We’ll Treat You With The Respect You Deserve

If there is one ubiquitous phrase popping up in commercials that makes me batty, this would be the one. I’ve never understood it. And that includes the variations: We’ll treat your pet, or your car, or your home with the respect it or they deserve. Really?

Well, of course you will, or I won’t pay you!

Seriously, is this something that needs to be said? Why wouldn’t you treat me this way? Has any business thrived on disrespecting its clients? Other than utilities and government agencies that is? Every one of your competitors is making the same claim anyway, so the phrase doesn’t even set you apart from them.

I have a philosophy that comes from doing hundreds of radio and TV appearances promoting a show. You only get so much time to make your point, so don’t waste it saying the obvious. Or the easily discovered. Besides, who sits next to the TV with a pen and paper just in case valuable information like this is presented? Most people don’t even have writing equipment next to their telephone.

For example: In some cities where we set up production, we’d have press appearances to promote our show. We’d be lucky to get 5 minutes on a morning TV show. Almost invariably, the PR people we were working with in that town would hand us a sheet of talking points to use in that 5 minutes. These would include show times, theater location, phone numbers to buy tickets, web site, etc etc. And I would always ask, “Why are we wasting 2 of our 5 precious minutes giving out information that can be easily found? We should be taking that time to sell the product, not telling them how to buy it.”

In our case, that product was ‘us’. Our show was a comedy, so we had better be funny. You wouldn’t buy teeth whitening services from a guy with a yellow smile, and you won’t buy comedy from boring, unfunny people. But at least you’d know where the theater is located, so you can avoid it. If we were funny and entertaining, then people would seek out our services. And these days, that information is easy to find.

Which gets me back to my original point. Treating me with respect is a selling point, but in my experience it is also a given. You should be doing this, in fact, I expect it. Every business does this. If you have to talk about it, then I suspect that you either have very few compelling reasons for me to patronize your business, or you have had a bad reputation in the past. Neither are good.

Take your precious 30 seconds and tell me why you are different than your competitors. Maybe it’s price; the same job for less. Maybe it’s service; you’ll finish faster and give me a donut. Maybe it’s experience; you’ve been doing this for a hundred years and you even trained all your competition. Either way, don’t waste that air or print time.

If you do that, then you will have truly treated me with the respect I deserve.

First Things First, And in That Order

Every now and then I make one of those ‘aha’ discoveries that are so obvious, that the only reason I didn’t make it sooner is that I must have been purposely avoiding it. In other words, I must not have wanted to discover it because it would probably mean a shift in the way I do things, and that shift can sometimes be uncomfortable. I believe that is what Seth Godin refers to as the Lizard Brain at work. Sometimes however, I give those new ideas a chance and before long I have a hard time going back to my old ways. In fact, going back to the previous ‘system’ would now represent change that I’d like to avoid. Funny how often that shift can occur.

Here’s my recent encounter with the obvious. I had been struggling to get any creative writing done. It seemed like the day would just slip away from me, and not only would no words hit the page, but the frustration of that reality would (or should I say ‘could’) make me a slightly less pleasant person to be around. I was, and am, a big fan of the book Accidental Genius by Mark Levy, and in the past had great success using his technique of free writing. In fact, I have written about it before here, here, and here. But lately, it wasn’t working for me.

And then… I discovered why.

KenKen. Well, it wasn’t all the fault of KenKen. Sudoku, Crossword and a few other puzzles contributed to my downfall. And they did it in the most sinister and clever ways.

Of course there was the waste of productive time spent solving puzzles instead of writing. But everyone should have a hobby, and this one was mine. It relaxed me, took my mind off of my problems and made me feel smart when I solved them. That was fine. Where they did their damage, was in when I would choose to do them.

Ever since my kids were born, I had gotten into the habit of getting up even earlier than usual. Four am instead of six am. I would then make a pot of coffee, and in those beautiful, quiet two hours, sit at my computer, and solve puzzles. Two peaceful, creativity packed hours, and I would spend them putting numbers into a grid.

