Summary: a Billboard with Skating Superheroes, 1 Frustrated Graphic Artist, and 9 Useful Lessons

I believe in fast iterations. I like to stand behind our graphic artists while they work. It makes projects move fast, saves everyone’s time and, believe it or not, no one has snapped at me yet.

There are times when hovering over someone is not possible. We had such a situation a few months ago when we ordered a poster from Asia. Things went as expected: communication problems, passing deadlines, dozens of comments and requests for changes, several “Final” versions and I’m sure, a very frustrated artist.

At the end, we finished the project only a little late. We got very close to what we wanted and the artist was happy to be done with it. This was a textbook example of what usually happens when you’re working with someone overseas who probably doesn’t share your culture, language, not to mention, your vision. Here’s a short rundown of our project.

A Request for Ice Hockey Superheroes

assignment brief

Our brief was short. While we did include some references of what kind of vibe we were looking for we had no examples of background, colors or layout. Basic things that we, being in a hurry, took for granted but which are fairly relevant for an artist starting the project. We did provide pictures of the players’ features and a list of their natural abilities, e.g. this guy is a goalie, this guy is big, this guy is happy and fast.

We posted our assignment in Upwork and it got attention. We received a good amount of applicants which itself is key criteria for a successful project. I think the reason for getting many candidates was that the work seemed fun.

From three runner-ups we needed to choose one. For our final selection we asked the artists to draft a quick sketch and made our decision based on that. When deciding on a creative artist key is to choose someone whose style resembles the style you are going after. Many artists say that they “can draw anything you want in whatever style you want” while that might be true, don’t make the mistake of choosing someone because you like them and “maybe they can do things a bit differently.” There are two reasons for this: 1) You might not be clear on what you want. Explaining a vision that is not clear is difficult, asking someone to change their style to fulfill that vision is impossible. 2) Always bet on a person’s talent. You get the best outcome when you have people doing stuff that they do best. Very simple.

We wanted a vibe that was powerful, dynamic and a bit gloomy. Here is the winning sketch:

What Happens when You don’t Know what You Want?

We were not easy clients. The project started smoothly but as we moved from the sketching phase to illustration we suddenly didn’t like it anymore. We wanted iterations but presented them far too late. At the point where we were provided with final versions we started asking for changes in the concept. That was not fast iterating and it was clear that we had no vision for our poster. In addition to vision, we weren’t able to communicate details properly. Minor things that we as Northern Europeans took for granted were suddenly portrayed wrongly. For example a Russian flag in an NHL arena and hockey sticks that were too long. Biggest challenge was making the players look dynamic. We found the poster strange because it was too static. We wanted velocity, action and skate marks on the ice. Due to lack of clarity and a proper process we were unable to communicate our wishes and ended up with a huge mess of going back and forth with backgrounds and concepts. It got a little funny and awkward. Finally, we regrouped and managed to finish the project.

Planning Really is Half the Battle

All things considered this project went rather smoothly, i.e. it got done. Still, to respectively save everyone’s time and make sure your project is as successful as possible here are a few pointers to make your life a little easier.

  • Vision: Make sure you know exactly what you want. Find a way to present it as visually as possible either by drawing, using mood boards, image collages etc.
  • Communication: The person with the vision is the one who communicates the idea forward. This person is also the one in contact with the artist.
  • The Brief: When briefing the artist be as specific as possible. There are no useless details. Especially if you are working with someone in different settings. In our case, Ice Hockey is not a huge thing in Thailand. Don’t take anything for granted.
  • Fast iterations: In addition to giving very good specs, a clear vision enables you to halt the project as soon as it starts to stumble. Save time, hours of useless work, and your artist’s nerves by pausing the project and making changes fast.
  • Direct access: For fast iterations have an instant communication channel with the artist. Use what ever you can; Skype, Facebook, Whatsapp, Slack etc. Talk to them and ask them to show you their progress in real-time.
  • Valuable feedback: People are quick to state that they either like something or they don’t but they usually have a hard time specifying what it is that they like or don’t like and how things could be fixed. Everyone involved in the project need to learn this in order to give valuable insight and suggestions.
  • Deadlines: As a pointer, give the artist and the team a deadline that is a couple of days earlier than the hard deadline. Something always happens.
  • Benchmark: Do your research. What works? What has been done before? What hasn’t been done before?
  • Goal: Why are you making this? If you are making an ad: Where are people when they see it? What are they doing when they see it? What are you asking them to do ? Whatever you are asking, is it easy for them to do right then and there?

I want my creative projects to turn out perfect and magical. The thing with perfection and magic is not that the artist does exactly what we ask, it’s that they do what we don’t ask. To accomplish this, the artist needs to share our vision and know exactly what we want. If we can’t communicate it, or even worse, we don’t even really know it, magic will not happen.

billboard canvas

Efficient Facebook Campaigns are Clean, Smart & Measured

They’re a mess. You set up your Facebook campaigns and let them run. Every now and then you make new ads and throw more money on them. Then suddenly your boss comes to you after reading a Data-Driven Culture manual and asks for a report. Better yet, top 10 learnings of your Facebook activities. You ogle at your campaigns trying to find some kind of pattern or correlation between the ones that work, while trying to understand what a successful campaign should even look like. Is it the campaign with the lowest CPC? The lowest CAC? Or the highest CTR?Read More »

Use Authentic Images, Copy & Timing for Higher CTR on Facebook Ads

Firstly, make a lot of ads! Raise your CTR by using many combinations of audiences, ad formats, images, and copy. Keep track of your ads and take note of their performance. Testing everything will get you far!

