If Woody Allen Was a Marketing Copywriter

Woody Allen writing
I’m a guy who likes a well-turned aside, the parenthetical phrase. (Admit it—you find the curves on a pair of parentheses sexy too.) One fun example is the elocution that made Jimmy Stewart famous. Many of his movies display his signature mannerism, where another character has declared something outrageous or unanticipated, and Jimmy will be in a kind of reverie where he’ll say something like, “Oh, well, uh, yeess, I suppose that’s so …” then a “What! What did you say?” And the reversal from his mumbles to his mania is priceless.

There’s something so charming about the head-scratching Stewart mumbling and stuttering his asides to the central conversation. But the best kind of sidelong declarations are the kind found in any of Woody Allen’s movies where he is a character. He’ll be in a big-picture situation that is neutral or slightly loaded, but Woody interprets it with an end-of-the-world punchline, often a lesson in comedic writing (and thinking).

Woody, the Reluctant Pitch Artist

Woody’s the antithesis of the marketing copywriter, but it’s fun to look at some of his stuff in a copywriting light:

• Timing the customer funnel. (Know when your buyer is ready. Or nudge them along.)

Allen: “What are you doing Saturday night?” Davila: “Committing suicide.” Allen: “What about Friday night?”

• If you can’t get a customer testimonial, the next best thing is to write one yourself.

“You can’t control life. It doesn’t wind up perfectly. Only art you can control. Art and masturbation. Two areas in which I am an absolute expert.”

• Direct, plain-spoken words on personal challenges draw customer empathy. And who doesn’t like to complain about being ripped off?

“I am plagued by doubts. What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In which case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet.”

• Features and benefits and imparting a sense of urgency

“Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering—and it’s all over much too soon.”

• Know your audience demographics (and don’t be afraid to drop names)

“I worked with Freud in Vienna. We broke over the concept of penis envy. Freud felt that it should be limited to women.”

• Statistics can sell the story:

“There are two types of people in this world, good and bad. The good sleep better, but the bad seem to enjoy the waking hours much more.”

• Communicating the “What’s In It For Me” angle:

“Sex without love is a meaningless experience, but as far as meaningless experiences go it’s pretty damn good.”

OK, admittedly Woody is weak on calls to action, fuzzy on the features/benefits dance, and rather than solving a problem, he often introduces one. And a little bit of self-loathing can go a long way, but a lot, hmmm. But I do wish he’d take a shot at it—today’s beer commercials are sorely lacking in that winning parenthetical (and existential) touch.

The Straight Poop on Bookstores

There’s a lot of buzz (with stings) in the air on the topic of bookstores closing because of the ascendance of electronic books, and the inability of the publishing world to react with much other than fear to changes in their old-school model. However many teapots are broken in this tempest, I would hate to see the world with greatly fewer bookstores, because of the many hours I’ve taken pleasure in them, wandering aisles, picking up, thumbing through and sometimes buying books that I’d never have made the tangible—and telling—acquaintance of were I shopping on Amazon. For me, it’s often been the accidental blundering into a book’s arms that has been the romance for me, and I think those chances are lessened with perusal of publications in the ether.

But in thinking of that, I harkened back to my two stints as a bookstore employee, and the kinds of strange things that happen in the retail world. I was the assistant manager of a crabbed little suburban-mall bookstore in Seattle. The store was a chain, owned by a Canadian firm and managed out of Toronto. And I mean managed. We had to obtain authorization, on paper, for EVERYTHING we needed at the store, including toilet paper for the employee bathroom, the wretched inkless pens they sent us, and on. The corporation specialized in the lowest rung of the ladder in store supplies, sending us plastic “Sale” signs where the ink had dripped down in long black tears from the letters. Very classy. The company is long bankrupt, but not before much hair was torn out in trying (and failing) to get them to stock any local books or things relevant to our actual location.

