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The Best of Drayton Bird 2021: Wise words & gift-wrapped insight

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The reigning heavyweight champion of profit-making copy has provided incisive tips and witty commentary over the past year. Here's a little Xmas gift featuring some of his wisest words from 2021.
Best of Drayton Bird 2021

The value of generosity

The man who launched the NHS was a Labour minister, Aneurin Bevan. He said the only way he got the doctors to agree to his scheme was indeed to stuff their mouths with gold.

That approach doesn’t only work with doctors. If you want to sell anything the key is usually generosity to likely buyers. Generosity so liberal it borders on insanity.

A perfect demonstration is a magazine described as the best in the world by Graydon Carter, the eminent American journalist and publisher.

Read in full: “Stuff their mouths with gold”: the value of freebie marketing.

Vague copy kills (in a bad way)best of drayton bird

Don’t be vague. It kills.

You probably won’t die.

But the response to your copy will.

Imagine someone tells you, “I’m going to make you rich someday”.

I bet the first thing you’ll want to know is “how rich?”

Followed by, “when?”

If you’re like most people you won’t bother asking.

Because you’ll assume their claim is a load of twaddle.

Don’t make the same mistake.

Tell people exactly what they’re getting.

Read in full: Make this mistake and you’ll be dead in 75 seconds

Price it right

At my first big job in London at Leo Burnett the marketing director Mickey Barnes – a very clever man – said something I immediately understood – then ignored for most of my life.

God alone knows how many hundreds of thousands of pounds it’s cost me.

He said:

“Price is a creative factor”.

What he meant was that your price says something about you.

Think about these three facts.

1. If it’s expensive people assume it must be good.
2. They will boast about how much they paid. It’s a way of convincing others – and themselves – that they’re successful.
3. Even if it isn’t that great they convince themselves it must be. They daren’t admit, especially to themselves, that they made a mistake.

I have sometimes charged the right price, thank God, but often failed to.

Read in full: How much should you charge? A priceless lesson I forgot but you can benefit from

Bill Jayne’s top tips

Almost all of us in the copywriting clique recognised Bill was the best. To explain how good he was, in the late 70’s he was charging $20-60,000 for a mailing pack.

Here’s what Bill Jayne had to say:

1) When something is free, say it six ways to Sunday (for example, “Free gift comes to you with our compliments gratis – on the house” or “It’s yours to keep as an outright present without cost or charge – not a penny!”

2) Get your copywriter together with your art director at the outset. The era is over when an art director is handed a ream of finished copy with the instructions, “Here – do something with this.

3) These concepts should be part of every mailing package: new, free, save guaranteed, hurry. This concept should be part of every sentence: you.

4) Always talk up to your prospects, not down. When flattered, people almost always rise to the occasion. When insulted, they rise to walk over to the wastebasket.

5) Always read your copy aloud to someone who enjoys finding fault with everything you do.

Discover 15 more tips from Bill Jayne: Priceless (and quirky) advice from the copywriter who changed my life

How to build a strong brand (no bullshit edition)

If you’re taken in by all the waffle about brands, here’s the simple truth.

The wisest expert about them was the late Prof. Andrew Ehrenberg of the London and South Bank Business Schools.

A whole business school in Australia is named after him.

He told me this when I interviewed him for an article I wrote.

A strong brand is neither more nor less than one with more customers than its competitors.

How do they get those customers? They do a good job. They offer something better.

Don’t imagine you have to be a big business

You can be a strong brand in a tiny market.

Read in full: Brand bullshit

The makings of a terrible guide

Einstein once stated “Example is not only a way to teach; it is the only way to teach”.

So I am astonished whenever I see something which gives you lots of instructions but not a single clear example showing what makes it good or bad.

Such was the case with a guide I got from some people who specialise in digital marketing.

There are no case histories at all, nothing to study, nothing practical or detailed to learn from – and no numbers.

Read in full: Introducing The Idiot’s Guide to Email Marketing

Why brands fail

Sears Roebuck & Co. was one of the first businesses to have a mail order catalogue, after which they extended into stores.

34 years ago Ogilvy sent me to Chicago to see if I could help, as they were a hugely important client.

I immediately spotted one thing they were doing wrong.

They were spending huge amounts on newspaper inserts.

These had worked in the past, but they had not noticed you could target far more accurately with direct mail. Don’t talk to everybody if you only need to talk to somebody.

People like to do what they’ve always done, it makes them feel comfortable: so they rejected this idea.
That didn’t destroy Sears.

Eddie Lampert – a predatory investor – did that.

He knew everything about making money, and nothing about retail.

He made out like a bandit, extracting $1.4 billion – at the expense of a great business and its loyal staff.
One of the great brands in America is now bankrupt.

They forgot the saying of the man who built Sears up, Julius Rosenwald.

“My ambition is to stand on both sides of the counter at once.”

Read in full: Why great brands fail

Lesson from the real Mad Man

Drayton recalls an inspiring presentation given by the real life Don Draper.

“One example is worth a ton of bullshit” I like to say.

Their example was a pitch they had done to get a big bank in Chicago.

The idea they were selling was that the bank should be represented by a Lion.

I cannot remember the name of the bank, or the lion – this was over 50 years ago. Yet I still remember how they sold the idea.

They used a weapon which David Ogilvy once told me about over dinner in Claridges in 1986.

That weapon is charm.

He said it was the key to success in advertising.

Those two made you smile with the way they presented the idea.

They knocked down your objections – but with charm.

They asked and answered questions in a folksy sort of way – “Why would a crazy lion make sense for a bank? Well, lions are courageous, lions are bold, lions are trustworthy.”

I can’t remember much about the presentation beyond that, and it was only recently that I discovered who exactly had been teaching me.

Read in full: How I met the read Mad Man and the priceless lesson he taught me

More from Drayton

Sign up to our fortnightly newsletter or visit Drayton Bird Associates to discover more timeless wisdom from the legendary direct marketer.

Finally, thanks for reading – the GMA team wishes you all a wonderful Christmas and New Year!

Drayton Bird
Author: Drayton Bird

Drayton has helped sell everything from Airbus planes to Peppa Pig. His book, Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing, out in 17 languages, has been the UK’s best seller on the subject every year since 1982. He has also run his own businesses in the U.K., Portugal and Malaysia.

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