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October 2009

The Art of Persuasive Writing

A good definition of copywriting is any form of writing designed to persuade you to do something (usually involving parting with money). The most common advice is to keep it brief, remember your target audience and have a clear 'ask'.


It turns out bank robbers are natural born copywriters. Banknotes365 is a brilliant collection of notes pushed threateningly across counters in banks around the world – all juxtaposed with photos of their authors.

It would make a great case study in a copywriting workshop. Here are a few examples:


Good, effective, precise – although possibly focusing too much on the negative.


A subtler approach – the threat is implied rather than stated, and the writer is keen to get his audience on side (please... thanks...)


Possibly the most creative of the bunch. The unconventional construction of the phrase "A dye pack will bring me back for your ass" lodges it in the mind successfully. "Do exactly what this says" would make a good all-purpose opening for almost any press advertisement.


This needs a good editor. Note the strange use of quotes around the word 'explode', which turns a literal threat into a more figurative one.

What's most striking and touching about the notes is their politeness, even in the briefest examples:




That last 'Thanks' almost makes you well up.

The blog is by Ken Habarta who has just brought out this book collecting all the notes together.

Buy a copy. Do it now.

Thanks to One Floor Up who mentioned this on Twitter.

This article is now on Creative Review, complete with comments.

Local copywriting for local people


There seems to be an emerging trend for local dialect copywriting.

This blog mentioned the cockney cash machines a while back.

Now Spar has released a range of wine labels written in everything from Scouse to Geordie and Brummie.

So the Scouse Label talks about: "A totally boss bottle of Merlot which smells o' blackberry, choccie, a brew and toffees. Juicy and complex like, this bevey is top wi most scran 'specially me ma's scouse. Tellin ye, this is deffo a bevey that will leave youz and youz mates made up over yez Sayers pastie."

And the Somerset Label says: "Alright my luvver, eers one helluva Merlot. Be stinkin hummin a sivvies thar be bleddy ansome wi yaw croust or oggy. Purfect ta share wi yaw pardy as i' aiin ta eavy. Mygar be a purdy wine! Churs!"

No, I have no idea what that's about either.

The whole thing gets a pretty sniffy write-up in The Guardian – a bit harsh for what is really a bit of harmless fun.

That said, the local dialect does seem somewhat gratuitous in both projects. It's not as if the wines come from Liverpool or Somerset, and there's no real need for cash machines to speak cockney in what is now one of the most multicultural cities in the world.


It would be much better if the use of dialect actually bore some relation to the product itself – for example, a mug typically used for Yorkshire Tea might carry some copy in a Yorkshire accent. That kind of thing. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all.


It would be nice to hear of any other sightings of this trend in action – feel free to email or stick them in the comments.

UPDATE: The wine labels were featured on Jonathan Ross on 30 October – you can see it here for the next week or so (about 5 mins to 8 mins in). Imagine they'll shift a few bottles off the back of that.

Teatime is free time


This morning, we took delivery of a very marvellous thing – a box of free goodies from the godlike people at Yorkshire Tea. No reason, apart from some friendly to-ing and fro-ing on Twitter, originally sparked off by mention of our Pentone Yorkshire mug. Plus, what might be construed as some shameless begging.

Thanks Yorkshire Tea. Not just for this. For everything.

PS: If you haven't seen them already, there are some great Yorkshire Tea ads featuring John Shuttleworth over here on Creative Review.

Tears of a clown


Not sure, but I think that might be a tear I can see running down (up?) Kenny's face. Bidding on eBay ends in a matter of hours and so far he's not made quite the fortune he was hoping for.

Still time, of course. Yes, still time. Someone's bound to realise what a lovely addition he would make to any household. There are probably hundreds of people out there waiting for the right moment. There'll be a few zeroes after that price before you know it! Of course, there will! Chin up, Kenny!

Bid on Kenny here (quick!)

Read the background here

UPDATE: Bidding has now closed... at $11.61. Concluding thoughts and details of Kenny's new home will follow after a decent interval.

You wish to submit a concern?

The day that Goldman Sachs announces a $3.19 billion profit (with $5bn set aside for bonuses this quarter) seems a good time to dust down this poem from Corpoetics.

Goldman Sachs

You wish to submit a concern?
A concern regarding the firm?
Who are you? Are you new?
You will learn who is who.
You will learn to submit to the firm.

(Poem based on this text, which used to be on the Goldman Sachs 'about us' page – since updated.)

Copies of Corpoetics are available for £5 plus p&p with all proceeds going to the National Literacy Trust.

Significant developments


A couple more developments on Significant Objects to share (background in last couple of posts) – first of all, this article on the Eye Magazine blog; and also an interview I did with Rob Walker, co-curator of the project, which is now up on the 26 website.

An initial flurry of bidding has brought Kenny up to $11.11. Bidding remains open until 6pm this Friday 16 October, so it’s all to play for.

Finally, they're running an open contest if you fancy writing a story yourself – details here.

Say hello to Kenny


My Significant Object has gone up on eBay. He's called Kenny and he’s a funny clown. Please bid – it’ll make him happy.

Bid for Kenny

More on Significant Objects

Bidding closes Friday 16 October (around 6pm). UK postage is included in the quoted shipping cost.

The story behind the clown


Time to explain what that picture of a clown was all about (see below).

I'm taking part in Significant Objects, a US-based project designed to test the commercial power of a good story.

The idea is that 100 creative writers are each assigned a near-worthless object and asked to write a story about it. Invested with new significance by this fiction, the object should — according to the project’s hypothesis — acquire not only subjective but objective value. How to test the theory? Via eBay.

You can read the full details here. So far, the project has raised $2,023.96 for 64 items purchased for a total of $84.48 – a ‘Significance Premium’ of 2,295%.

As far as I can make out, I’m the only UK writer taking part, so I'm representing my country on this one. I’ve been assigned the cheeky ceramic clown pictured below (and, more fuzzily, above). It’ll go up on eBay in the next few days, with my accompanying story. Then the bidding will commence. Feel free to join in, or at least spread the word. International shipping is available.

For the sake of transparency, I should say that any profit made on the object goes to me. The thinking is that, if it went to charity, it would skew the results. This is all about ruthless commercial gain.

Further updates soon.

Clowning around


About to do something interesting involving this little fella. More news shortly.