A Scented Stroll(er)
I’m not sure our customers would have noticed though. One time I was stocking an aisle, and I noticed the telltale aroma of poop. “That’s poop!” I said to myself, astutely. I was baffled as to its source, but then I started tracing my way through the aisles, and saw that there were intermittent lines of fresh feces on the floor. I actually followed the trail up and down several aisles until I’d made it almost to the front counter, where I saw that a woman was rolling a stroller out of the store, a stroller carrying a child whose robust production had burst his diapers and made its way down to the wheels of the stroller, and on to our hallowed floor. I started to chase mom just to inform her of her child’s crimes, but then stopped weakly at the door, resigned to my fate. Think of how long it took to requisition supplies from Toronto!

So true that I resented mom for her unconsciousness (or her plugged nose), but I resented more a customer who loudly berated me at the counter for not being familiar with the “Delderberry series,” which she complainingly made clear was a literary summit for some kind of romance literature. I can remember with exquisite clarity her shaking her ponderous head as she sniffily left the store, bellowing about “what kind of a bookstore employee isn’t familiar with the Delderberry series?” Guilty.

Literary Showers
I was grateful to leave the stifling florescent-light hell of that mall environment, and to become the manager of a lovely bookstore/cafe in Santa Cruz a few years later. Little did I know that there a customer would regularly lock himself in our restroom, where he would take full showers, so that when you walked in later, there was about 1/2 inch of water on the floor and EVERY paper towel was used, and on the floor too. I often wondered if that was the same guy who instead of using the toilet, left the full (and I mean full) expression of his bowels a couple of feet away from the toilet. An art project? Either way, I was pleased he hadn’t entered the store in a baby stroller.

But I still love being on the other side of the bookstore counter. (Although from my stints at stores, I can tell you they aren’t merely hotbeds of intrigue—they can be actual hotbeds, when I reflect on all of the thermal mingling that used to take place among employees after the doors were locked.)

Kindles and iPads, glorious devices all—but don’t forget your local bookstore. You might be able to pick up the latest in the Delderberry series, and take a quick shower too.

Gifts from the Ether (Plus, A Bonus: Books, Booze and Bacteria!)

Ezine Articles gift booty

Ezine Articles provides a perk-me-up

I’ve written before about Ezine Articles. It’s an article directory or repository, where writers post articles on a wide range of topics and they give permission to other publications or sites to republish them. Article topics cover most of the subjects in the known universe, and probably unknown ones too. However, pieces can only be re-published if they retain the original URLs of the article writers, which typically go back to the writer’s business site, as is the case with my publications.

It’s a nice site for me, because I own the reprint rights for lots of articles that just listlessly sit around in a back pocket of my computer—why not poke them to life again and see if they bring any baying of writing bloodhounds to my site? Ezine’s tracking stats let me see that I’ve had several of my articles re-published on other writing sites, and I’ve seen from my own tracking stats that being on Ezine does indeed bring traffic to my site. Customers—I dunno.

But that’s just my long-winded intro to noting what I got in the mail a few days ago, pictured above: Ezine sent this gift package, with a nice coffee cup, leatherette coaster, package of coffee for a pot o’ joe, and a certificate stating their thanks for me being a member of the site. Sure, it’s all branded stuff, but wow, it was totally out of the blue (I hadn’t seen anything on their site about them sending gifts), and I’d only posted 10 articles, which is nothing by comparison with some posters. That’s the kind of unexpected customer appreciation that sets some companies apart, and prompted me to give them a shout-out today. Treat a writer right, and they will write right. Or at least write more.

(Pssst! Ezine: the coffee was nice, but a half-pint of bourbon next time will help my digestion.)

Books and Booze
Speaking of sticking your nose in a glass of hootch while you drink in some literature, I was heartened to read a post last week from Shelf Awareness that included a link to an article on Books and Booze, An Old and Profitable Mix. The piece looks at a number of bookstores that also serve wine and beer, such as The Spotty Dog Books and Ale in New York. Goodness, that is quite an advance over the bookshop cafe, such as the one I worked in, where we merely peddled sugar bombs and jolts of java.

