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Archive for July, 2009

The 2 Inviolate Rules of Asking Strangers for Help

July 29th, 2009 by Bob Bly

Virtually every day I get at least one phone call or e-mail from some stranger asking for my help or advice or to answer a question … with 99% of them, of course, not offering to PAY me for my time and trouble.

If you want to approach someone you view as an expert or guru to ask a question or get advice, here are the 2 rules you should follow to maximize your chances of getting a positive response:

1–Don’t waste the person’s time.

2–Be cooperative.

ML, who called me just a few minutes ago, violated both these rules in short order.

She was looking for a ghostwriter to help her write her memoirs. It’s a service I don’t offer. I told her so immediately, and offered to hook her up with a ghostwriter who could help her (I know several good ones).

“Well, let me tell you my story,” she interrupted, and began telling me about her adventures in WWII as a nurse or whatever her book was about.

Why? I already said I was not the one to do the job. Why would I be interested?

So I cut her off, not because I am rude, but because I am extremely busy, asking her to go online to the Vendors page on my site so I could show her who to call.

“Oh, I hate the web and e-mail and all that stuff,” she told me, indicating that she couldn’t be bothered to do as I instructed.

I gave her the URL anyway and wished her luck.

“What is it you do?” she asked me, like I have the inclination or time to chat with her while deadlines press in all around me.

“I’m a copywriter,” I answered.

“What is that?” she asked, as if I now would spend time giving her a tutorial in the writing profession.

When I told her she could find out everything she needed to know about my services again on my web site, she seemed stunned, and I politely wished her luck and ended the call.

My colleague CM, a top copywriter, tells of similar experiences, where readers of his newsletter get angry that he won’t stop what he is doing to hear them read their headlines to him and get a quick opinion — all without paying him, of course.

CM is less calm about this than I am. “Don’t they $#%*&* realize my TIME is for my PAYING clients?!” CM complained to me.

A lot of our readers — people who get our free newsletters but do NOT buy or services OR our paid products — ask for our help, and are surprised and offended when we put limits on the free help we are willing to offer.

Would you ask a dentist you didn’t go to to examine your teeth for free? Would you ask a gas station where you DID buy gasoline to fix your engine for free?

Then why expect a writer to work for free?

Harlan Ellison says it best: “The writer should be paid.”

Do you agree? Disagree? Why?


Category: Writing | 76 Comments »

Should The Monster Burger Be Banned?

July 24th, 2009 by Bob Bly

My friend DH, a retired copywriter, once said he would take on any product except those that are illegal, immoral, or fattening.

A new hamburger now being sold at the stadium of a minor-league baseball team — the West Michigan Whitecaps — surely falls into the third category … and maybe even the second.

The burger, which weighs 4 pounds and costs $20, contains 5 beef patties, 5 slices of American Cheese, extra nacho cheese, nearly a cup of chili, salsa, sour cream, and corn chips on an 8-inch bun. It has 4,800 calories — as many as 9 Big Macs.

Susan Levin, director of nutrition education for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), wrote a letter to the Whitecaps asking them to put a WARNING label on the burger stating that eating red meat increases risk of heart disease, and asked that they not sell the burger to minors.

While the burger is arguably both disgusting and unhealthy, lots of restaurants, fast food stands, and stores sell foods that are unhealthy and (to many people) disgusting.

But don’t consumers have the right to decide what they want to eat? I can go to any ball park, and if I want to pig out, buy half a dozen burgers or dogs at any snack window — and no one will question me.

Do you admire PCRM and Levin for their latest attempt to protect the public’s health?

Or shouldn’t the Whitecaps and their customers be free to buy and sell whatever foods they desire?

And: are there any particular product categories that you refuse to market because you don’t approve of them?

(For me, I once turned down a publisher who needed direct mail packages to sell books on hunting — not because I think hunting should be banned, but because I find it repugnant and do not want to encourage it in any way.)

Source: Good Medicine, Summer 2009, p. 13.


Category: Advertising | 187 Comments »

The Meteoric Rise of Social Media

July 21st, 2009 by Bob Bly

Two years ago, only one out of five marketers used social media.

According to a survey from the Association of National Advertisers, today two out of three marketers use social media.

