Word People

Some word-people feel it’s their duty to correct you when you use a word improperly. These people are pedantic, pointy-nose dogs determined to give you a posterior probe, pretending it’s for your own good. I am not that sort of word-person. The people of my tribe believe words are colored with sparkling tints of nuance [...]

How to Achieve World Peace

More than 500 people have seen the earth from space and 12 have walked on the moon. Most of these people returned home strangely altered. Their families were the first to notice. In 1987 this phenomenon got a name. “The overview effect” refers to what happens when a person sees, firsthand, the Earth as a tiny, fragile ball of [...]

Blow the Bugle. Bang the Drum.

We believe knowledge is freedom. We believe you can learn big things quickly when your instructor is experienced, passionate, organized and entertaining. We believe an expert can teach you – in less than a day – more than you can learn in 4 years of college. We believe traditional wisdom is often more tradition than [...]

According to Whose Rules?

When each customer buys four and a half times the average amount of stuff per visit and you attract four times the average number of visitors, you make eighteen times as much profit. (4 x 4.5 = 18) If you run your convenience store according to the rules and conventions of convenience stores, you’re going to [...]

Vast Project, Half-vast Commitment

You have a dream, a hope for the future. But are you willing to spend what it costs to achieve it, endure what is required of you and fight for as long as it takes? Unrelenting action is what turns starry-eyed daydreams into steely-eyed objectives. You say you have a goal. Let me look into [...]

WARNING: Someone Pushed My Button

A person is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. They say, “One picture is worth a thousand words.” I say, “In 1985, after finding that pretty but unlabeled icons confused customers, the Apple Computer Human Interface Group adopted the motto, ‘A word is worth a thousand pictures,’ and a descriptive word [...]

Who are Your Invisible Heroes?

I had an interesting moment a couple of weeks ago. A client came to Austin for his annual marketing retreat and brought his top lieutenants with him. His company has a couple of hundred franchisees that do about a quarter-billion dollars a year. Everyone was anxious to hear my marketing strategy for 2016. “I need [...]

Your Customer is not Your Friend

You own a business. You believe in your company. You believe you deliver a better experience than your competitors. Is this confidence based on your intentions, your goals, your beliefs, your values and your personal commitment to your customer’s happiness? It is? Uh-oh. Judging yourself by your intentions isn’t a danger among friends, because a [...]

The Color that Doesn’t Exist

Magenta. What color is that? It isn’t violet and it isn’t purple. And why isn’t it in the rainbow? Doesn’t the rainbow contain the whole color spectrum? The short answer is that magenta doesn’t actually exist. (Well, none of the colors actually exist, but we’ll get to that in a little bit. Magenta doesn’t exist in an [...]


“I could’ve bought that building 5 years ago for $70,000. It’s worth half a million now.” “I could’ve been his partner in that business. He’s worth a fortune now.” “I could’ve…” This went on all day. My host believed I would be impressed that he was “connected” and “in the know,” but the only thing [...]

What Does Your Ocean Whisper?

Part 3 of Living for Real

Psychologist Carl Jung saw life as a journey on water. Above the waterline is the conscious mind, this place of sunshine and scenery that you and I call home. Below the waterline is the unconscious, a wet and moonlit world of symbols and meanings and metaphors on which we float like shadows along the upper edge [...]

How the Internet Has Changed Us

If your sales lead is one hour old, you’re about to make a cold call. In other words, you don’t really have a sales lead anymore. In fact, if that sales lead was generated online, your contact rate declines by 99 percent – meaning that you’ll reach just one in one hundred at the end of 30 minutes – [...]

In What Direction Adventure?

Part Two of Living for Real

You can choose a dragon or you can wait until a dragon chooses you, but every happy person fights one. Our dragons give us purpose. Our dragons give us adventure. The problem with adventure is that we seldom realize how much fun we’re having until it’s over. When you’re having an adventure, you wish you [...]

The Unexamined Life

Part One of Living for Real

Dean Rotbart once told me that a person can do well without doing good. It took me a beat to grasp his meaning, but then it hit me and I’ve never forgotten it. “Doing well” is financial. It’s about you. “Doing good” is personal. It’s about others. And the difference you’ve made in their lives. [...]

