The first title came from a great T-shirt I once saw. All others are quotes from Bill Bernbach, founder of ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach.
Make The Idea Bigger And The Logo Smaller.Open or CloseThis Norfolk Southern Railway ad isn't mine but came from a campaign I inherited when I arrived at JWT/Atlanta. It didn't make sense, and I was determined to send it to the glue factory.
Norfolk Southern was formed from a merger between Southern Railway and Norfolk & Western Railway. Nearly 70% of NS revenue is derived from hauling coal, a dirty, dusty enterprise often considered unappealing and blue-collar work.
In a subsequent pitch for the ad account, JWT introduced “The Thoroughbred of Transportation.” It was emotionally appealling to the vanity of NS management and persuaded them to abandon redneck coal mining and instead reposition themselves as Virginia gentlemen horse farmers.
The pitch worked. JWT won the business, but translating the borrowed-interest of "The Thoroughbred" into clear and meaningful product benefits was perpetually confusing, as the above ad demonstrates.
The NS horse was actually an attempt at "critter" advertising.
Sometimes critters work, particularly for packaged-goods products aimed at children. Tony the Tiger makes Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes taste great. Who cares about soggy, milk-saturated cereal if you've got Snap, Crackle, and Pop. And moms know kids always love eating their vegetables if they're coming from The Jolly Green Giant.
But the NS horse just confused customers and for good reason. Norfolk Southern drives trains, not horses. Horses are ancient modes of transportation and highly inefficient compared to trains. After all, it was the inorganic Iron Horse that replaced the organic horse.
There was a bigger story that needed to be told: The Norfolk Southern story.
Railroads are commodities. Customer service is the only thing that distinguishes one railway from another, but the big, black, blob of horse ink dominated at least 75% of all Norfolk Southern ad space and directly interfered with the creation of meaningful and relevant advertising.
The solution was to visually demonstrate customer service so both agency and client management could realize "The Thoroughbred" was best utilized as just a logo, otherwise the incredible story of Norfolk Southern's amazing customer service could never be clearly told. Click anywhere on this paragraph or on the old ad above to see the campaign that finally corralled "The Thoroughbred" into just a corner of the page.
Nothing Kills A Bad Product Faster Than Good Advertising.Open or Close
JWT brilliantly acquires millions of dollars worth of free air time by creating campaigns aimed specifically at persuading TV station traffic managers to also run the government spots as Public Service Announcements (PSAs).
One morning about an hour before JWT's HUD team left for the airport to present the “PSA package,” somebody realized there was no actual note or letter or message to the traffic manager included in the package. A panicked account executive (AE) popped in my office and pleaded with me to write a letter.
I dropped everything and knocked it out. There was no time for approval by a creative director. No AE read it either. It was just printed on the HUD letterhead, and then 100 copies were xeroxed in time to catch a plane.
The AE called several hours later from the hallway just outside the meeting. When she read the letter aloud, she said a hushed silence fell across the room. Everything got quieter and quieter. Even after she finished, silence. She saw maybe two or three HUD people wipe at their eyes, like tears.
Then suddenly the room exploded with applause.
Next, a standing ovation.
She called to tell me there was no reaction after they showed the TV spot. Just silence. No applause. Nothing.
Click here or on the image above to read the letter.
A Principle Isn’t A Principle Until It Costs You Something.Open or CloseI suspended my ad agency career to find something to help our brain-injured son. I knew there had to be something, somewhere that could help him.
I've hesitated to include this as a case study because it's so personal, but it's actually a great example of finding a marketing solution to a problem believed hopeless and impossible to solve. Click here to read a bigger chunk of the story found in the Editorial section of my Portfolio.
Hospital Intensive Care Units (ICUs) use SPECT scans like these to determine brain death. We did the same, and then gave Jimmy Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT). After 21 treatments of HBOT we repeated SPECT, which provided objective proof that brain tissue declared dead by neurologists is not dead but alive. SPECT proves damaged brain is actually viable and recoverable tissue.
Though brain injury occurs from lack of oxygen, it can be improved and sometimes even cured just by breathing extra oxygen. This logical concept is very easy for lay people to grasp and embrace, especially by parents and other caregivers.
About 99% of all neurologists ridicule the idea. They demand proof by placebo-controlled studies, even though (a) there is no placebo for oxygen, (b) no placebo effect has ever occurred placebo-controlled studies with brain-injured children. While HBOT was FDA-approved 40+ years ago, (c) nothing prescribed by child neurologists is even FDA-approved for pediatric use.
This makes (d) the practice of pediatric neurology the experimental and investigational use of unapproved drugs on brain-injured children.
The solution? Leverage the power of the Internet through social media and educate frustrated parents with the truth of this institutional hypocrisy. Raise them into an army. Next, give them legal weapons to force change. Then start a fight.
Just picture warriors from Braveheart storming courtrooms and doctor's offices with scientific facts, truth instead of swords.
The result? So far The MedicaidforHBOT Army has forced coverage in about 23 of 50 states, with still more cases starting in Indiana, Louisiana, and Washington state.
