Why we writers ask about links.

On July 24, 2013, in Ellisisms, Writing for the web, by John Ellis

Students are directed to the bulk gift card page after deciding it’s a good idea to buy their teacher a bottle of booze. So much for the starving student.

So far, this is a good idea.

Here’s a surprise link for the LCBO

The headline made sense: Buy your teacher booze!

But the banner links to the “bulk gift card” page on the LCBO site where students can “Select from the following card designs and enter the number of card(s) you wish to purchase”.

When I was a starving student, I didn’t have a budget to bribe my profs in bulk and cover the shipping fees on custom gift cards.

Maybe things have changed. I should have been a teacher.

Hire a writer who is going to ask about links and fulfillment. Hire John the Writer.

Watchable versus readable. A good content graphic.

On September 19, 2012, in Good reads, by John Ellis

I took this infographic from a guy, who got it from a guy who found it on forbes.com. So, I can’t accurately give credit to my source.

The question being raised is ‘do we write content to be read or viewed?’. The infographic makes a good case for creating highly watchable (versus readable) content. As a writer, I’m happy to see this debate because it opens doors for more types of content creators. Film makers and documentarians may be hired to create what used to be the domain of the ‘mass’ writers. Every step in our evolution as story-tellers seems to invite more people into the creative process and this must be a good thing for clients.

For a more in-depth look at language and content in the digital age, I recommend “Always On” by Naomi S. Baron. She raises fascinating questions about how we communicate, such as whether text messages qualify as speech or written words. It’s a must-read for word geeks.


Who approved this?

On June 26, 2012, in Agency life, Copywriting tips, by John Ellis

I was working with my favourite chisel on the weekend. It was made in Sheffield England, where of course you know, they do make fine cutting instruments.

I’ve taken great care to keep my chisel sharpened over the years and I always return it to its original packaging when I’ve finished using it.

I’ve never read the copy on the plastic sheath that protects my chisel from the other tools in the box because I think chisels are self-explanatory.

However, this weekend I did notice that the Footprint Tools company had added three benefit points on the outside of the sleeve, in three languages.

As you can see, I should have faith in my chisel for these three reasons:

Impact Resistant Handle

Professional Quality

Made in Sheffield 

Impact resistant handle? This is the first benefit?

It’s a chisel. Why would the handle be anything but “impact resistant”? It’s only job is to get hit on the head by hammers. Maybe it’s a little thing but little things make all the difference. I would have lead with Made in Sheffield and followed with something about the strength of the steel or that it was forged by Hobbits in Middle Earth – anything but impact resistant. Yikes.


It’s all in the wording

On February 24, 2012, in Copywriting tips, Ellisisms, by John Ellis

I got sucked in by some promotional copy, so I checked out the office furniture on sale this week. Here’s a great little line, hidden in a waterfall of bullet points.

  • Made in Canada
  • Includes one Executive Desk item # 744922, one Hutch for Credenza item # 744924, one Credenza item # 817015, two Pedestal item # 744928, one Bridge item # 744926, one Keyboard Shelf and CPU Platform item # 744931
  • 66-3/4″H x 71-1/8″W x 92-3/8″D
  • Chocolate finish
  • Ready-to-Assemble
  • 10-year manufacturer limited warranty

“Ready to Assemble”? How is this a benefit?

It comes in a million parts and takes a weekend to build. Worse – what unassembled item isn’t ready to assemble, unless it comes without all of the parts?

This is so crappy it’s brilliant. I love it. But I’ll stick with the assembled desk and bar fridge that I have now.

Who approved this?

On November 14, 2011, in Copywriting tips, by John Ellis

My tax money.

After paying $60 in parking tickets last week, I came across this sign at the well-heeled corner of Yonge & St. Clair, a swanky address for ad agencies, surrounded by 7-figure real estate.

Someone at the City of Toronto approved this copy and paid for the creation of this sign.