Of Gumball Machines and Commercial Jets

“Bonding” is falling in love with a company, a product, a spokesperson, an outlook, a belief system. This bond of love inevitably manifests itself in a tangible way. And then again. And again. A bonding ad is about the customer. A direct response ad is about the offer. Direct response ads trigger immediate action. Bonding ads do not. The results [...]

Identity Hooks

Branding – bonding with a hero or a company or other imaginary character – is merely an entangling of identity hooks. We connect because we are alike. But where do we gather these identity hooks on which hang our self-definitions? “The music we listen to may not define who we are. But it’s a damn [...]

My Sadly Comical Midlife Crisis

I got some great news last week. A friend who read my Musings of an Old Ad Writer said to me, “You’re not old, you’re middle aged.” Woo-hoo! If he’s right, I’m going to live to be 114. During the years that I was, in fact, middle aged, I was too busy to have a [...]

Musings of an Old Ad Writer

There are words used by young advertising professionals that I try desperately to avoid. Two of the most painful phrases for me are “unique selling proposition” and “branding.” When I was young, those phrases meant the same to me as they did to everyone else. But I take comfort in the words of Muhammad Ali, “The [...]

Thoughts Like Comets in the Night

Laughter brings escape from monotony. Sadness teaches us what is important to our heart. Commitment carries us through the dark hours, the dry places, the sad times. Enthusiasm, “God within,” opens our eyes to the possible. JP Engelbrecht says a business owner can learn a lot about managing groups of people by studying famous monarchs. “If you [...]

Inspiration, Enthusiasm and Instruction

You cannot instruct a person to have enthusiasm any more than you can instruct them to give birth to a redheaded child. The person must first be inspired. Inspiration is what you give them. Enthusiasm is what they give you. People inhale inspiration and exhale enthusiasm. They cannot give you enthusiasm until you give them inspiration. [...]

Gnawing on Numbers

Occasionally a client will send a spreadsheet of company statistics and ask me to comment on what I see. I usually look and see ambiguous statistics but I certainly don’t want to say that. Discussing business numbers with people is like discussing religion. No matter what you say, you’re unlikely to change their intrinsic beliefs, so [...]

The Wisdom to Know the Difference

Whiners, blame shifters, indignant people, people with victim mentalities, online trolls, people who demand things and cheerless givers of “constructive criticism” are all herded into one decrepit old corral in my brain. That corral is a category in my mind. As these unhappy cows moan “moooo” I walk sadly away and think “dog food.” I [...]

Whiskey and Roller Skating

Showmanship is symbolism, the essence of pageantry and tradition: the sweep of an extended arm with an upraised palm in an expansive gesture; a deep bow with the added flourish of both arms extended to the sides, again with palms turned upward; dramatic emphasis expressed by hopping in place on the balls of your feet [...]

The Hidden Dangers of Lists

I have a client who has a lot of marketing savvy. A few weeks ago he sent me a list of seven copy points and asked if this was our radio strategy. I spent a lot of time crafting a carefully considered response, so I thought I might share it with you. Perhaps it will [...]

Let’s Talk Tunes

The genius of the human race lies in our ability to attach complex meanings to sounds. But not all of these sounds are words. There is a second, wordless language of pitch, key, tempo, contour, interval and rhythm: music is an auditory fractal, a 3-dimensional map of a chaotic system. (Chaos, in science, is not [...]

A Partial Dictionary of the Cognoscenti

Angle – the direction from which a writer, speaker, photographer or illustrator approaches their chosen subject. Some angles are more interesting than others. Brandable Chunks – memorable phrases that become associated with a brand. Innovation Model – a proven template that allows you to generate a superior result. Business Topology – a technique used for [...]

Off-Balance Symmetry:
A Fancy Name for Style

The left side of your brain wants perfect symmetry, but in the words of Francis Bacon 400 years ago, There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.” In chaos theory, this “strangeness in the proportion” is called the strange attractor and it triggers a level of organization so vast the human mind [...]

Reality: Objective or Perceptual?

I’ve met people who say absolute truth does not exist, that all truth is subjective and exists like beauty in the eye of the beholder. I believe those people are sadly misguided. Absolute truth absolutely exists. If you don’t believe me, just ask me again because I am absolutely certain. But we’re not talking about [...]

Whose Dog Are You?

