If you have a great message and no one hears it, does it make a sound?

As a children’s writer still searching for that first publishing deal, I know what it’s like to write and write and write and wonder if anyone knows or cares.

This blog is helpful in making known my name, abilities, and style…but still, if I only posted once every couple of weeks, it would not be as effective. I wouldn’t have the number of people, like you, visiting, reading, commenting, and sharing.  Conversely, if I was to post more than twice a week, my blog could, perhaps, gain more followers, acquire more voiceover or copy writing clients, and pique the interest of an agent or publisher.

I mention this to make a point. No matter what type of promoting you’re doing – marketing a book, promoting your blog, advertising a business – what you say is only important if other people read it. And the only way others will read it is if they know it’s been written.

I know, I know…this is all pretty self-explanatory. But let me explain where I’m going with this…

Image courtesy of ponsulak / FreeDigitalPhotos.netThe necessity of advertising

Many of the folks with whom I correspond hate the idea of advertising. They know it exists and they know I make a pseudo-living out of it, but they feel like advertising is a 4-letter word. That it’s somehow subversive, mind-altering brainwashing that I’m involved in.  They hate Facebook ads and Google ads and TV & radio commercials and billboards – and act like they’re above it all because they don’t fall for any of corporate America’s ploys.

They’re too cool to be influenced or swayed by a message provoking them to turn over their money.

They don’t realize how ubiquitous advertising is, nor how effective it is, even on people like themselves.

No matter who you are, advertising affects you. We wake up in advertised beds, brush our teeth with advertised toothpaste, drink advertised coffee or tea before we leave our house or apartment (which was advertised before you bought it), and head off to work wearing advertised clothes while driving advertised cars, advertised bicycles, or walking on advertised shoes.

Nearly everything we own in our lives has been advertised, and we choose one product over another because of the benefit(s) we perceive from that product.

(Keep in mind, also, that advertising doesn’t necessarily involve money. Jesus advertised everlasting life, and never asked for a penny.)

Psychological egoism and why we’re all looking out for #1

hobbes
English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), a proponent of psychological egoism

Psychological egoism is a richly debated theory that states that every voluntary action one undertakes is done for that individual’s self-gratification. In other words, everything that each of us does is done for our own self-interests (you can learn more about the specifics of this doctrine here).

Why do we buy a red car instead of a blue? Because we like red more. Why do we choose the steak over the haddock filet? Because we like steak more.

Why buy Colgate instead of Crest? Because of the perceived benefit of using Colgate.

Of course, some folks will argue that selfless acts of kindness or sacrifice negate this theory; however, one can argue that engaging in a selfless act of kindness is also done for one’s own gratification. For example, if I have $100, I could pay some bills, donate it to a local food shelter, or go to a strip club for a few hours.  The choice I make ultimately depends on which option brings me the most satisfaction or happiness.

And chances are, I’d be paying bills for products or services that were advertised, donating money to a food shelter that had been advertised (perhaps via a news article or Public Service Announcement), or going to a strip club that was advertised.

Now, about that message…

It’s not what you said, it’s how (often) you said it

Getting back to my initial thoughts, what if you had a great message and no one knew?  You could create the world’s greatest widget and develop a unique, effective commercial ad campaign…but if no one hears or sees it, you might as well not have bothered, right? That is where frequency comes into play.

In radio and TV, the more often you air your commercial, the better – because the more people will see or hear it. Run one commercial a day on radio and a few solid potential customers might take notice, but run it several times throughout the day – at various times in the morning, midday, afternoon, and evening – and then you’re really connecting with lots of potential customers.

But that many commercials costs a lot of money, right?  Well, let me give you a real-life example of how running on a low budget doesn’t mean you can’t attract big-budget numbers of people.

Many years ago, when I was working in Vermont as a radio producer, our sales manager met a restaurant owner who wanted to advertise but didn’t think he could afford ID-10068993 (sound mixer)4 or 5 spots (commercials) every day. So we suggested doing something unusual: we would run 10 spots one day a week – Friday. While this wouldn’t give him the weekly exposure of a more expensive schedule, he would pretty much own the airwaves that one day, with his commercial airing almost every hour all day long.

