Thursday, June 26, 2014

Never underestimate the power of the superlative negative imperative.

This cute ad by AlmapBBDO for Bauducco Toast (via Ads of the World) succeeds by pairing an attention-grabbing image with a very strong sentence.

Here's exactly what makes it work:
  • The tagline uses the prohibitive mood (no, not "Watch out, kids, I'm in a prohibitive mood tonight!"--I mean the grammatical one);
  • The tagline echoes several pop culture phrases and memes; and
  • The ad forces the reader to make a cognitive connection between the image and the copy, unifying them into a greater whole.  

"Don't Be in a Prohibitive Mood" Is In the Prohibitive Mood

It's important to understand what makes words powerful.  For example, "Stop!" is a pretty powerful word, but why? Because it's an imperative. It tells you what to do.

The imperative mood is a grammatical feature of verbs that command: verbs conjugated in this mood (such as "stop doing that," "write it now," "drink up," etc.) command an action.

The pairing of an imperative with a negative modifier (adverb or adjective) is called the prohibitive mood: "do not," for example. Using a superlative (a word describing the utmost degree of something: best, last, most, least, etc.) like "never" makes this command form extremely strong...well, actually, the strongest it can be. So "never underestimate" is superlatively prohibitive--and very strong.

Never Underestimate the Power of a Pissed Off Woman

"Never underestimate" is a bit of pop culture, too, starting popular phrases like this one

and many others, from FDR ("never underestimate a man who overestimates himself") to rampant internet memes like this one. So it's familiar and it flows off the tongue, and it helps to transmit broader cultural ideas* which in this case are also related to imperatives ("never, always," etc.), helping to underscore the message that the brand is putting across, the "we want you to do X" message, i.e., "buy our toast."


This ad is synergistic: it's more than the sum of its parts. The image doesn't work without the tagline; the tagline doesn't work without the image, but together, they're a thing of beauty. The image grabs you ("ha ha! made ya look!") and the tagline provides the payoff--and makes you look even closer.

Brand? What Brand?

It's a great ad, with great copy that really works well. And certainly you'll walk away from it with the concept that toast is more than just a vehicle for jam. But will you remember which brand of toast is so much better? That remains to be seen...

*Wikipedia actually has a pretty interesting discussion of memes; see especially Reference 1.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Waaaaa-hoo! Dialogue can include features and benefits if done well.

Blending features and benefits into a natural-sounding story is not the easiest thing in the world, but the copywriters at Doner managed without any grinding of gears in their new AutoTrader spots featuring the Dukes of Hazzard. (Read about the campaign here.) In 90 total seconds, the three spots manage to show viewers that AutoTrader's new app lets them:
  • Search by specific features, such as Bluetooth and traction control
  • Get alerts about new cars and price reduction
  • Save a search and continue later, even on another device 

The dialogue between the Duke brothers* also demonstrates the benefit of using AutoTrader: it allows them—and other customers—to find a car with more speed and options like a backup camera and doors that open. J

Despite the many features and benefits** they've worked in, the copywriting team is spot-on in tone, managing to blend 21st-century digital speak with 1980s good-ole-boy chit-chat in a way that doesn't feel incongruous or forced. Bo's line, "Pick it up on my tablet," sounds just as if he were suggesting that he and Luke pick up Route 73 out behind the old covered bridge.

I do wonder about the demographic they're hitting. Is AutoTrader's primary audience my age—that is, old enough to remember the Dukes of Hazzard? I'd *hazard* a guess that AutoTrader really should be talking more to millennials, and I'm not sure whether these spots will appeal as much to that age group.

I'm also curious about why a Dodge Viper SRT was chosen as the #New01 (nice hashtag) instead of a new Charger, to parallel the original General Lee, or Dodge's sexy new muscle car, the Challenger. The Viper SRT is an expensive car—around $125,000 new, as opposed to around $27,000 for a new Challenger. Would someone shopping for a Viper SRT even use AutoTrader? (AutoTrader couldn't find a Viper SRT for sale in my area.)

Demographics issues and personal muscle car preferences aside, these ads rock from idea to execution. Great work.

*Disclaimer: Bo and Luke Duke could sell just about anything to me. I may be biased.

**Please note: I did not call these RTBs because I don’t want to slit my wrists after publishing this post.

Not Good Enough

Today, in two separate publications, I read about two different writers I admire being given the same advice: "You're not good enough for writer's block."