I have to admit that, while I have accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and MySpace, I can muster no personal enthusiasm for social networking.

I understand its value as a marketing tool. I even have a rudimentary grasp of how to do social marketing.

But as for voluntarily spending any of my time on any of these social networking sites, whether for business or social reasons — try as I might, I seem to be unable to force myself.

I have so much else to do, and such limited time, that I can’t see wasting my time noodling around on these sites.

I suppose I would be more active on social networking sites if I found them fun or interesting — but I don’t.

Most of what people talk about seems banal or trivial. Why would I want to follow someone on Twitter to find out what new song they just downloaded from iTunes or what they had for lunch?

Also, I find social media to be interruptive. I am constantly getting invitations for Facebook and LinkedIn throughout the day, when I am busy with other work. So I have to save them and set aside time to reply later (I think about not bothering, but it seems rude).

My staff and the consultants I employ have given me a schedule for Twittering and Facebooking on a regular basis, which I almost completely ignore. I was compliant for a week or two, but it quickly became an onerous chore.

Why Twitter or Facebook weekly unless I have something really new and important to share — especially when I put everything of interest to my readers in my blog and e-zine?

So … what about you?

Do you, like me, find Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and the like a thundering bore?

Or do you spend your life on these networks conversing and connecting on the Internet, like my arch enemy, Robert Scoble?

If so, can you share with me what interests you about this medium, so I can remain a participant instead of letting it fall by the wayside?



Category: General | 117 Comments »

Is the Law of Attraction a Load of Horse Hooey?

July 19th, 2009 by Bob Bly

Self-help gurus preach positive thinking and the Law of Attraction, which says that when you think about good things, good things will come to you.

But a new research study reported in Time (7/27/09, p. 55) disputes the power of positive thinking, concluding that “trying to get people to think more positively can actually have the opposite effect [and] simply highlight how unhappy they are.”

In a psychological experiment, a group of subjects were supposed to repeat the affirmation “I am lovable” when a bell was run every 15 seconds.

Rather than make those with low self-esteem feel better, as affirmations as supposed to do, their moods turned significantly more negative than the control group, who weren’t prodded to think positively.

The study provides support for newer forms of psychotherapy that urge people to accept their negative thoughts and feelings rather than try to get rid of them.

I am waiting for a self-help book based on this approach, which if I wrote it would be titled “The Power of Negative Thinking.” 🙂

How about you?

Do you swear, as so many seem to do, by the power of positive thinking and the Law of Attraction?

Or do you agree with the study, which seems to indicate that merely thinking about good things won’t make them come true?


Category: General | 156 Comments »

When Good Advertising Ideas Derail

July 18th, 2009 by Bob Bly

Oscar Mayer’s great innovation was to create a brand in a product category (hot dogs) in which no brands had previously existed.

Other marketing innovators to introduce branded products into categories that previously lacked brands include Frank Perdue (chicken) and Orville Redenbacher (popcorn).

Anyway, one of Oscar Mayer’s brand promotions is the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, a car modified to look ike a giant hot dog on wheels.

Last week, one of the drivers (there is a small fleet of Wienermobiles) had an accident — and crashed the giant frankfurter into a house, damaging the deck and garage.

This isn’t a brand-destroying tragedy, but when you put brand promises on the road, the potential for one exists.

The most famous took place in 1988, when a Domino’s Pizza delivery truck struck and killed two pedestrians while on its way to deliver a hot, fresh pizza — guaranteed to arrive in 30 minutes.

Allegedly, the incident drove Domino’s to drop the “30 minutes or it’s free” delivery from their brand USP.

P.S. Anyone interested in food marketing or hot dogs can read the full story of Oscar Mayer and other brand innovators in my book “All-American Frank: a History of the Hot Dog” available on


Category: General | 69 Comments »

Is Information Free?

July 14th, 2009 by Bob Bly

JR used to think so … but she doesn’t anymore.

In June 2009, a federal jury ruled that JR, a 23-year-old woman, violated copyright law for illegally sharing 24 copyright-protected songs she downloaded on the Internet.

The fine: $80,000 per song, for a total of $1.92 million.

Now, I’m an old school guy who takes copyright protection of intellectual property very seriously — a position the younger generation does not share.