In 1738, Alexander Pope gave a dog to Frederick, Prince of Wales. Engraved on the dog’s collar were these words: “I am his Highness’ dog at Kew; Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?” Alexander Pope hitched his wagon to Prince Frederick, a rising star. If you’ve seen the Masterpiece Theater television series, Wolf Hall, you’ll [...]

Surprise and Delight

Say what people expect you to say. Do what people expect you to do. They will be bored, I promise you. Predictability is the essence of cliché. Surprise is the foundation of delight. Without an element of surprise, there can be no delight. But irrelevant surprise is randomness, the essence of confusion. To gain and [...]

A Single Conversation

Throughout the presidency of her husband, Martha Washington hosted a weekly reception each Friday evening for anyone who would like to attend. At these gatherings, men and women from the local community would mingle with Members of Congress and visiting dignitaries at the presidential mansion where they would enjoy refreshments and talk. Martha didn’t do [...]

Glenn Gould Played Piano

When Glenn Gould retired from playing the great concert halls of the world, he climbed aboard a Canadian train and rode it north to the end of the line. During this journey, Glenn recorded the conversations of his fellow passengers and mixed them into a strangely compelling audio presentation called The Idea of North (1967). [...]

An Open Letter to 12 Year-Old Boys

You’re twelve. Everyone treats you like a kid, but you and I know better, right? You’ve known the difference between boys and girls for a lot longer than anyone suspects. But girls aren’t the mystery you suppose them to be. They’re far more mysterious than that. You’re going to spend the rest of your life trying [...]

The Boys Who Outrun Time

This is an ad you’ll be hearing soon for the world’s fastest-growing franchise for in-home elder care: When Peter Pan first appeared in 1904, children didn’t understand the significance of the crocodile that swallowed an alarm clock. But as those children grew older, they realized that time is the ticking crocodile that chases us all. [...]

The Invisible, Imaginary Crowd

Sometimes I think we go through our lives trying to impress an invisible audience called “everyone.” “What will everyone think?” Invisible would be bad enough, but I think “everyone” might also be imaginary. Emil Cioran was probably right when he said, “If we could see ourselves as others see us, we would vanish on the [...]

Counterintuitive Truth

The hardest decisions in life occur when we must choose between two good things: Honesty or Loyalty? Justice or Mercy? Frugality or Generosity? These often come into conflict, do they not? If one could remove the vitriol from political debates, these are the six beautiful sisters we would see in a magnificent tug-of-war: Honesty, Justice [...]

Multilingual You

You’ve been told, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” But it’s a misquote. What Wolfgang Köhler said more than a hundred years ago – in 1910 to be exact – is that “the whole is different from the sum of its parts.” Kohler was famously irritated for the next 57 years by [...]

Thou Shalt Not Be Average

If you can’t tell funny stories about embarrassing mistakes you’ve made, you’re not taking enough chances. Are you letting the fear of failure turn you into a narrow guardian of the status quo? Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment. I met a woman when I was a boy – I promise [...]

The Measuring of Success

What are you trying to make happen? Is your goal actionable, or is it ambiguous and vague? Do you have an empirical method for measuring daily progress? Empirical: adjective, based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation rather than theory or pure logic. I’ll admit that I’m on a bit of a rant today and [...]

Did You Feel That?

The ground moved beneath our feet. There. It did it again. That first tremor was the growing reality of gender equality. The second was the shrinking of mass media. These trends aren’t connected, but they’re both significant. Gender equality is changing the nature of romance. Don’t believe me? Watch any romantic movie from 20 years [...]

Misdiagnosing Success

If success were the result of a formula, we would achieve it more consistently. Every business has its little formulas for success. These formulas, however, are always incomplete because they were reverse-engineered by connecting the dots after success had been achieved: the second thing (success) followed the first thing (cable TV ads, or raising your [...]

The Pursuit of Happiness

“Happiness is a choice.” Unhappy people get angry when I say “Happiness is a choice” because most of them have happily assigned their unhappiness to their circumstances, or their past, or an evil someone somewhere. It irritates them when I suggest they can simply choose to be happy. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it can definitely be done. [...]

Are You Sufficiently Ridiculous?

To accomplish the miraculous you must attempt the ridiculous. Before you attempt the ridiculous you must announce it to the world. If you don’t have the courage to announce it, you must at least whisper it in the dark. Because it must be spoken. You’ve got to hear yourself say it. And then you’ve got to take action. [...]


