Copywriting great Drayton Bird recalls one of the finest talks on copywriting he's ever witnessed. Entitled “20 Opinionated Answers to 20 Questions Nobody Asked,” it's full of wit and wisdom which is just as relevant today - even if the mediums have evolved. Take away just one lesson and you're sure to benefit.
This article was originally published in Direct Marketing International. A collection of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ works is available in our free eBook: Killer Copy in a Crisis. Download this treasure trove of timeless marketing advice.
Untangling the lion’s mane
I have a sometime client who markets vitamins and supplements. (I say ‘sometime’ because often he prefers to write his own copy, coming to me for opinions when he can’t figure out how to popularise the obfuscatory terminology a supplier attaches to a product. I’m a nut for supplements, and if a job is just tweaking a paragraph or two, the barter system may apply – words for stuff.)
Worthy of a report in the distinguished publication you’re reading was his description of an over-the-counter supplement:
“Recent research shows that suppressing the formation of osteoclasts can delay or improve osteoporosis. Osteoclasts are significant in dissolving older bones, with new bone formation formed by osteoblasts, subject to hormonal guidance for proper function.
“By suppressing the activity of osteoclasts, it is possible to prevent and improve osteoporosis. The compound from, of all things, a mushroom commonly called Lion’s Mane, involving hericium erinaceus, performed this function, and the compound now is available commercially.”
A self-answering question
If you were interested in the potential onset of osteoporosis, would that description grab you?
The most common differential separating ‘suppliers’ from ‘marketers’ . . . and, dodgier for us, separating marketers from consumers . . . is the attitudinal gap. I’ve written about it in these pages before.
The vendor’s interest: What it is. The prospective buyer’s interest: What it will do for me. I flag you down, using any means of communication I can find, and say breathlessly: “Don’t you want some hericium erinaceus?”
Your logical reply: “Get lost.”
How easy – in fact, how primitive – it is to check Google or Wikipedia to get a sales worthy name. Hericium erinaceus is Lion’s Mane, a mushroom with a cascade of tiny tentacles that, with enough imagination, looks like a lion’s mane.
Choosing your weaponry
So OK, we now have Lion’s Mane rather than the Linnaean taxonomy. A reasonably bright eight-year-old could make that transition. The marketer, too wrapped up in what his own supplier had sent, didn’t make the transition.
Once we have a saleable name, we can scrap the tech-talk and centre on the seller/sellee difference.
Ammunition pours out at us, and, through us, at our targets. The stuff combats not only osteoporosis but Alzheimer’s, the immune system, and who knows what else.
Just one more piece to this mini-puzzle. If you’re selling it to me, don’t refer to Lion’s Mane as a mushroom.
Not only does that downgrade the image, but you should know in advance: I don’t mind lions but I’m not fond of mushrooms.
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