“Butch, the Next Time You Say ‘Let’s Go to Bolivia’, Let’s Go to Bolivia.”

Dear Students,
This is a great movie.

Not just good film, good dialogue, good music and fun to watch, it’s got a lesson for you that could mean the difference between greatness and whatever else there is.

The line above is said by The Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) to Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman).

They’re surrounded on all sides and about to get captured & hung, or shot outright, when, in a moment of ultimate cool, they have a conversation about what they should do when they get out of the mess they’re in–leave the American West where they were being chased for robbing banks to go to Bolivia where the US lawmen had no jurisdiction.

It illustrates a principle which has become crucial to high-level success in advertising:

Do your ideas as soon as you have them.

Time eats ideas.
If you wait, not only may someone else come up with the same idea, or a better one, someone may simply come up with an idea that gets through the gate into production before yours.
Then you’re left watching while someone else eats your cupcake.

Emerson warned of this in Self-Reliance, admonishing us: “… to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.”

Move immediately when you’ve got an idea.
Jump on it.
Make it move right then when it’s loose and jangly and feels wrong.
Don’t let it get solid.
If you don’t fear it some, it probably sucks.

(I don’t know how many times I’ve suggested people read Emerson.
It’s got to be boring to hear me say it again.
Look closely at that line quoted above though.
Knowing that what he’s suggesting goes against our nature, he exhorts the reader to not only be a person who sticks with an idea when he has it, but to especially do so when other people speak out most against it. That’s the hardest part, and the most important. Tough to put in practice. Which is why there’s not many Emersons)

Intelligence is good.
But without action it’s only unused potential.
I often feel I could be the king of that.

p.s. Yes, in the movie, going to Bolivia didn’t work out after a while for Butch & Sundance, but that was more the fault of their professional choices, not their acting on ideas as they had them. Another good principle from the movie is the number of rules there are in a knife fight. You’ll have to watch it to get that one.

Snake Venom & How Good Advertising Works -Part 1

Dear Students,
In an article in the Houston Chronicle, this story is told of a man poisoned by a rattlesnake that didn’t bite him:

Even a dead rattlesnake can hurt you. Just ask Trey Hanover of College Station.

On Labor Day weekend, Hanover and his father, Tommy Hanover, were working on their deer lease when they killed a big rattler. They shot the snake’s head off with a shotgun and loaded the carcass in the truck to show other hunters on their lease that they needed to be careful.

“We hung the snake on the fence at the camphouse,” Tommy Hanover said. “When we got ready to leave, Trey picked up the snake and threw it out in the pasture for the buzzards to eat.”

By the time he’d driven to College Station, Trey Hanover’s eyes were very irritated. By the next morning, his eyes were swollen shut. The doctor who examined Hanover said it looked like he’d suffered a chemical burn.

It took them a while to figure out that the shotgun load that vaporized the rattlesnake’s head splattered the snake’s venom over its body.

When Hanover handled the snake, he got the venom on his hands and later rubbed it in his eyes, made itchy by dust and ragweed. Sixteen days later, the vision in his right eye was back to normal. His left eye was still a little cloudy, but the doctor thought it would return to normal as well.

“We learned a valuable lesson about handling rattlesnakes — even dead ones,” said Tommy Hanover.

People know way too much about ads to let themselves be directly affected by one.
Same way cowboys know too much about rattlesnakes to let themselves get bit by them.

The human heart is closed to marketers who want to bully it.
The number of thoughts we’re willing to hold in our crowded minds about products/services we might buy or accept as part of our lives is incredibly small.
How many of the obvious & banal propositions made to us daily on TV find a home in your mind?

If all the ad you’re writing is aiming at is a direct bite on who walks by, what you’re writing is a bad ad.
Or, more indelicately, you’re writing crap.
Something the audience sees coming a mile away and finds no problem ignoring.
At best they pay it the compliment of disregarding it with a flick of anger as it goes by. Resentment that it took up time they can’t get back.

Sublime and wonderful advertising hits people without them knowing it.
Great, life-changing advertising doesn’t waste time shouting at a closed ear.
It tickles it open, slips in a thought like a depth-bomb, and is two blocks away before it explodes.

The kind of ads that made you want to get into this business, students, don’t work obvious, like a snake, they work secret like venom.
Just getting some of it on your hands can be deadly.

How to make ads like this?
Next time.

My Typewriter is Changing State Flags Again.

I have previously written of the grand history of the Oregon state flag –see post for Dec 23, 2005– the only state flag with two different sides.
Now let us consider another glorious banner, that of the state of Virginia.

Yes, you are correct, the man holding the spear in his right hand is wearing a toga.
Yes, he cradles a sword awkwardly with his left arm.
Yes, this is the only state flag displaying a human nipple.
Look downward.
Yes, the man with the spear, the sword and the cold chest muscle is resting his heel on the throat of a man lying on the ground.
Yes, that is a crown placed in such a way as to suggest it was felled from the head of the supine-ed man.
No, that is not a correct usage of the adjective supine.
And yet, it is not wrong.
The phrase does describe the picture resembled on the flag, especially the position of the subdued foe.
Yes, you are correct, the last phrase also contains an incorrect usage.
The word resemble, although a verb, should not be used in the manner I have typed it. Something in the tense is wrong, though I can’t say exactly what.
Our brains, though, find it useful to accept the incorrect usage in order to keep from stopping its reading.
This acceptance comes grudgingly from an experienced, close reader.
However, an ever enlarging number of people report pleasure at finding words used differently than they were taught to use them, or are used to seeing them used, and the pleasure they derive from viewing such shenanigans acts as motivation to keep them reading & to seek out more to read.
So I do it.
It is important to know grammatical correctness in order to communicate to a civilized & literate society.
Since most of us do not spend much time in a civilized & literate society, yet wish to communicate with those around us, it behooves us to learn to write and speak in ways which draw to us an audience rather than in ways, however correct, that push the eyes of our brothers & sisters away.
Which is the small task I am about now, here:

I hope I have not explained myself overly much.
Thank you for your interest.

Dear Students, Write Like This Guy

Everybody knows Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great leader, a great man, a great speaker.
What doesn’t get said enough, or noticed enough, or copied enough is how great a writer he was.
Beyond taking in the substance of his work, let his influence as a writer wash over you.
Let it affect not only your heart, let it affect what comes out on the keyboard.

Breathe in the cadence of his sentences.
Listen to the visuals he conjures in the air.
King’s genius as a writer was he was a speaker.
His genius as a speaker was he didn’t wave words around above his audience.
He spoke pictures.
He got into his audience’s mind.
He included them in the making of the speech.
He pounded out image after image, sometimes two and three to a sentence.
You didn’t listen to King speak you saw what he was saying.
You didn’t wonder what his point was, you saw it running in the imagination of your mind like a movie.
You didn’t hear about inequality of income, you saw ” the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination”.
You saw the “lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity”.

Take advantage of the great example he left.
Take in how to speak in poetry but be understood by a crowd.
No easy feat.

King built brilliant structure out of simple repetition.
I know you’ve heard it a million times, but read it.
Watch how he stacks up his argument in simple fundamental thoughts, then leans them right into his next point.
He can make you better.
Listen to this, again from the I Have a Dream speech from 1963:

We cannot walk alone.
And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. 
We cannot turn back. 
There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?:

We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.

We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. 
We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one.

We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “for whites only.” 
We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. 
No, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Today is Martin Luther King Day.
But this man’s writing speaks every day.