Word Of Mouth Is The Best Advertising Of All.Open or CloseSome of my best work is produced on the smallest of budgets and never wins advertising awards.
The stacked boxes in the picture may appear chaotic, but it’s actually carefully designed advertising and marketing.
An Atlanta-area Sam’s Club was one of the 10 busiest of all clubs nationally, but Produce sales were among the lowest.
A traditional in-store ad campaign was pointless since 90% of customers were not native-born American and spoke little to no English. Over 40 languages could be heard in the club at any given point in time.
A key fact: Most customers emigrated from 3rd World countries where they bought food in open-air markets.
Product freshness drives all sales in open-air markets, not variety of product selection or beauty of presentation so typical in American grocery stores. If it’s fresh, it sells. Even though Sam’s produce is fresh, this was not communicated to customers, and the profound language barrier significantly magnified the problem.
A chance observation led to the solution. While a produce worker stacked out maybe 300 cantaloupes, a customer signaled he’d like to have one of the 30 or so empty cantaloupe boxes.
Unlike grocery stores, Sam’s does not bag purchases for customers at check-out. Nor do they even provide bags. Instead, boxes first used to ship product to the club are available for members to “bag” purchases--except for produce boxes.
Even though ideal for this customer use, as they’re sturdy and have built-in handles, because of their extra weight, it’s more profitable for Sam’s corporately when produce boxes are crushed, bound, and sold to recyclers.
Still, for that particular Sam’s Club, produce boxes have another advantage. There are pictures on every produce box of whatever is inside the box.
After the empty box was given away, three other customers saw its cantaloupe images and immediately entered the Produce section--looking for cantaloupes.
I then took the cantaloupe boxes up to the checkout area where they were crudely stacked about seven feet high. The first thing everybody saw when they walked in the door were boxes and boxes and boxes covered with pictures of cantaloupes. The boxes advertised FRESH CANTALOUPES NOW AVAILABLE.
Soon, folks walked around the store with fresh cantaloupes in their carts. This endorsement created still more advertising, fueling even more interest. People shop Sam’s for deals. Soon, everybody wanted in on “the cantaloupe deal.”
Within an hour, there was a run on cantaloupes. Over 200 of the 300 cantaloupes sold.
All Produce boxes were then taken to the check-out lanes, and within a week Produce sales at that Sam's jumped by nearly 30%.
The Purpose Of Advertising Is To Sell.Open or Close
Central Bank (now BBVACompass) was Alabama's 4th-largest bank and known as the “$1.83 bank" because the only thing Central ever advertised was their lowest-priced checking account.
When new account growth stagnated, research found the more affluent believed Central was only for those who couldn’t afford more banking than $1.83 a month.
Central's constant, low-value message became their brand, but it wasn't their whole truth.
This led Central to finally produce their first-ever branding campaign. Instead of just "value," they relaunched themselves as the consumer’s strongest economic advocate, no matter which rung of the economic ladder folks were on, whether at the very top or the very bottom.
The campaign's new slogan capitalized on a familiar economic barometer. “Unlike other banks, our prime interest is you” strategically re-positioned Central Bank as an ally. Advertising demonstrated Central’s commitment with financial products and services tailored to meet the need of any and every individual customer.
The re-positioning message was so strong, even the $1.83 product could remain intact--while changing Central's "brand" through creation of a new brand.
The campaign proved so successful, Central grew to Alabama's 3rd-largest bank in less than 6 months.
The Memorable Never Emerged From A Formula.Open or CloseAs of March 25, 2014, DavidFreels.com now ranks in Google's top 10 search results for "Atlanta Copywriter."
When DavidFreels.com was relaunched in 2012 utilizing Responsive Web Design (RWD), Google ranked it somewhere around #6000 out of about 700,000 in a keyword search for "Atlanta copywriter."
At the same time, I discovered many of the highest-ranking freelance copywriters for that search criteria specialize in Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
It seems SEO copywriters are my primary competition, at least for people using the web to find a freelance copywriter in Atlanta.
Combine this with the fact most people make decisions based on their first 10 search results, and my phone would never ring if I stayed at #6000.
I studied SEO, and it turns out there are multiple software titles available to assist SEOers.
This type software is most-often used to study higher-ranking competitors and then duplicate their SEO strategy by "adopting" their "keywords" and other content that most-often shows up in web searches.
"Adopting" means duplicating. Copying. That's cheating, and I've never copied anybody. I always do original work, even to the point that I don't really like the term copywriter.
Now that doesn't mean all SEO experts cheat to get results for their clients, but it is a strategy that's often used.
The more I thought about it, the whole SEO business just kind of rubbed me the wrong way, especially when so many SEO practitioners call themselves copywriters--even though many have never written a single ad.
Still, I had to break through the "Atlanta copywriter" clutter and get DavidFreels.com in front of the decision makers out there who are looking for a freelance copywriter in Atlanta.
So I did a little SEO myself and wound up in Google's Top 10, #7 to be exact, as of today March 26, 2014.
My leap began with a blog post on March 13, 2014.
I published a follow-up blog to solidify my ranking on March 25, 2014.