Within just a few weeks, he told our manager that customers were telling him they not only heard about his restaurant on our radio station, but they were telling him they were hearing him all the time!

“I’m always hearing your commercials!” one person told him.

“I hear you every day!” said another.

In the battle of perception versus reality…perception won, again.

Get your message out there!

Are you selling cars, furniture, or fertilizer? Are you selling yourself, your abilities, your experience? Whatever it is – whether you realize you’re selling something or not – spend some time determining the best way to promote your message. If you’re a business, a writer, a job seeker…you have to let people know you’re there!

And if you’re the type who doesn’t like promotion, advertising, or marketing…enjoy your obscurity!  You might think your message is awesome, but it’s only awesome if someone hears it.

Your product might change the world, but only if the world knows about it.

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I’m obviously happy to talk to anyone who has questions about advertising and copy writing and that sort of thing…if you have questions about creating a commercial or getting voice work (like on-hold messaging or video narration) done for your business, feel free to contact me at matt(at)mattforrest(dot)com!

Poetry Friday: “My Book Report”

I thought I’d go waaaaay back in time for today’s post – back to the fall of 2000!

poetryfridaybutton-fulllThis is one of the first few children’s poems I ever wrote (I started writing for children in ’99, I believe), but when I read it today, it doesn’t feel that old, if that makes sense.  Sometimes when you’re developing a skill – whether it’s writing, singing, painting, whatever – you can tell the older, unskilled work from the newer, more polished stuff.  Personally, I can tell it’s not new…but I’m not embarrassed by it, either (and yes, there are plenty of poems that will never see the light of day for that very reason).

Since the school year is winding down and graduations are ubiquitous these days, I thought a little school-themed poetry might be nice. Hope you like it! And for all of today’s Poetry Friday offerings – including some delicious Mango Bread and a poem by Lesléa Newman – visit Jama Rattigan’s Alphabet Soup!

“Book Report”

My teacher said I have to write
a book report for class –
at least one hundred-fifty words,
or else I will not pass.

So here I sit with pen in hand
and nothing in my mind;
if I don’t get this handed in
I’ll be in quite a bind.

There must be some creative way
I can begin the text:
I know my name, I know the date,
I don’t know what comes next.

Come on, now, brain, you’ve got to think
and help me get this done!
It’s due tomorrow morning, and
I’ve not even begun!

But wait – that’s it – I’ve got it now!
I know just what I need!
The first thing that I’ll have to do…
is find a book to read.

– © 2000, Matt Forrest Esenwine

ID-10052692 (books)

Commercials: The little things are starting to pile up

Last week, I wrote about details in writing – whether it’s for commercials or creative writing. I spotlighted a couple of commercials that I thought could have been improved and one that I felt was well-done.

And because there seems to be no end to the number of TV commercials that annoy me…I present ‘Part 2.’

I hadn’t planned on doing another post on commercials today – or even on advertising in general – but soon after I had finished writing last week’s diatribe, I felt another one welling up inside me.  So please forgive me for indulging in a second little rant; heck, it’s my blog, after all!

Of course I hope, as always, that some of points I make about copy writing and production can be directly correlated to other types of writing such as poems, stories, and books.  Continuity errors, misleading untruths, and confusing messages are hardly confined to the advertising realm.

Which unravels faster: the clothes or the message?

Some things get better with time: wine, cheese, friendships. A sales message should not be one of them. In the case of the following commercial, it took repeated viewings – and an explanation from my wife – for me to understand just what’s going on. This is a perfect example of a message getting lost in creativity:

Here’s your trivia question: what’s with the yarn?? Why is this car unraveling all these clothes? If you don’t know, go ahead and watch it again and see if you can figure it out.

Now then, if you have the answer, congratulations – you did better than me.  I had seen this TV spot innumerable times and never knew what was going on.  It took my wife at least seven viewings before she suddenly announced, “I finally figured it out!”  She explained that the clothes are unraveling because winter is over and the car is bringing spring to the world. In actuality, after I paid close attention to it, the commercial is advertising a sale.