But the punishment should be proportionate to the crime, and somewhat related to damages and intent — for instance, was it an innocent mistake, or did JR attempt to profit from the illegal file sharing?

In JR’s case, no one was hurt, and I think a small fine is in order.

That’s different than the case of the guy who posted a bootleg of the new Wolverine movie online before its theatrical release.

Producers claimed it could potentially cost them millions in lost revenues.

He could argue that it actually creates interest in the movie, but the problem is, whether to post the movie online is the studio’s decision — not his.

I see illegal use of copyrighted material online all the time.

One of my readers had cartoons posted on her blog. I asked if she obtained permission. She said NO and seemed never to have thought to do so.

What’s YOUR viewpoint on illegal copying, posting, and sharing of copyrighted material — text, images, audio, video — without permission of the owner?

A–It doesn’t matter. Distribution of their material will ultimately help their marketing.

B–It’s wrong, but not really a big deal. So what?

C–It’s a serious violation that imperils the ability of all creators of intellectual property — authors, recording artists, film studios — to realize a fair return on investment from their work


What do you think?

Source: The Record, 7/7/09.


Category: General | 56 Comments »

The Copy Police are on Patrol…

July 11th, 2009 by Bob Bly

…and we’ve issued a summons for wrong usage to

They sell a food producer which they claim is equivalent to professional models that sell for $1,200.

They proclaim that by buying Health Master, “you won’t pay even a fraction of that price!”

But yes, you WILL pay a fraction of that price — simply because ANY discounted price is a fraction of the higher price.

If they sell the processor for a mere $100, that’s still a fraction of the professional model price — and that fraction is 1/12th.

A nitpik? Yes. But whenever you misuse the language, you get a percentage of readers who are driven to distraction and won’t buy from you because of the error.

So it pays to write it right. As the TV commercials for vocabulary courses point out: “People judge you by the words you use.”

Does Health Master’s error rub you the wrong way too?

Or am I just making much ado about nothing?


Category: General | 42 Comments »

Are Rich People Just Luckier Than You?

July 9th, 2009 by Bob Bly

Why are some people more successful than others?

A lot of people who claim to be rich and successful ? and I say ?claim? because we don?t know for a fact that they are — act as if it?s all them ? and that luck had nothing to do with it.

But the fact is, there are 6 specific factors that contribute to anyone?s success or lack thereof ? and luck is clearly one of them:


Some people are just smarter than others.

Intelligence is a result of genetics and environment ? your upbringing.

Since heredity and the home you are born into are purely by chance, intelligence is largely a matter of luck.

By the way, by ?smart? I don?t mean ?book smart.?

I mean smart at anything that can make money ? whether it?s business, art, computers, or whatever.


Successful people are students for life.

They are constantly acquiring specific knowledge in their business or field — as well as a large storehouse of knowledge on all sorts of other topics.

As a rule, the more you learn, the more you earn.


The clich? about working smarter, not harder, is B.S.

Successful people work both smarter — and harder — than others.


Successful people have an attitude. But it?s not an attitude of ripping people off ? or making as much money as they can any way they can.

It?s an attitude of service: of giving their customers (and others) more value than they have any right to expect.

Many successful people are also goal-oriented, and it is important to them to become successful. So they focus their efforts on achievement of that goal.


We tend to be good at things we like and have an aptitude for.

Financially successful people just happen to have an aptitude and talent for things that make money.

Warren Buffett has said that the reason for his great wealth is that he was born with aptitudes and talents for which our society offers huge financial rewards.

Some of us are good at stuff, but not stuff that pays well. And if we pursue those interests exclusively, our incomes can be limited as a result.


As you can see, the key success factors of intelligence (#1) and aptitudes (#5) are determined mainly by chance ? and are largely beyond our control.

Yes, Warren Buffett studied finance, worked hard, and had the right attitude.

But he was also lucky, as is virtually every person who has achieved significant wealth, success, or accomplishment in life.

The honest ones admit this and are thankful.

Any rich or successful person who said luck had no part in his achievement is either in denial or unwilling to come clean.

Therefore, if you are successful, you should be humble, not arrogant and boastful.

After all, you were lucky. Right?


Category: General | 109 Comments »