The Loan Shark and the Smith family next door

When it comes to writing to advertise a product or a service – one of the key things that companies target is a customer’s social standing. Us humans, by and large, want to be liked.

We want to look good. Take for example personalised number-plates, there’s a huge market for them – and, contrary to popular belief, one of the reasons why they’re so popular is because they disguise the age of the car…at least to the untrained eye.

Fancy that, ey? It’s not just to have your nickname on the front/rear of your car. It’s so the Jones family next door don’t realise that your car is actually ten years old.

But going back to those on the wrong side of the law, one of the best anecdotes on using social pressure to get what you want concerns a debt collector.

As you can imagine – the life of a loan shark can be pretty tough at times. Common sense is a gift not divided equally, and those who borrow money tend to not want to pay it back.

So the first thing this debt collector would do – he’d find out the address of his payment dodger’s mother or close family member. And he’d send them a postcard. Addressed to the payment dodger but going to the family address.

And, as postcards aren’t in envelopes, the family member would have to have the willpower of a Spartan not to read the back of the postcard.

Then they’d get in touch with the person that the card was meant for. Exerting social pressure.

Because no one wants to look bad in front of the family, right?

benidrom
(image credit: Hemingway Design)

If this method didn’t work (or if he couldn’t find a relevant family member) – the loan shark would send another postcard.

It would again be addressed to their client, but it would be addressed to the house next door. Instead of to the client’s actual house.

So, as you can imagine, the Smiths next door would read the postcard and find out that their neighbour owed money to the wrong people.

Presumably they’d then deliver the card to the addressee…and he or she would be served a massive dose of social embarrassment.

Manipulating the natural human instinct to care what others think can get you want you want.

It’s the same with getting models to wear clothes and showing lots of happy, cool people using an electronic gadget.

If we think it’ll make us look or feel a certain way, we’re likely to be more interested in it.

(I believe I first read about this anecdote in ‘How to write sales letters that sell’ by the enigmatic Drayton Bird – one of the greatest living copywriters, who I was luckily enough to meet at his seminar a few years back)

(featured image credit: www.sharkdiver.com)

The Purloined Letter: how Edgar Allen Poe can help you with your creativity

We’re pretty advanced these days.

Particularly our thought processes.

The things we worry about are a lot more complex than they were many years ago.

These complex worries can often mean that, when it comes to facing a problem, we instantly look for a complex solution.

Even when the situation doesn’t really call for it.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post – often creativity is a matter of simplicity, not complexity.

In 1845 Edgar Allen Poe wrote a tale called ‘The Purloined Letter’. It was the third in a trilogy of crime short stories about a fictional detective named C. Augustine Dupin.

In the story a letter is stolen from a seemingly secure room and used to blackmail a socialite. The police are desperately trying to find the letter and work out how it was stolen.

They spend their time searching high and low for an elaborate hiding place.

The amateur detective in the story, Dupin, realises that the letter is being hidden openly in the thief’s home and promptly finds it – much to the dismay of the police force. 

It was right in front of their noses. But they were too busy looking for the spectacular.

See? 

The answer to the problem was the simples. But everyone else was overcomplicating things and looking for something spectacular.

In creativity it can often be the same.

If you’re selling a product you can spend months searching for an incredibly clever slogan. But in reality, to sell it all you need to do is tell the customer the obvious.

e.g. – this lightbulb is twice as bright as your current bulb, and energy efficient too.

Simple, on the nose and honest. Telling the customer about two things that they want from a lightbulb.

It can also be the same with a novel. Big, convoluted paragraphs can often be simplified to appeal to the reader.

So, next time you’re tackling a problem or next time you’re being creative, have a think about Poe and ‘The Purloined Letter’. Can he help you?

(Photo credit: the famous people)

 

How kitchen roll taught me that creativity can be simple

Some 20 years ago, my first school was one of many schools that were entered into a competition.

It was run by one of the big kitchen roll companies – I can’t recall which one. 

Basically they wanted us to do a special design for some limited edition packaging.

Yep, instead of using a design firm they decided to skip costs and get eager kids to do it…

Being a creative nipper I was excited by this. But, back then, creativity to me meant that you had to try and be as far outside of the box as possible.

I didn’t think practically or subtly. And so my design looked like it had been put together by Andy Warhol after an acid flashback.

In terms of the client brief and brand it didn’t fit.

And, of course, I didn’t win.

But my best friend did. He had come up with a fairly simplistic (yet polished) design and they lapped it up.