No prices, no features, no Unique Selling Proposition…just an announcement for a sale.  This commercial basically takes half a minute to say, “We’re having a sale.”  I could be way off base here, but wouldn’t it be nice to know why I should care about the sale – or why I should want an Infiniti? Is it too much to ask for a few little details? Perhaps, if one can afford to own an Infiniti, one already knows all about the features of the Infiniti and therefore one needn’t concern oneself with the price of an Infiniti.

But that negates the need for a sale now, doesn’t it?

Fun with science

Every time this commercial comes on the TV, my wife sighs. Not because of the commercial itself, but because of my reaction to a mere 1.5 seconds of it:

This isn’t a bad commercial…but it is misleading. Check out what’s happening :15 in. See those little yellowish critters, squiggling around in the sewage? Those are supposed to be enzymes, breaking down the waste.  Well, guess what?

Here’s a news flash:  enzymes are MOLECULES, folks!

They are naturally-occurring chemicals – not living creatures that scoot around inside your septic tank, chewing up your poop like Pac-Man chasing after a cherry.

This is what drives me nuts.  I know this dramatization has nothing to do with the true efficacy of Rid-X, but when I see this blatant error (or misleading animation – I’m not sure which), it makes me wonder what else I’m being misled about.  Be true to your subject! Whether you’re writing a commercial, poem, or novel…remember that suspension of disbelief only goes so far.

A good commercial, made better

This spot, by contrast, is a fine example of a clear, compelling message:

Zero Water TV spot: ‘The Waiter”

Zero Water filters are so good, they can filter out wine from tap water! I have no idea if that’s true, but it only took me one viewing of this commercial to understand that message. Like most good commercials, it’s a story: wine is poured into tap water, tap water is filtered, the Zero Water filter filters out the wine while the competition fails. And the genuinely surprised reaction by the man in the audience is a nice touch – a small detail, like we talked about last week – that makes a big impact.

But the commercial wasn’t always this good. Here’s how it first appeared:

The two biggest changes the ad agency made were the most important. First, they took the focus off the waiter; his goofy expression takes away from the straightforward, realistic style of a more-or-less-serious spot. And the reaction of the woman was, well, uhh – almost a non-reaction. She’s just sort of…there.  The gentleman in the newer spot appears to be honestly surprised and impressed, and that air of realism is important to the overall tone of the spot.

Be honest, be clear!

Don’t muddle your message with some cutesy ‘hook’ – like pulling strands of yarn off people to sell a luxury car in the spring. “Spring” is not the message, and “yarn” certainly isn’t, either.  And don’t assume your potential customers are too stupid to know what you’re telling them, such as enzymes that go chomp-chomp-chomping around your septic system.  Be honest, be clear, and make sure viewers (or listeners, if you’re in radio) know what you’re selling and why they should care.

Those two things – the product/service and the benefit of that product/service – should be first and foremost in your mind.

I’ll take “highly effective” over “highly creative” any day.

Poetry Friday: “Summer Frost”

Funny how poems sometimes materialize from the oddest of circumstances.

poetryfridaybutton-fulllFour years ago, when my wife and I were discussing possible names for our baby – who was due right at the very end of 2009 – several winter-related names popped up. Since we didn’t know if we were having a boy or a girl, Noel/Noelle, Crystal, Winter, Merry, and Janvier (French for ‘January’) all came up as potentials, although we didn’t like any of those enough to put on our “list.”

One name, however, stuck: Frost. We thought Phoebe Frost would make a beautiful name for a girl born in the winter; plus, my wife noted that it would also be apropos because of my fondness for the poetry of Robert Frost.  (Being the comic book geek that I am, a reference to Emma Frost was a cool little bonus)

Fast forward to last month.  We were again discussing baby names, this time for our little bundle of joy who is due to arrive this August.  Since we had a little boy 3 1/2 years ago, we had to start from scratch with the boy names.  The girl names, however, were all fair game – but I questioned if the name Frost would work, considering the time of year he or she will be born.  One name my wife suggested was Summer Rose; when I countered with Summer Frost, a light went on. Those two words stuck in my head and refused to leave until I had written this.

“Summer Frost” may be off the baby name list, but it’s finally on paper…a poem four years in the making. For all of today’s Poetry Friday posts, please visit Ed DeCaria at Think Kid, Think!

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“Summer Frost”

It was unexpected.