I get it. But, the verb disturb disturbs me. What can it possibly mean? How does anyone disturb a shrub? It’s unlikely that the local millionaires were stealing them for their balconies. I can’t even imagine what disturbs a shrub.

Loud music?

Asking for directions?

Crawling over the iron fence and asking them to pose for a photo?

This isn’t the first time I’ve spotted my taxes supporting moronic copy. For another disturbing example of rotten copy, paid for by me and you, click here.



Audi A6 – great to watch

On November 10, 2011, in Great design, Uncategorized, by John Ellis

I’m not sure that the brand connection is super tight on this technical spot for the lightweight Audi A6 but I find it highly watchable and very well done. I’m pretty sure that humming birds are incredibly inefficient, burning almost all the food they take in immediately, but who cares? Really? It’s a nice spot.

Home page from Slavery Footprint.

Slavery footprint is a site making its rounds through inboxes this morning and I think it’s worth sharing on many levels. It’s well written, easy to drive, simple and a great way to get the message out about where our products come from. Check it out.

For some excellent commentary on sustainability, check out the outstanding work being done by Ogilvy Earth.

Grammar Sucks

I recently downloaded Grammar Sucks: What to Do to Make Your Writing Much More Better by Joanne Kimes and Gary Roberts.  Should you?

This is a book for relative beginners. The authors make that clear.

Kimes is a comedy writer and she knows when to give the audience a break. There’s a lot of prodding and encouragement throughout the chapters, as though grammar really does suck. So, if you need a primer and you do think grammar sucks, this is probably worth the price of a download.

If you’re writing professionally or your job depends on good written communication, you probably know that grammar doesn’t suck, and you’ll have this basic knowledge, so you’ll find the first half of the book unnecessary. It’s just a basic review of the parts of speech.

Stacking it up to other books.

Grammar Sucks: What to Do to Make Your Writing Much More Better” is the most basic on a list of books that try to make grammar accessible.  But that’s OK if that’s what you’re after. For $12 bucks, you can stop writing like a spaz. That’s a pretty good deal.  

For a more advanced look at the parts of speech, I recommend When You Catch an Adjective Kill It by Ben Yagoda. This is an entire book devoted to parts of speech and just as entertaining. If you’re serious about improving your grammar, this is a good study and Ben’s a funny guy.

For a deeper look at sentence making, you can download How to Write a Sentence by Stanly Fish. This is targeted to fiction writers but there are style tips throughout that are universally applicable. 

One of the best style guides is still On Writing Well by William Zinsser. This is a classic because it sings the praises of simplicity and clarity. It’s a calming resource that gets you on track. (On my desk right now.)

And I’ve always liked the charming style of Eats Shoots & Leaves. This is well written and funny. My copy is full of highlights and dog-eared pages.  I think this is the one that most marketing people should own. A lot of the examples come from our trade.

Online, Grammar Girl has become my trusty go-to site for clear, quick and reliable answers to questions of grammar. 

Note that I receive no compensation and have no interest in promoting or not promoting any book. 

Tagged with:

How insights work. Hot Coffee.

On July 26, 2011, in Copywriting tips, Great writing, by John Ellis

Like a lot of people, I was convinced that the term “frivolous lawsuit” summed up another symptom of an American population out of control. The documentary film ‘Hot Coffee‘ changed my point of view completely. I’ll go so far as to call this film important. It ought to be part of public education on civics.

I had a profound Aha moment when I saw how the term ‘frivolous lawsuit’ could be used to the advantage of large corporations, at the expense of people who may be entitled to large settlements.

This is a great example of an “insight” because it changed the way I will think about a subject forever. I looked behind the curtain and now I will never see this part of the American OZ the same way.

As a writer and content developer, I love these thought-changing moments. This is the power of stories well told.

IIt was a great idea to use of customer feedback to create a low-budget spot with terrific relevance. I hope it’s true.

This kind of advertising isn’t afraid to alienate the customers it doesn’t want. That’s what makes it so compelling. Who hasn’t wanted to throw someone out of a theatre for casting a blue glow?

Love it.