Roughly 10 percent of the American population is worried about having enough money to pay the rent and enough food in the pantry to make it until payday. A good day is when their biggest fear is whether or not the car will start and get them to work. This is called living “hand-to-mouth.” I did it for years. Perhaps [...]

Let Big Data Choose Your Perfect Location

I have a theory about people who succeed: they cheat. And I’m in favor of it. I saw you recoil from that word a little, so I’ll say it more delicately: they’re quick to embrace an unfair advantage. Exceptional marketing gives a business an unfair advantage. Businesspeople who embrace this advantage are usually the ones who succeed. [...]

A Unicorn in Seattle

Do you sometimes identify with Don Quixote, the self-appointed knight-errant who set out on his horse, Rocinante, along with his friend Sancho Panza on a donkey, to right the world’s wrongs and change the course of history? He was a delusional, but happy old fart. You and I are not the first to identify with him. John [...]

Making Things Believable

Although he lived more than 500 years ago, Leonardo da Vinci drew pictures of machines that would not be invented for more than 400 years. His paintings of the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, and the Vitruvian Man are perhaps the most widely recognized images in the world. WIKIPEDIA says Leonardo “was an Italian painter, sculptor, [...]

Your 15 Minutes of Fame

Andy Warhol’s greatest work of art was Andy Warhol. Other artists first make their art and then celebrity comes from it. Andy reversed this. For me the Factory was a place of sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, for some of the others it was: from ferment comes art.” – Nat Finkelstein, Andy Warhol: [...]

The Wet Cement of Time

You can hope the value of a stock will rise, but when you invest money in that stock, your hope becomes faith. Did you make a foolish commitment? Time will tell. We believe the sun will rise because we’ve seen it rise day after day. It is a repeatable observation. We believe what we have seen. [...]

Of Course You Can Figure It Out!

You don’t need to go to college to become successful. What Americans call education is usually just the passing along of traditional wisdom, which, when you think about it, is essentially a deepening of the status quo: conformity, indoctrination, groupthink. When students can imitate their teachers perfectly, we claim they have achieved excellence. But aren’t [...]

The Grand Illusion of Advertising

You own a business. You sell a product or a service. Your growth is limited by one of two things: The right people haven’t heard about you. Because if they had, they would surely be buying from you. The right people have heard about you. They just didn’t care. The grand illusion of advertising – [...]

Every Minute of 15 Years

Since the year 2000, the cognoscenti of the Magical Worlds Communications Workshop have happily endured the fanfare and pageantry of my 3-day explanation of Third Gravitating Bodies. It remains the most highly attended class at Wizard Academy. For the uninitiated, a Third Gravitating Body with a high degree of divergence and an explicit moment of [...]

Our Brand of Crazy

In 1879, Ferdinand Cheval was a postman in France who tripped on a strangely shaped stone and stumbled awkwardly forward. He was 43 years old. This would not normally be news but Cheval continued to stumble awkwardly forward each day for 33 more years. His was not the 10,000 hours to excellence championed by Malcolm [...]

Four Things We’re Seeing Right Now

I made the decision 20 years ago that the Monday Morning Memo would rarely be about news or current events. I chose to leave the singing of fleeting facts to a chorus of professional reporters. It is a choir that does not need my voice. But today I’m making an exception. There are four things [...]

Do You Have a Desert Island?

Phil was nearly 70 when I met him 30 years ago. He’ll be 100 soon. Phil doesn’t know it, but I think of him as one of the people who speaks wisdom into my life. Do you have a favorite word? Phil’s favorite word is balance. Most of us are out of balance and suffering [...]

Get Your Hopes Up

I’m talking with a man about his happy future. There will be decisions to make and risks to take, but it’s a future that can definitely be his. And then he says, “I don’t want to get my hopes up.” The air leaves my body and I want to cry. And then I want to [...]

John Steinbeck’s Man of La Mancha

The silent workings of my mind are of little interest to anyone but me, yet occasionally I feel the need to chronicle some small discovery; to write it down so that it might continue to exist after I have been forgotten. Once a year I write a Monday Morning Memo that is more for me [...]