One of the quotes from a Spotty Dog bookseller is illuminating: “… the bar allows us to have more in-depth relationships with customers and to discuss all matter of things, including books, than just having a coffee service would necessarily support. The more you talk to your customers, the better you can know what they will want to read.” I have no doubt that the customers want to discuss all manner of things after getting schnokered, but books might not be at the top of the list. Lady Gaga’s latest foundation garments, perhaps.

The store’s owner said, “Also, serve quality products, and you will get people out to enjoy one or two delicious beverages, not to go on a binge. Unique micro-brew beers go well with books.” Aye, a good brew, a good book. But cognac isn’t bad either, in my opinion. The article also profiles some other bookstores that stock swill and have found it to be an asset. When they start putting bars in church, you’ll know the world’s a kinder place.

Bacteria, You Are Me
And thinking that you’ve massaged your mind with all available nostrums by having read your basic anxious modern person’s requisite amount of self-help, nutrition and doomsday books—and that knowledge of the human condition is your stock in trade—out comes the most recent Smithsonian, with this nugget in an article about organizing and talking nice to microbes and their neighbors:

“Trillions of cells make up the human body, but there are at least ten times that number of bacterial cells in you or on you. You are, at best, only 10 percent human.”

Man, I KNEW that those times when I reached for the TV remote and I picked up the cat that it wasn’t me. All along it was those filthy bacteria controlling me. And they’re getting a free ride! Why can’t we tax these creatures and pay for another 100 years of Social Security?

Kill Your Customer: Classic Customer Disservice

A friend of mine was in a Borders yesterday looking for a couple of books. She sat down on the carpeted floor in the travel section so she could comfortably pull out a few titles from a low shelf and check them out. A clerk came up and said, “Ma’am, customers are not allowed to sit on the floor.” She asked if he had a chair, and he said she would have to go to the cafe if she wanted to sit down.

They haven’t invented the right profanity for this situation yet, but let me express why it deserves one most sour: These are the days in which bookstores are going down. Amazon, ebooks, self-distribution, shortened attention spans—there are a raft of reasons. In this time when bookstores are at least on the threatened, if not endangered species list, you tell a customer they can’t sit in the store when they are looking at books? Greatgodalmighty!

When I was a kid, one of my greatest delights was to go to the library and surround myself with books I pulled off the shelves. I sat in the aisles for hours sometimes, lost in the world of words. Many years later (and the jobs years apart), I managed a couple of bookstores, even one owned by a corporation. There was no stiff-backed rule about sitting in the aisles—I couldn’t imagine shooing a customer away like that unless they were putting ice-cream cones in the books, or taking Magic Markers to them. Of course, of course, you don’t want your customers literally blocking the aisle, but this wasn’t the case.

Howl of Customer Cruelty
The kicker is that besides looking for a travel book, my friend was looking to buy a copy of Howl, the seminal Allen Ginsberg work. Why Howl? Because one of her clients is a poet. The client is moving to New Orleans, and she wanted to give him a gift. THAT’S customer service. Her customer is leaving, yet she is making him a generous gesture. That’s rising above—not practicing rule-making folly.

Don’t treat your customers like trash in your aisles. Find a connection, not a stiff-stick-up-the-rear rule. Share life’s poetry with them instead.

And for surviving my rant, you get a bonus treat: here is the last paragraph of Sunflower Sutra, one of the selections from Howl. Let’s be sunflowers instead of automaton clerks at bloodless corporations.

--We're not our skin of grime, we're not our dread
bleak dusty imageless locomotive, we're all
beautiful golden sunflowers inside, we're blessed
by our own seed & golden hairy naked
accomplishment-bodies growing into mad black
formal sunflowers in the sunset, spied on by our
eyes under the shadow of the mad locomotive
riverbank sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening
sitdown vision.