I jealously watched as he won a shedload of plaudits and even nailed a newspaper interview.

Nowadays he channels that skill as a design engineer.

And, after learning a lot, I eventually got a break as a copywriter.

There’s a lesson here for us all. Creativity is about connecting things and sticking true to what your client or your audience will respond to and want.

There’s no such thing as simple. Not really, anyway. It’s just about having a good idea. Whether that idea is plain and conservative, or rainbow coloured – it’s about what fits.

That’s what creativity is. It can be simple. It just needs to fit the purpose.

(Photo credit: Daily Express)

Should you be more ‘War and Peace’ or more Ernest Hemingway?

‘War and Peace was first published as a book in 1869.

It has around 1,225 pages.

It’s philosophical, emotional, realistic and very involving.

If you can read it that is. That’s a hell of a lot of pages.

Most people can’t and won’t find the time to read all that.

Particularly with modern day leisure distractions such as computer games and on demand streaming

On the other hand, Ernest Hemingway is known for writing one of the shortest stories of all time.

It goes:

For Sale: baby shoes, never worn”.

It has impact doesn’t it? It makes you think and leaves you with many questions.

So, when it comes to your own writing, it’s a worthy reminder that you don’t need to write the next ‘War and Peace’ to connect with an audience and drive a point.

Not to say that longform content doesn’t always work…its just a case of understanding your reader.

What would work for those who read The Guardian wouldn’t work for those who read The Sun.

Talent: yours is better than you think

Talent.

It’s a great thing, isn’t it? It’s one of my favourite qualities that we have as humans and I think we should celebrate our talents at all times – you know, those little things that we’re able to do just that bit better than anyone else.

Whether it’s singing a note, kicking a football, writing a sonnet or anything inbetween.

Yet, how often do you really make the most out of your talents? How often do you use them to your full benefit?

There are a lot of people out there who are really talented, but they just never pursue it. I guess sometimes they think their talents are too obscure or too useless to really help them in the world.

But, for anyone who thinks that their talent isn’t worthwhile…let me tell you about a man called Tarrare.

A chap who well and truly had one of the ‘worst’ talents you can imagine.

Tarrare was born into a relatively poor family in late 16th century France. But, before he was really into his teenage years, his parents had to kick him out.

Not because they didn’t love him. But because he was, quite literally, eating them out of house and home.

You see Tarrare had an insatiable appetite for food. There’s no other way to describe it. Live animals, loaves of bread and even furniture – he’d eat nearly everything in sight, yet it still wouldn’t cure the great hunger within him.

Tarrare ended up travelling with a bunch of circus performers and made something of a living by eating random objects in front of a crowd. Whether it be animal refuse, blocks of wood or shards of glass.

The military even tried to use his talents by getting him to swallow important instructions and take them through enemy lines. He wasn’t suited to this line of employment though and gave the secrets away to the enemy without too much questioning.

Perhaps it just took one laxative…

Legend has it that he once ate enough for fifteen people in one sitting. Including portions of puppy, snake and lizard. Yet, even after all that grub, he still wasn’t full.

Those who knew him described him as normal size and said that, asides from being weirdly apathetic, he didn’t seem to have any unusual character traits…asides from his appetite.

Eventually Tarrare was admitted to hospital with exhaustation because, try as he might, he just couldn’t top off his hunger.

He didn’t last too long in hospital. They ejected him after he (apparently) started eating corpses…some even say that he was responsible for eating a toddler!

Whether these tales are true…I do not know. But he was thrown out of the hospital. Which is fair enough. I’d hate to be in hospital with someone who might try to eat me…

After that, Tarrare disappeared from the records for a few years.

Only to resurface a few years later and ultimately die of tuberculosis. An autopsy revealed that he had an abnormally large gullet and stomach…but you probably guessed that, I’m sure.

So as you can see, there are talents more unfortunate than yours…now, if you tried, what could you really do with your talent?

 

 

 

The businessman and the painter: a story about the perspectives of success…

There was once a big, successful businessman who owned a beautiful house in the suburbs of a busy city.

He loved business and had dedicated his life to it. Earning a fortune in the process.

Along the way he’d fallen in love with an equally successful woman and they’d had a couple of children between them. He had everything he had ever wanted in life.

One day the businessman decided the house could do with a new lick of paint and some decoration.

He searched around for a painter and eventually found a reliable sounding one in the area. Rich as he was, the businessman still liked to drive a bargain, and was pleased that the painter was very affordable.

