designer to get your concept completed (we can help you find someone affordable! join our april networking event) or feel free to post your pleas for insight on our facebook or linkedin groups.

happy designing!

–kelley granger

kelley@thecopylabnyc.com

for more on roy: click here

our february event: C. Wonder’s sophie donelson sheds some light on copy that sells. prizes will be involved! learn more