Deep, deep in July, all humid, torrid,

when blushing Brandywines, full and ripe

hang heavy, tearing from their vines

and dragonflies dart between empty rows

where sunflowers were to grow (thank the crows),

a killing came. Subtle death

settled lightly, gently wresting life and breath

swiftly, softly, barely touching –

but with such a thing

as a summer frost

it should not

be unexpected.

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– © 2013, Matt Forrest Esenwine

Commercials: It’s the little things that mean so much

After spending April celebrating National Poetry Month, I’m glad to get back into one of the other aspects of this blog: advertising! But as you might know, I try to offer something for all writers when I discuss voice work, commercials, or copy writing.  In past posts, I’ve touched on a variety of topics that, although they are about commercial production, the insights I try to impart can be utilized in various forms of writing.

I hope I can say the same for this post – because it’s all about details.

You see, I’m a stickler for them. Some might say I’m a perfectionist, but I don’t think so.  I am, to use an overused cliché, very detail-oriented. And although I admit some things get past me, I will usually pore over the details of the scripts and audio I’m working on to make sure everything is as it should be. Which is why I am constantly surprised that glaring inconsistencies get past entire boardrooms and committees made up of advertising execs.

Are you sure that’s the Downward Dog?

Take, for instance, this commercial that’s been going around for a few months:

On the surface, there isn’t really anything terribly wrong with this spot. It tries to connect with the viewer by offering scenarios that might be familiar with potential clients. It has some good clips of average hotel customers engaging in a variety of activities one would might expect. But what’s going on there, 10 seconds into the spot? Go ahead and watch it again, and pause at exactly :10.

Now, I’m no yoga expert, but I’m pretty sure that woman is attempting a pose that is NOWHERE CLOSE to the pose on the TV. Aside from the fact that I can’t imagine anyone eating cereal while doing yoga…what is going on there?? Who was in charge of continuity? How did this get past everyone – from producers to director to editing crew to boardroom to client – and get the green light? Perhaps they all hoped that this gaffe might give them some additional exposure by being spotlighted on Matt Forrest’s Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme blog, in which case, I suppose it paid off.

The seafood commercial that’s not:

Now let’s take a look at a great example of why it’s important that the imagery you use in your “highly creative” commercial should directly relate to your product:

OK, so what’s the one image you recall from that commercial? Most folks would probably say bears, which aren’t popularly known for eating vegetables. Or perhaps fish, since that’s what the mother bear was trying to catch for dinner. I doubt most people would say the first thing they remember is “new flavours of seasoned vegetable blends that can be microwaved.”

Did you realize those are new vegetable blends? Did you know the bags can be microwaved?  Did you realize these blends are seasoned? Do you know any of the flavours?

Now, maybe I’m way off base here, but these seem to be pretty important points, wouldn’t you say? I mean, if you’re selling bags of seasoned frozen vegetables that don’t need to be opened before cooking, and they come in all sorts of new, chef-inspired flavours, shouldn’t you be telling people this – instead of leaving them with the image in their head of bears fishing for salmon??

By the way, while preparing this blog post, I mentioned this commercial to my 18-year-old daughter, who was aware of it and told me there’s also one featuring wolves (you can view that here).  But hold on there, Jethro – even though I said she remembered the commercial, I didn’t say she remembered what it was for.  She knew it was advertising frozen vegetables, but couldn’t recall the flavours, the benefits, or the brand.

Which is good news for Green Giant, Hanover, Pictsweet, and any other frozen vegetable brand out there.

The beauty in realism

When one considers all the times that ad agencies lose sight of their message, goof up their continuity, or get bogged down with trying to be funny instead of being effective…it’s nice to see spots like this:

This commercial fulfills all its obligations.  It immediately draws the viewer into a story involving a number of different types of people – young folks, adults, men, women – all of whom are potential customers. It creates interest in the product, deftly showcasing the Galaxy’s new features by showing, not telling (something all those creative writers out there know more than just a little about). And it not only showcases the features, but more importantly, it demonstrates the benefits of those features.