How to Humanize Your Website

The problem with most websites is that they’re built inside out. It’s an easy trap to fall into, almost inevitable, in fact. You’re on the inside of your company, looking out at your customer. She’s on the outside, looking in. Your website is built from your perspective, not hers. But let’s be fair: your website [...]

Statistics You Never Expected

When you write ads for a living, you learn that the truth is often the opposite of what people believe. Most people believe an ad will work if people like it, and an ad won’t work if people hate it. But that’s just not true. And we’re wrong about far more important things than that. [...]

Seinfeld, Quixote and Marriott

Jerry Seinfeld is the richest actor on earth. Google it. He’s worth eight hundred and twenty million dollars. You don’t make that kind of money working as a stand-up comedian in Atlantic City. You make it when companies pay to run ads during your hit TV show. Based on the advertising revenues it generated, Seinfeld [...]

Repurpose the Proven

When we think of Romeo and Juliet, we think of Shakespeare. But Shakey didn’t create those characters. The source of Shakespeare’s 1594 play was a 3000-line poem by Arthur Brooke, Romeus and Juliet, published 32 years earlier in 1562. Romeo and Juliet didn’t originate with Arthur Brooke, either. He compiled it from a number of [...]

Does Your Staff Live Your Advertising?

I’ve always been puzzled by the fact that businesspeople think of advertising and sales training and customer service as three separate departments within a company. Have you ever developed an impression of a company through their advertising and then gotten a totally different impression of that company when you met them? The external personality of your company is created [...]

The Probable Future of Mass Media

Jeffrey Eisenberg sent me this 1994 Compuserve ad that talks about delivering “up to 60 messages per month” as though 60 would be the largest number of emails that any of us would ever need to send. Isn’t it interesting how our use of technology always seems to evolve differently than any of us expected [...]

God is Like Zoysia Grass

Before becoming a poet, a Wizard of AdsTM and a writing instructor, Peter Nevland was an engineer at Motorola. Andrew Backus is a geologist and the living embodiment of Doctor Doolittle. The number of injured animals Andrew has rescued from the roadside would overflow the San Diego Zoo. Andrew and Peter are both cognoscenti graduates of The Magical Worlds Communications [...]

Reliable Truth or Cultural Myth?

Some of you are going to feel like I’ve spit on your shoe or mocked your religion or told you that your baby is ugly, so I’d like to apologize in advance for what I’m about to say. Teamwork in business is highly overrated. There, I’ve said it. I realize those 6 words are going [...]

The Power of Why

Targeting is impotent. That wasn’t a misspelling. If you want to waste a lot of money on advertising, just target exactly the right audience and then make an offer that fails to move them. Targeting isn’t the answer. Having the right message is the answer. Most ads underperform because they say, “Here’s what we do [...]

What Successful Companies
Have in Common

  If you were to ask 1000 people to name the behavior that marks 93 percent of all successful companies, what do you suppose they would tell you? I didn’t ask 1000 people but I did ask Google, which is sort of like asking the whole world. Here’s what the whole world told me: “Successful [...]

Cost of Advertising: 2 Cents a Week

Thirty-one years ago, David Ogilvy wrote, “In some developing countries radio still reaches more people than television. Yet even there nobody really knows what kind of commercials make the cash register ring. Isn’t it time somebody tried to find out?”– David Ogilvy, Ogilvy on Advertising, 1983, p. 116 Sleep well, David. We found out. And [...]

Pepsi’s Digital Screw-Up

  Advertisers are attracted to online media when they’re not entirely happy with their investments in traditional broadcast media. To understand the reasons behind their disappointments, we need only to revisit the subject of last week’s Monday Morning Memo: “Linear, no-threshold thinking” assumes that every statistic is scalable. It’s what causes advertisers to assume they [...]

The Problem With Financial Types

Reliable data tells us exactly how many motorcycle riders have died trying to navigate an S-curve at 100 miles per hour. The straightforward logic of traditional accounting, with its linear, no-threshold thinking, predicts one-tenth as many deaths at 10 miles per hour. But we know this is ridiculous. The number of riders that die at [...]

How to Reward Customers

American retailers learned some interesting things last year. Although consumer confidence was higher during Christmas 2013 than it was during Christmas 2010, ShopperTrak tells us that in-store, holiday foot traffic declined by almost half during those three years. But don’t assume sales volume declined by half for those retailers or that half their customers bought [...]

