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Archive for September, 2007

Is E-Mail Creating a Nation of Bad Writers?

September 27th, 2007 by Bob Bly

My theory has long been that the replacement of the telephone and face-to-face meetings by e-mail has increased the average American’s writing skills considerably, especially in business.

Reason: in the good old days, managers wrote few letters, because so much labor was involved.

Most didn’t keyboard, so they either wrote by hand or dictated.

The secretary would type the letter, which the manager edited with a red pen — and invariably, it would be typed and retyped 2 or 3 times before approved and mailed.

In my first corporate jobs, the secretaries were so busy, it would often take 2-3 days to get a letter in the mail using this process.

Today, virtually every manager has access to a keyboard … virtually every manager keyboards … and virtually every manager writes multiple e-mails daily.

Based on the notion that writing improves with practice, writing dozens of e-mails a week should turn you into a better writer.

But journalist Janet Malcolm thinks just the opposite is true.

“E-mail is a medium of bad writing,” she categorically states in an article in The New York Review of Books (9/27/07). “Poor word choice is the norm — as is tone deafness.”

She explains that, although e-mail may make us write a lot, most people don’t bother “to write a carefully worded, exclamation-point-free e-mail when the occasion demands.”

So what’s the answer?

Does the sheer amount of writing e-mail usage requires help us improve our writing?

Or is our writing just as bad as ever because people rush every e-mail they write and never take the time to make it good?


Category: General, Writing and the Internet | 86 Comments »

Bly’s Theory of Blogging

September 24th, 2007 by Bob Bly

I am obsessed with not wasting time and being as productive as I can.

After all, my income is directly linked to my ability to produce quality work at a rapid rate.

This November will mark the 3-year anniversary of the launch of this blog, and the experience has led me to Bly’s Theory of Blogging and Personal Productivity, which states:

“Personal productivity is inversely proportional to time spent blogging.”

Is blogging fun? Yes.

Intellectually stimulating? Can be.

Useful? Opinions vary.

But the more time you spend blogging, the less work you get done.

This leads me to Bly’s Rule of Blogging Time, which states:

“Anyone who blogs more than 10 minutes a day — or more than an hour a week — is spending way too much time reading and writing on blogs.”

What’s your reaction to my Theory and Rule of blogging?

Can one spend too much time — or conversely, too little time — in the blogosphere?

How many hours a week do YOU spend blogging — both writing your own blog, responding to comments on your blog, and participating in discussions on other people’s blogs?

And really, you do it for fun, perhaps for research, or to establish yourself as a thought leader …

But you don’t think blogging is the new Marketing Miracle that’s going to Change the Face of Business As We Know It, right?


Category: General | 80 Comments »

Grow Old Along With Me

September 19th, 2007 by Bob Bly

A poet once wrote: “Grow old along with me; the best is yet to be.”

Not in today’s business culture.

When I entered the corporate workforce in the late 1970s, young kids just out of college — like me — were at the bottom of the food chain.

The top was dominated by gray-haired managers — “20-year-men” as they were called — who’d been with the company for decades.

After all, those decades meant they knew everything — about the job, the products, the market — and I, with mere weeks on the job, knew almost nothing … and therefore could only contribute minimally.

Ironically, now that MY hair is gray and I am approaching my 30th year in direct marketing, age is no longer revered.

Indeed, workers age 50 or more are often discriminated against. Despite their knowledge and experience, no one wants to hire them, for reasons I am not 100% clear about.

I have sat in meetings where I have seen kids in their 20s completely dismiss the contributions of colleagues and vendors who have forgotten more about direct marketing than the kids have learned.

Especially in direct marketing, this makes no sense.

You learn DM through exposure to testing, and the longer you have worked in the field, the more test results you have seen and integrated into your mental bank of knowledge.

So old folks … do you feel I am accurate here? Like Rodney Dangerfield, do we get “no respect” from the young ‘uns?

Kids: Do you learn from and listen to old farts? Or dismiss them as ancient and irrelevant?