This was bad for two reasons. First, what a colossal waste of quiet productive time. Second, and this is where the sinister part comes in, solving puzzles is a primarily left brain function. Once I had started my day with intense left brain activity, it was nearly impossible to switch over to right brain work. I was short circuiting the creative process. Most people, including me, have a harder time getting that right brain function kicked into gear. It is even more difficult to do when you’ve already pointed your brain in the opposite direction and have built up considerable speed. Imagine trying to shift your car from reverse gear to drive at thirty miles an hour. Not a good idea.

So here’s the new system, and so far it’s working beautifully. Get up at four am, make a pot of coffee and write! Write anything that comes out. The first few days, most of my scribblings seemed to center around how much I missed doing my puzzles in the morning. But soon, I didn’t miss them and the pages started to fill up. It was beautiful.

Besides, after a long day of being productive, solving a few puzzles felt kind of rewarding.

Every now and then I have to remind myself to do first things first, and always in that order.

 

Look Who’s Talking

My wife and I like to play a game with TV commercials. We call it ‘Look Who’s Talking’, or ‘Name That Goon’ (They aren’t really goons, it’s just the best rhyme for ‘tune’ I could come up with). The object of the game is simple really. When a commercial airs, we try to see who can name the actor behind the voice first. After a while, you start to see the same names over and over. And it got me to wondering why.

Let’s just assume that it is a nice pleasant voice. There are probably some qualities to it that are reassuring and soothing. Deep voices often convey authority and can create feelings of trust. A woman’s voice can be nurturing and make us feel safe.

But when it comes to celebrities, I believe there is something else at work as well. And it falls into the category of branding. Whatever good feelings we have about an actor are transferred over into the product they are representing. That’s why the majority of voice over work is done by actors who play the hero most of the time. They at least have to be someone about whom we have good feelings. Which explains why Charlie Sheen and Lindsey Lohan aren’t doing voice overs right now. A crook and a schnook do not evoke positive feelings.

Keifer Sutherland is the hero of TV show 24. We look up to him, trust him and know that he will do the right thing. So, even though we many not know it on a conscious level (in fact, we may not even recognize his voice in a commercial), his voice behind a product lends those same qualities to it.

So, the next time your favorite show breaks for commercial, don’t run to the kitchen. Who needs the extra calories anyway? Instead, close your eyes, listen to the voice behind the product and try to ‘Name That Goon’ (again, they are not really goons, but my rhyme dictionary didn’t return many options).

Once you have the actor named, try to think of why they were chosen. What qualities does the actor possess that the advertisers hope you associate with their product? Does it work?

And if so, is there any product out there that can benefit from having Charlie Sheen as their voice. He could use the work.

 

How To Write A TV Commercial In Ten Minutes Part 2

In part one of this article, we explored the three basic rules to apply if you were interested in writing a cliche TV commercial. Judging by the number of these I see on TV in any given day, I think it is fair to assume that quite of few advertisements are put together this way. To recap, here are the guidelines:

1) Women are smart, men are stupid

2) Kids are smarter than adults

3) Animals are smarter than people

Using that info, let’s see if I can write a commercial that will resemble about 60%  of the ones you see airing today. We need a product to promote. How about roadside assistance?

Our commercial opens with a man, his wife and two kids in a minivan driving to some unknown destination. The man, distracted by a billboard for cheap fireworks, does not see the animated beaver on a scooter crossing in front of them. His ever alert wife, after putting down her copy of Einsteins biography to mull over the Theory of Relativity, does see the beaver and warns her husband to veer left. Instead he veers right and hits a huge pot hole which causes a blowout of the front tire. The man covers his eyes and the woman steers them to safety.

After surveying the damage, the man says the situation is hopeless because he can’t remember how to change a tire. The wife then reminds him that she talked him into purchasing roadside assistance when they bought the van and that they could call for help. He no sooner agrees to do so, when a service truck pulls up. In the back seat of the van, we see two smiling pre-teens who point to their smart phones and say in unison, “We’ve already send out a Tweet!” To which mom and dad reply, “You kids, saving the day again. What would we do without you?”

As the service truck pulls away, fresh tire in place, the kids look out the window and say, “The tow truck guy forgot to put the lug nuts back on!” Just then, the animated beaver who nearly lost his life thanks to the hapless dads incompetence, rides in on his scooter and puts the lug nuts back on. Our family drives off to get some cheap fireworks.