How to Let Your Customer See You 3D

Michael participates in our monthly Wizard of Ads LIVE webinar. Last week, Michael asked for a method that would let him create fewer leads, but better leads. I responded by telling Michael that broad targeting can be done geographically by zip code, financially by income, demographically by age and gender, or psychographically by targeting specific [...]

A Termite in a Yo-Yo

Her plan was obviously brilliant, so why wasn’t it working? Susan was as confused as a termite in a yo-yo. I was about to suggest an answer when she said it herself; “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” Every experienced consultant knows that a third-best plan that will be executed is better than the first or [...]

Sinatra’s Riddle

1. Bring positive and negative into close proximity. 2. Resist the temptation to clad them in insulation. 3. Witness the flow of electricity as it leaps between the two. Speaking in 1980 of his songwriting experience with Paul McCartney, John Lennon said, “He provided a lightness, an optimism, while I would always go for the [...]

“But Isn’t That Communication?”

  Institutions of higher education offer a degree path, a specific series of classes that will prepare you for the journey you’re about to take. Wizard Academy’s board of directors is preparing a similar map for those happy adventurers who come here for refreshment, instruction and advice. Dr. Oz Jaxxon and space shuttle scientist Mark [...]

Cedric’s Billion-Dollar Ant Farm

Cedric Yau is one of a handful of geniuses I know. In our most recent conversation, Cedric opened my eyes to a truth I had not previously encountered, but it reinforced everything I know about ad campaigns and it’s about to make Cedric a billion dollars. I’m not exaggerating. You’ve seen long lines of ants [...]

The Customer’s Forking Journey

Have you ever gone shopping only to come home with something entirely different than what you had planned to buy? Of course you have. We all have. “Physicists like to think that all you have to do is say, ‘these are the conditions, now what happens next?'” – Richard Feynman, (winner of the 1965 Nobel [...]

Power of Silence

When Jacqueline Bouvier married JFK she became “Mrs. Kennedy.” She was the Princess Di of her generation. Following her husband’s assassination, Jacqueline’s voice was almost never again heard in public. She quickly became the most mysterious and glamorous woman on earth. When she married Aristotle Onassis, the world’s richest man, she became forever thereafter, “Jackie ‘O’.” [...]

The Truth of the Story

Dean Rotbart says you are three different people. The first of the three is the person you see when you look in the mirror;    the person you believe yourself to be. The second is the person other people see when they look at you;   the person they believe you to be. The third is [...]

Ask to See the Ad

The next time someone tells you an advertising success story, especially if that success was online, ask to see the ad – the content – that triggered it. Here’s a Really Big Tip for you. You might want to write this down: “The media doesn’t make the ad work. The ad makes the media work.” [...]

Don’t Make Me Say Loren L. Lewis

Do you have code words and phrases whose meanings are known only to the people closest to you? I laughed a little when I realized the absurdity of some of the communication abbreviations that Pennie and I have developed over the years. Every couple has code phrases, I suppose, and there is doubtless a story [...]

I’ve Come to Encourage You

  You can do it. I don’t know how long it will take or what you will have to go through, but you can most definitely do it. 1. See your objective clearly in your mind. You must see it before you can seize it. It takes courage to focus on your objective. Reach for the courage [...]

The Storyteller’s Art

Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I’ve come to learn, is women. I borrowed that sentence from Charles Johnson, a storyteller who begins his tale, Middle Passage, with that line. I chose not to enclose it in quotation marks because I didn’t want to alert you to the [...]

Access to Information

Retailers are asking, “Why do people buy from my competitors without even giving us a chance?” And I reply, “They gave you a chance. They just didn’t physically come to your store.” Customers carry instant access to all the knowledge of the world in their pockets. They no longer have to visit your store to [...]

Courage is Security Plus Audacity

  “Cream rises to the top” is what we tell talented people who are frightened. It’s a lie, of course, but it makes them feel like they have a chance. Confidence and courage are not the same thing. Confidence is trust in your ability. Courage is to have such security in your identity that you’re [...]

The Big Secret of Great Ads

I should begin with an apology, I suppose, because the secret of great advertising, the secret to great wealth, the secret of status and stature and your name on the lips of all the beautiful people is actually a wee bit disappointing. Yes, it’s a sadly disappointing big secret. The reason the big secret is [...]