Also: Can 20 somethings and 50 somethings work together and get along? Or are the culture gaps too great? (e.g., I don’t own an iPod, Blackberry, Blue Tooth, or Cell Phone, and I couldn’t take and send a digital photo over the Internet if my life depended on it….)


Category: General | 63 Comments »

Show Me the Money

September 17th, 2007 by Bob Bly

Walked into the CVS in back of my office to pick up today’s paper, as I often do.

But when I tried to walk out after plunking my two quarters next to the register, the sales clerk told me: “Stop!”

“Why?” I asked.

“I have to scan the paper,” she told me, explaining that it was corporate policy.

I looked at the long line in front of the only register with a cashier.

“Can’t I just leave the money and you can scan another paper later?”

“Nope,” she told me. “You have to wait.”

The point?

The CVS violates one of the Sacred Laws of Business.

Namely: when someone wants to give you money, don’t make it difficult for them to do so.

Even if they just want to buy the paper.


Category: General | 157 Comments »

Is Taurus Full of Bull?

September 13th, 2007 by Bob Bly

A recent radio spot for Ford Taurus focuses on safety.

It says that just as you wear a bicycle helmet to ride your bike safely, you need a car built for safety — like Taurus — to drive safely.

In the spot, when a child wants to ride his bike sans helmet, the father tells him: “Put on that helmet or no video games!”

This spot was clearly not written by a parent.

Because a parent would know that the appropriate punishment for not wearing a helmet would be to take away the bicycle — not the XBox.

Consequences must be relevant to the behavior.

My point?

The Taurus spot rings false to me because of this error.

As a result, it distracted me from the sales message about cars, and caused the advertiser to lose some credibility in my eyes.

Am I the only one who has this reaction and too much of a nitpiker?

Or do you agree that any inaccuracies or inconsistencies in copy distract the prospect from the sales message and diminish the advertiser’s credibility?


Category: Advertising, General | 11,045 Comments »

Do You Close the Bathroom Door Even When You’re the Only One Home?

September 11th, 2007 by Bob Bly

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told: “Why is your copy so long? … People are too busy to read today … They won’t read all that copy … Use bullets, pictures, and white space.”

The late Bill Jayme, one of the greatest copywriters of the 20th century (he wrote the classic “Do you close the bathroom door even when you’re the only one home?” for Psychology Today), disagrees.

“Pay little heed to talk about America becoming illiterate,” wrote Jayme.

“First off, unless you are selling reading courses, today’s illiterates are’t your market.

“Second, if cockroaches, fruitcakes, and opera can survive, so will the written word.”

But Jayme wrote this years ago, pre-Internet.

Do you agree that his advice still holds today … and that the ‘people don’t read’ crowd doesn’t know their anus from their elbow?

Or do you think reading is dead … and long copy doesn’t work as well as it used to any more?


Category: General, Writing and the Internet | 203 Comments »

Are You Impressed by Lexus?

September 3rd, 2007 by Bob Bly

A recent radio commercial for Lexus says, “What do people think when they see you driving a Lexus? For one thing, they see you as successful.”

But do they really?

Almost everybody leases their cars today. So you don’t need a lot of money to drive Lexus, BMW, or Mercedes.

One selling point of luxury brands has always been the notion that other people will think more of you when they see you buying and using the brand.

But does this still hold today?

Anybody who has read The Millionaire Next Door Knows that most millionaires don’t drive status cars.

FW, a wealthy client who made his fortune in equipment leasing, drove a nice-looking Oldsmobile, which he loved — even though he could have driven a BMW.

Do you think you are really fooling anyone by driving around in your leased luxury car?

We drive a Nissan Maximia and Toyota Sienna mini-van — both bought new and paid for with cash.

To me, zero debt is a lot more impressive than big monthly lease, mortgage, and loan payments.

Should Lexus rewrite its copy to reflect today’s market perception? Or are they still right on target with their assumptions about status?


Category: General | 101 Comments »