The painter arrived the next day – he was a humble, affable man and the businessman instantly warmed to him.

All the work that the businessman had wanted done was completed within a few days and he was very pleased with the results. He paid the painter and told him that he would be his first port of call if ever he needed any work done.

That night, as he was settling down for a glass of Scotch, he noticed that the painter had left a few of his things there.

The painter’s office wasn’t far away, so the next morning the businessman drove it over for him. He was surprised to find out that the man’s office was also his home – a modest apartment that he shared with his girlfriend.

The businessman was invited in for a coffee and duly accepted. As he went in he saw a framed degree hanging on the wall – the painter had first class honours in fine art from a very prestigious arts university.

The businessman also noticed several easels set up around the apartment with half-finished paintings on them – the artwork looked incredible.

After a while the businessman asked him: “Painter, your artwork is incredible – why ever didn’t you decide to pursue a career as an artist? You could make it so easily”.

The painter smiled and nodded; “I have done. You see, every day I paint for people and I give them exactly what they want. Not what I want, or what I think they want. And every day they live in their homes or sit in their offices surrounded by my work. I’m giving people what they need and I never grow short of work”.

The businessman couldn’t help but look astonished.

“I know my work will never go out of fashion, no one will ever steal it, no critics will ever sneer at it and no one else but me will dictate how much it costs. Plus, when I’m long gone no one will ever try to copy it!”

After his coffee the businessman left and continued on with his day, a new perspective on success had opened up in his mind and he would admire the painter for as long as he lived.

 

The Art of Storytelling

The art of storytelling has changed over the years. Constantly evolving to fit and adapt to the new mediums that are continually emerging.

Whether you’re writing novels or telling your brand’s story via marketing, it’shard work.

At times it can almost feel as if the world is against your chances of success…

After all, it’s so easy to start a website or a blog these days, that anyone can call themselves a writer. Whether they can write or not (ahem).

So with the more chattering digital mouths there are around it’s even harder for us to tell our stories. Even the best voices struggle to be heard in a bustling crowd.

But storytellers are still vital to the world. Even if there are more of them. The best ones will stand the test of time, the bad ones (hopefully) won’t.

cacofonix

(Cacofonix, the fictional bard from ‘Asterix the Gaul’)

If it wasn’t for the writers, bards and artists of the past there’s very little that we’d know about our history.

This tale, coming to you from ancient Mongolia, is one that I always use to remind me of the importance of storytelling:

How Tales Originated among the Mongol People:

“Once upon a time, the Black Death descended on Central Asia and began its assault on the people of Mongolia.

Thousands fled, leaving the sick, and as they fled they said ‘We must try to escape. Let Fate decide the Destiny of the suffering.’

Among the sick there was a young boy called Tarvaa. For days Tarvaa’s body battled the forces of death but finally, weak and feverish, the young man lost all awareness of this world. Tarvaa’s spirit thought that young Tarvaa had died.

The spirit left Tarvaa and rose up out of the boy’s body and started the sad journey to the Underworld.

On arrival the Great Khan of the Underworld said to Tarvaa ‘Why have you left your body while it is still alive? Why have you come to my Kingdom?’

Trembling with fright, Tarvaa’s spirit replied, ‘Great Khan, all my family and all my friends who remained in that World stood over my body and said I was dead. I did not wait for the terrible last moment, but simply left on my journey to you.’

The Khan was touched by the simplicity and honesty of Tarvaa’s spirit. He told the spirit gently, ‘Young spirit, your time has not yet come. You do not belong here. You must return. But before you set out on your long journey home, I will grant you one gift. You may choose and take back with you anything from my Kingdom that you desire.’

Tarvaa looked around, and saw all earthly joys and talents – wealth, happiness, laughter, luck, music and dance. ‘Give me the art of storytelling’, he said, for he knew that stories can summon up all other joys.

The Khan then instructed the spirit, ‘Now return home at once. Use this gift well in life, and do not come here again until you have been called!’ So he returned to his body, only to find that the crows had pecked out the eyes. Since he could not disobey the Khan of the Underworld he re-entered his body.

Young Tarvaa recovered from the Black Death and lived on, blind, but with the knowledge of all tales. For the rest of his life, Tarvaa would travel to the far corners of the Mongol lands recounting wonderful tales and legends to his people and bringing joy and wisdom.”

(I first learnt this story in John Man’s fantastic book, Genghis Khan: Life, Death, and Resurrection)