Seeing Women Differently

When Ann Richards was Governor of Texas, she said, “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.” Governor Richards was slightly militant in her feminism, as was common 20 years ago when she made her piercingly witty statement. But the once-edgy voice of feminism has softened in [...]

Nine Voices, Nine Movies

Nine Voices, Nine Movies Each of us speaks and writes without thinking. This is why so much of what we say is predictable. Do you want to be more interesting? Choose an unusual perspective and verb tense. A movie begins in the mind of the listener every time you speak or write. At whom is [...]

Statistics versus Stereotypes

Today we call it Data but we used to call it Statistics. Statistics are boring. That’s why a clever boy in Silicon Valley gave them a new and better name. A scientist is willing to change a belief when presented with data, facts and logic. But very few customers are scientists. This is why you [...]

Identity, Purpose and Adventure

People will direct their attention to whatever gives them a sense of identity, purpose and adventure. You must always remember this when crafting advertising. The fans of a sports team are the members of a club. Their team gives them identity, purpose and adventure. Political parties, too, give their members identity, purpose and adventure. Religious [...]

Haggard, Inconstant Splashes of Beauty

It’s Friday morning, September 7, 1951. John Steinbeck emerges from deep in his writing of East of Eden to scribble a note to his friend, Pat Covici: “This week has been a hard one. I have put the forces of evil against a potential good. Yesterday I wrote the outward thing of what happened. Today [...]

Brands are Built on Core Beliefs

I look in the mirror and see the person I believe myself to be. You look at me and see the person you believe me to be. We don’t see the same person. Businesses, too, see themselves differently than their customers do. A flatterer disguised as a branding consultant will help you create an idealized self-portrait and [...]

Shrink Your Way to Success?

A cafe owner, famous for his soup, was told by his accountant that he could boost his profit significantly if he would add just 5 percent more water to the recipe. The accountant was right. The water was added and no one noticed. Months later, the cafe added 5 percent more water and still no [...]

Guilt, Shame, and Failure

  Contrary to what my headline might suggest, this is actually an upbeat message. Guilt is about what you have done. Shame is about who you are. Failure in business has no connection to either of these. Failures are footlights along the dark pathway to success. One of the defining characteristics of Wizard Academy alumni [...]

Why We Are Attracted to Bad News

“Once, there were 3 kittens named Murry, Furry and Wurry…” I’ll admit to fabricating Murry and Furry, but you and I both know that Wurry is often pampered and protected like a cherished pet. We talk about our Wurry and cuddle it. We share our Wurry with others, hoping they will choose to love our [...]

Billy, Tom and Ted Go Viral

We could call this memo, “The Poodle and The Vamp, Part Two,” but we won’t. No one likes the sequel quite so much as they liked the original. Talent isn’t rare. Our world overflows with worthy talent that continues day-to-day unrecognized. I’ll wager that you possess such talent. There is something you’re capable of doing, I’ll [...]

The Upcoming Fork in Business Boulevard

Type “business plan” into Google and you’ll see an impressive array of articles from BusinessWeek, The Wall Street Journal, Inc., Forbes, Entrepreneur and SBA.gov. Everyone has a business plan. Almost no one has an advertising plan. And we are coming to a critical fork in the road. I want you to choose your fork consciously [...]

Conformity is Normity

“Normalization” begins with an idealized norm of conduct – for example, the way a soldier should ideally stand, march, and present arms, with each of these actions defined in minute detail. Individuals are then rewarded for conforming to this ideal or punished for deviating from it. Normalization allows a leader to exert maximum social control [...]

What Dan Doesn’t Do With Numbers

 This is the dangerous gang that learned How to Write Direct Response Ads last week. Really smart marketers screw up badly when they move from “Metrics are Good” to “Metrics are God.” Dan doesn’t do this. Dan came to Wizard Academy in 2001, determined to build an online business. He was 22 years old. A [...]

What You Will See in 2014

  The Eye of the Storm is what we call the classroom in the tower at Wizard Academy. This name is doubly appropriate; not only is The Eye of the Storm a momentary escape from the buffeting winds of business, it was funded by Tim Storm, a wildly successful entrepreneur. It was the third day [...]