Hands-free answering and viewing?  Cool.  Sharing pics simply by touching phones back-to-back, or taking multiple quick-action photos and seeing a time-lapse of all the action in one picture?  Way cool.  Remote-control of your TV?  Now we’re talkin’ ice cold.  But the best part of the spot?  Four magical words that come at the :40 mark.  Right after a young woman takes a photo and shares it with her friend by placing the backs of their phones together, the grandmother asks that same young woman if she’d mind sharing the photo on her phone, too – to which the young woman replies:

“Yours doesn’t do that.”

Ouch.  Harsh, no?  Yet we’ve all been there. We’ve either been the young woman or we’ve been the grandmother, in some circumstance or another, where we really, really, wanted to do something, but couldn’t. Being left out sucks – and this commercial reinforces that feeling gently but powerfully, with just four little words.

Creative writers, take note!

Details.  Show, don’t tell.  Relatable characters.  The same things that make commercials work (or not work) make your writing work or not work, whether it’s a picture book, poem, or novel.

If you are a creative writer, none of this is news to you – but hopefully it serves as a reminder how important these sorts of things are. If you’re a copy writer or producer, none of this should be news to you, either – but obviously a couple of these points got past at least a few people at Bird’s Eye and Homewood Suites.

Frozen veggies, hotel rooms, or smartphones…vampires, love triangles, or puppies…no matter what you’re writing about, no matter why, be good to your subject.  Draw attention, create interest, tell your story – and pay attention to the details!

Poetry Friday: What kept me busy during National Poetry Month

I know, I know…National Poetry Month ended more than two Fridays ago. But between editing interviews, attending the NESCBWI conference, taking care of my 3-year-old, AND trying to make a living as a voice artist, things are bound to slip through the cracks.

poetryfridaybutton-fulllToday, I’m pulling a few of the poems I wrote during the month of April out of the cracks! I don’t normally share more than one poem each Friday, but these are all fairly short – and since they were written not just during National Poetry Month, but because of National Poetry Month – I figured posting them together made sense.  The first two were written from poetry writing prompts posted by Laura Purdie Salas at her blog, Writing the World for Kids and the last one was actually the first one I wrote, just as the month had begun.

For all the Poetry Friday links, please visit Anastasia Suen!

The Snail and the Sloth

A snail and a sloth
decided to race,
so each one set out
at his usual pace.
Friends rooted them on
with great fanfare and cheers,
and we should have a winner
in a…
…couple…

…………………o  f…

……………………………..…y     e     a     r     s……

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Last Page

I may not have an exposition
To try to pull you in,
I really can’t do much to keep
The plot from wearing thin,
I have no thrilling denouement
To quench your growing thirst,
But I am proud that I’m the one
You want to turn to first.

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Changing of the Guards

Scarecrow guards
his harvest gourds,
a touch of sadness on his face;
once the wreath
and holly’s hung,
the snowman comes to take his place.

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– all poems © 2013, Matt Forrest Esenwine

“Love means swallowing your heart” – and eleven other things you would have learned at the 2013 NE-SCBWI Conference

This past weekend was a long one. I spent Friday through Sunday at the New England chapter of the SCBWI’s (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) 2013 conference in Springfield, Mass, catching up with friends and fellow writers and filling my cranium with knowledge and inspiration. It was a fun time, but very educational, as always; unfortunately, three days of picture books, chapter books, and YA novels goes by extremely quickly.

Against this backdrop of serious discussions and goofy conversations, slick PowerPoints and old-fashioned pens & papers, door prizes, open mics, and wine & cheese socials…all of us who attended learned a great deal about the industry, our craft, and ourselves. Listing everything I gleaned from the conference would be impossible; however, I thought I would share a few choice tidbits that stuck in my mind.

Here, then, are one dozen of the many things I either learned – or was reminded of – at the 2013 NESCBWI Conference, “Word by Word: The Art of Craft:”

nescbwi13-logo-H1) It’s OK if your first draft sucks. Yes, we all know that first drafts will go through innumerable changes before they ever become final drafts…but this is good to remember. Just because you don’t like your first draft doesn’t mean it’s destined for the circular file; revise, revise, revise!

2) Having an intimate knowledge of the rules is important if you want to break them. Author Chris Eboch (The Eyes of the Pharaoh, The Ghost on the Stairs) taught a workshop titled, “The Elusive Voice” and outlined some ideas and methods for giving your characters their own unique voices.  During the course of this 2-hour intensive, she reminded us  that once one learns the rules, understands the rules, and masters the rules…one can break the rules. Good advice for poets, too!