Granted, I’ve taken quite a bit of poetic license here, but the final product is not that far off from some of the fare offered today as fresh and original. And it’s not that this is a bad commercial, it’s just that when a large percentage of ads follow this formula, they start to lose their effectiveness. And worse, I think it’s lazy.

If your able to put something togehter this easily, then you’re either a genius, or you’re in a rut.

Here’s part 1 of the post. How To Write A TV Commercial In Ten Minutes Part 1

 

 

How to Write a TV Commercial in 10 Minutes Part 1

Sitting through a recent Twilight Zone marathon, I learned a few things. First, it’s still one of the best shows that ever hit the airwaves. Second,  after absorbing hundreds of commercials, I discovered that a great majority of them could be written by almost anyone who could follow a few basic tenets. I would say that at least half of all advertising on TV falls into these cliches.

Most commercials follow a pattern I call, Problem, Product, Promised Land. You start with a problem, introduce XYZ product in order to solve it and then you enter the promised land of happiness.  To run a successful cliche ad campaign, there are a few rules you should apply.  Here they are:

Rule #1) Women are smart, men are stupid.

You can ignore all the other guidelines, and still produce a winning ad with this one. Always depict men as idiots, and women with the superior intellect. Women will know more than men about about everything, including lawn mowers,  barbecues, race cars and even impotence. On rare occasions a woman can be shown as mentally inferior to a man, as long a she is the gorgeous, ditsy type. You can pull this off because men don’t care and ordinary women are able to look down upon her.

The ONLY time a man can appear smarter than  a woman is when he is what I call ‘The Intruder’. This man will not be the woman’s husband or boyfriend, he will be a stranger, like Mr. Clean or the Fiber Bar guy. He will usually burst upon the scene to solve whatever problem is at hand, which is kind of creepy in and of itself. Even though he is smart, the only reason he is needed in the first place is that the woman’s significant other is a complete dolt. She would have figured out a solution if she wasn’t weighed down with an idiot.

Rule #2) Kids are smarter than adults.

Lest you think women and minorities are at the top of the intellectual heap, think again. If you really want a solution to your problem, consult a child. In TV land, the younger they are, the smarter they are. Grown-ups are puppets to be manipulated for the relief of boredom and acquisition of goodies. Not much different than  government workers.  It is even better if they can cause pain and embarrassment to their elders.  It’s a good thing these TV parents have children, otherwise they probably couldn’t tie their shoes.

Rule #3) Animals are smarter than people.

Thank goodness for chattering chipmunks, finicky felines and cunning koalas. If you cannot come up with any other idea for your product, just toss in an animal; give it some clever dialog and viola, you have an instant hit! Animated ones are even better. Be sure to imbue them with human like attributes they don’t really possess. The critters must outsmart humans, be more considerate, and if possible, rescue the helpless, clueless bipeds from a dangerous or near fatal situation.  They know what’s best for everyone and believe the world would be better if every person lived according to their rules. In other words, they are a lot like politicians.

 

Those are the guidelines. In the next post, I will try to write a modern day commercial using them. The result may look like any of a number of commercials running today.

Here’s part 2 of How To Write A TV Commercial In Ten Minutes

 

 

Free Writing Part 3

Free writing is a great exercise to unlock your creative side, and like any exercise you will get better at it over time. However, just like in physical fitness, your technique can always be tweaked here and there to help you get the most out of the exercise.

So here are a few of my discoveries using free writing. :

1) Don’t look at the paper as you write! By not looking at the page, you won’t be tempted to go back and correct mistakes. If you allow corrections a bunch of times pretty soon nothing but correcting is getting done. Do look up occasionally however, just to be sure your computer hasn’t frozen and ten minutes of writing isn’t recorded. Don’t ask me how I know this can happen.

2) Move as swiftly as possible. Every time you stop the flows gets interrupted.  If you have nothing to write about, write about having nothing to write about. Soon enough, you’ll get back to creating. Just put it all down and deal with the mess later.

3) I tend to write in Microsoft word so I like to hit the ‘Enter’ key frequently, especially if I feel I’ve come to the end of a thought. Then, when I edit later, I switch the page into ‘Outline Mode’. This allows me to move chunks of text around quite easily by just dragging them.