The first was Pete Hamill, author of Forever (think Highlander, not Judy Blume) and A Drinking Life, among other works. It was actually "You're not important enough for writer's block," and according to today's Writer's Almanac, was told to Hamill by a friend before he wrote his first novel. (I also learned that Hamill was not only friends with Bobby Kennedy but was present at Kennedy's assassination and helped tackle the shooter. I love Writer's Almanac.)

The second was Cal McAllister, founder and executive creative director of Wexley School for Girls, an agency I've had a crush on for ages. In an interview in today's Communication Arts, McAllister talks about his Creative Circus advisor giving him this advice. In a different interview, last year for Seattle Creative Mornings, he says this advice taught him to be "tireless and humble."

I haven't posted for awhile because I haven't thought up anything super smart or creative lately. My husband and I are buying a house and it's my first mortgage experience, so I've been letting myself off the hook as mentally exhausted.

But I'm not good enough to be too exhausted to write. I have to practice and I have to spew words until my fingertips are bruised from banging the keyboard. Practice, hone, be tireless and humble. And write.

Thanks, Pete and Cal. I needed the reminder that I'm not good enough…yet.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Astute Alliteration is Always Apropos

I had a nice lunch with my husband at our favorite dive bar, The Grand Avenue Alehouse. The plucky barkeep, Pootie (don't ask), she of the outrageously loud and contagious laugh, served my Manny's Pale Ale on a Fat Tire coaster.

Collateral materials such as beer-branded coasters are a great way to get your brand's name in front of consumers at the exact right time, and this Fat Tire coaster was one of the best I've ever seen.

This is a great line of copy, for a number of reasons:

  • It's brief and therefore easy to remember. 
  • It uses both alliteration and consonance* so that it rolls off the tongue. (By design or happy accident--I'd guess a combination of both--these poetic devices are repeated in ever other phrase appearing on this coaster: tire and amber are consonant; amber and ale are alliterative; etc.)
  • It pokes a little fun of wine pairing, emphasizing the simplicity and sociability of beer.

You may have noticed that this coaster isn't square or circular, as most are. That's because it's not just a coaster; it doubles as a postcard.

There; that's what this annoyingly alliterative, copiously consonant copywriter calls marvelous marketing.

*Whereas alliteration is a repeated sound at the beginning of two or more words, such as pairs and people, well and with, consonance is a repeated consonant sound within a word (called an interior sound), such as the L sound in well and people. (FYI, assonance is a repeated interior vowel sound, such as the long A in rain, Spain, main, and plain.)

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Church on Sunday

Sleepy fumbling fooling around before the kids wake up, then another slow snoozing doze. Interrupted by compact bodies bouncing and tickling and squishing and gimme the blankets, smell of little-boy sweat and gleam of little-girl nail polish. Sausages and eggs, toast and coffee and juice. Growl of the mower and heft of its weight, jungle grass gives way before the blades, becoming lawn again. Sweat and green clippings; birds startle from the feeder. Baseball's white curve under the apple branches, slaps round perfection into the mitt. Pink watermelon with black polka-dot seeds, ice tapping gently in plastic cups of lemonade. Patting out pink rounds of hamburger, squishy splaying between palms, salt and pepper and garlic powder in the marbled discs between translucent parchment. Potatoes boiling, steam blurring the kitchen window, angling sun sliding softly across the emerald sprawl. Peeling hot potatoes, quick movements, wincing, rueful laughter. Vinegar and parsley. Outside, wood splitting, splinters flying, sweat springing to his shoulders, the axe clocking with pendulum regularity. The match, the leap of flame, the fire dancing. The sizzle of the meat. Witches' cauldron burbling of corn in the kettle. Hands clasped around the table: grace. Pickles and "wow, Mom!" and glasses of rosé. Breeze through the screen door. Baths and backpacks and lunchboxes, PJs, books. Tucking, kisses, little arms tight around the neck; unentwining, more kisses. A softbound anthology in twilight, an amber post-prandial, last whirr of the hummingbird, wispy flames flicker and fade. The dog's nose snuffling softly in the bottom of his bowl. Snick of the deadbolt, slider glides shut. Check for sweet sleepy breaths in the hall light. Slide between sheets, recline holding hands, daylight still glowing from the edge of the sky. Bells sound in the distance, but we've been doing our devotions all day.