3) Every story has a voice. Chris said that it doesn’t matter who the narrator is.  It might be a strong voice, a poetic voice, or an awkward or clunky voice – so remember that just because your story has a ‘voice,’ doesn’t mean it’s a good one!

4) If you realize you forgot to bring your business cards 20 minutes after you leave for a conference that is 2 1/2 hours away…take the time and turn around and get them! Still kicking myself over that one.

5) Becoming an overnight success takes a lot longer than you might think. So many published authors had such similar stories: it took five years to land the first contract, took 10 years to write the first manuscript that was sold, it took over 50 rejections before getting an acceptance.  Knowing this doesn’t really make things any easier for people like me, but it is a little reassuring to know I’m not the only one beating my head against the wall, trying to find an agent or publisher.

6) Bacon is like sex. Even if the bacon isn’t all that good…it’s still bacon! (This came from one of those “goofy conversations” to which I alluded earlier. And no, we weren’t drinking.)

chinese_translations_for_peaceful_9981_6_184

7) Love means swallowing your heart. This was perhaps the coolest thing I learned all weekend, thanks to author/illustrator Grace Lin (Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Ling & Ting).  She explained that the Chinese language – which, of course, consists of characters representing complete words – is actually made up of multiple words or concepts. For example, the Chinese character for “peaceful” is a combination of the characters for “house” and “woman,” and literally means “woman in the house.”  Similarly, the Chinese character for “love” is made up of characters representing three separate concepts: “to swallow,” “heart,” and “person walking.” Literally, love means swallowing (or taking in) one’s heart. Very poetic, yes?

chinese-symbol-for-love-blaukai

8) It’s OK to sell your soul to corporate America to pay the bills. Well, Grace didn’t exactly say that – I’m paraphrasing – but that was the takeaway. She admitted that, while she was struggling to make her path as an illustrator, she designed kitschy products like coffee mugs and T-shirts that declared, “World’s Greatest Dad!” and that sort of thing. She said she was simply doing her part to help keep America’s landfills full!

9) It’s also OK to not write poetry in syllabic verse. Aspiring writers like Yours Truly are constantly being told to write poetry in perfect meter and rhyme, but that’s not necessarily true. Children’s poet/author Leslie Bulion (The Universe of Fair, At the Seafloor Café) shed light on this during her 2-hour intensive workshop, “The Art and Craft of Poetic Form.” Perfect rhyme…yes. Unless you have a really good reason for a slant rhyme, it better be perfect. (See Rule #2, above!)

Universe_of_Fair-front_(1)-330Meter, however, is something else. Leslie writes in accentual verse, meaning she concerns herself with the stressed beats per each line, but not the specific meter. This means that, for example, a line she writes in trochaic tetrameter may or may not have four precise metrical feet of two beats (stressed/unstressed) each. I’ve always tried to be very tight with my metrical syllabic verse…but thanks to Leslie, I feel I can lighten up a little!

10) Just because hotel beds are uncomfortable doesn’t mean you won’t oversleep. I tossed and turned all Friday night, yet I still woke up with barely 15 minutes left before breakfast ended. I made it there with 5 minutes to spare, not because I was wide awake and full of energy – but because no one messes with my breakfast.

11) Verse novelists are not mentally unstable. If you are a verse novelist, this may or may not come as a surprise to you.  Padma Venkatraman (Island’s End, Climbing the Stairs) had one of the best lines of the conference when, during a panel discussion on historical fiction, she announced that verse novelists, like many writers, hear multiple voices in their heads. The only reason they are not clinically diagnosed with schizophrenia, she said, is because they only listen to the voices and don’t start up conversations with them.

12) If a hotel is going to serve lunch to hundreds of people all packed into one large ballroom, serving black bean soup is probably not the best choice for an appetizer. Good thing they opened the doors. Just sayin.’

My thanks to everyone at NESCBWI for their hard work and success with pulling off another terrific conference, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s! I had a chance to chat with old friends and meet new ones, and am eager to get working on a couple of new projects…which I’m predicting will be written in accentual verse. Thanks, Leslie!