4) Ten minute sessions are just for starters. You want to work up to a good thirty minutes every day.

5) Try not to do too much left brain activity beforehand. I used to solve Crosswords and Sudokus puzzles when my brain was fresh, then I’d be surprised how hard it was to get creative. Start with right brain activity. It’s easier to switch to logic after.

That’s the short version of it. If you want to know more, here’s a link to the book. You can probably pick it up used for pretty cheap, but if the used copies are anything like mine, they’ll be all marked up.

Free Writing Part 1

Free Writing Part 2

 

Free Writing Part 2

 

Here’s why free writing helps you tap into the creative side of your brain.

When we write, we must resist the temptation to edit and proofread as we go along. If we edit and proofread as we create, we limit the amount of original content we can create. The editor and proofreader are the left brain jerks that get in the way of good creative flow. If you had an actual editor and proofreader in the room looking over your shoulder and stopping you to make corrections every time you misspelled a word or used incorrect punctuation you’d never get anything written.

If the editor kept rearranging text as you went along, you’d be lucky to finish a single paragraph. Yet this is what we do every time we sit down to write. We invite those two into the room with us, give them a seat on either side, and invite them to stop us as often as they feel like. Then we wonder why nothing ever hits the page. Your best bet is to work alone.

But, before you start the editing process, knock out todays ten minute writing session. There are two reasons for this:

  1. First, even though yesterdays session is long over, your subconscious is still playing with some of that material. It just might come out better today.
  2. Second, since it’s harder to fire up the right brain after the left, you will probably find it a lot easier to put the editing of yesterdays material off.

So now that you’ve written for 10 minutes or so without editing and set it aside for a day, what comes next?  Chances are really good that you’ve got a lot of crap on the paper. But you might also discover that there are a few nuggets in the rubble you’ve created, and those are the things we want to dig out.  Granted, there will be days when ALL of what you’ve written is unusable. In time though, you will find that each day you produce better and more usable material.

Once you’ve sorted out the wheat form the chaff, you’ll find that you might have the makings of a complete article, blog post or White Paper. If so, great! Put the finishing touches on it and put it out there. If it doesn’t feel quite complete, that’s OK too. Just let it ruminate in the noggin for a few days, and use it as a jumping off place for another days free writing. Eventually you may find a gem inside.

In part 3, I’ll cover a few of my tips and discoveries.

 

Free Writing Part 1

Free Writing Part 3

 

Free Writing Part 1: Kick Creativity into Gear


In the information age, the winners are the ones who create the most…which means you have to write.


Most people know the brain is divided into two hemispheres (three, if you’re Charlie Sheen): the left brain and the right brain. While the left controls all those logical functions we need to navigate the day and solve Sudokus, the right is the Holy Grail we need to tap if we want to create. So we have to find a way to get the left brain to take some time off while we engage the right. The question is… are there tricks to doing this?

In a word: most definitely, absolutely, without a doubt, you betcha, of course there are. One of them is called free writing. Free writing is a concept I found in a book by Mark Levy called Accidental Genius. While I highly recommend you read the whole thing, let me see if I can give you the gist of it in a nut house. (Sorry for the second Charlie Sheen reference.)

The two sides of the brain almost work as a pair of antagonistic muscles, like the biceps and triceps. While the biceps and triceps allow the arm to perform many functions, they cannot work simultaneously at a peak level. A process called reciprocal inhibition means that when the bicep flexes, the triceps relaxes, and vice versa. If both are flexed, your arm becomes stiff and is incapable of doing much. In a worst case, you can tear one or both muscles. The brain is the same way. At any given moment, one side is called on more than the other. Trying to engage both equally at the same time results in very little movement and it’s no surprise you struggle to create. Who knows, you might pull a brain muscle.

Free writing kicks the left brain out of the process so the right brain can flex its muscle. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Set a timer for ten minutes.
  2. Write, write, write. Don’t stop even if gibberish is all you can muster.
  3. No spell check. No grammar. No punctuation. NO EDITING!
  4. It will probably be crap. That’s fine.
  5. Sit on it. Edit much later.

That’s how to get started. In part 2, we will tackle what’s next.


Free Writing Part 2

Free Writing Part 3