Below I’ve listed 3 things that, combined with good audience planning, often result in higher CTR: image, copy, and timing. Read More »

Use Audience Options and Retargeting to Boost Your Facebook Campaign

Facebook is a happy place. At least when it comes to choosing a target audience: it has everything. Facebook knows what we do, where we are, where we’ve been, who we talk to, what we like, and what we’ve bought. There are over 2000 options of data points.

If you’ve exhausted your audience creativity powers, maybe some of the following will help. Read More »

Movies that Made Me Choose Nike

Back to the Future II. I was an 80s kid and struck by the coolness of Power Laces. Marty hopping on a Hoverboard with Griff Tannen on his tail is my first real memory of brilliant product placement.

I was probably more inclined to notice the product placement, because around that same time, when I was about five, my big brother had a very classic poster on his wall. Michael Jordan dunking with his tongue sticking out of his mouth. Michael was wearing a red Bulls’ uniform and his Air Jordans. That image is burnt on my retinas for the rest of my life, and it was a Nike ad. So all in all, good job Nike, Get them early!

After my Back to the Future experience, I kept noticing Nike in many movies. Movies that were either great, good, iconic or just a nice match for the brand. Nike has made a lot of splendid decisions concerning cinema but it’s more than that. It’s about Nike being the Grand Slam Champion of branding with the talking pictures holding an imperative part of the package. Simply put, Nike has an eye for marketing and product placement.

What was supposed to be a blog post of movies featuring Nike turned out to be somewhat of a case study about Nike’s marketing efforts. Still, bear with me, I’ll get to the Hollywood part later on.

The Power of Jane Fonda

If you start making shoes with a waffle iron, I suppose you have a legacy and a burden of keeping things inventive. In addition to product development, Nike has managed to be inventive in marketing. They started experimenting with digital early in the 90s and a couple of years later brainstorming with Steve Jobs to create Nike+. Through technology Nike stands out from its competitors and is able to save up to 40% in ad spent. No need for expensive TV campaigns if you keep chatting with your customers through apps and gadgets. 1

Apparently, Nike hasn’t always been a Marketing Jedi. In the early days innovation was focused solely on product performance. By the end of the 70s Jon Anderson had won the Boston Marathon wearing Nikes, Jimmy Conners the Wimbledon and the U.S. Open wearing Nikes, and Henry Rono had set four track and field records in Nike shoes. Nikes were worn by a couple of Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers players and sales and profits were doubling every year.2  I guess back in those days, great products sold themselves. It wasn’t until the 80’s that Nike’s revenue started dipping because they had missed one big consumer trend, namely, the power of aerobics. When Nike noticed the problem, Reebok was already dominating the Jane Fonda domain. Instead of spending hours in the lab focusing on products, Nike needed to inject some inventiveness in marketing and start taking a closer look at the consumer. By 1987 Nike launched a new shoe, the Air Max. You remember the shoe with those two ‘air bags’ in the heel? To market the shoes Nike created their first TV campaign The Revolution being the first company to ever use a Beatles song in an ad.

Maybe encouraged by this, a year later Nike launched a series of ads and the all-time slogan Just Do It. Here is the very first Just Do It ad featuring the 80-year-old running icon Walt Stack.

Just Do It continued in 1989 and 1990 with a series of Bo Knows videos. Bo Knows was a campaign advertising Nike’s cross-training shoes and featuring the baseball and American football player Bo Jackson. Jackson was the first athlete in modern era to play professional baseball and football in the same year. He was a great spokesman for a shoe geared toward an athlete actively engaged in more than one sport at a time.

In 2013 Just Do It turned 25, and Nike produced an anniversary video:

In terms of branding, Nike created an edgy personality that portrayed competition, success and a bit of arrogance. One example of this edge are the Air Jordan shoes, so colorful that they were banned by the NBA. Jordan kept using them defying fines with each game, cool guy as he is. That edginess is also apparent today. Nike has a philosophy of –if you have a body, you are an athlete– using emotional advertising to build loyalty. It’s all about achievement and determination, about you pushing yourself, mentally and physically. Nike focuses on individuality and empowerment, while competitors such as Adidas focuses on team and community, and Reebok on fun, fashion and street cred. Nike takes tales of heroism and empowers you to be the hero, the only villain you need to overcome is the lazy version of you.3  A good example of this is the Find Your Greatness -campaign. Here’s one of the videos with 12-year-old Nathan.

And the Nike Women ad Better For It -Inner Thoughts that was launched this spring.

nike losing is hardAs all global brands, Nike has run into cultural differences during its world take over. The provocative communication used in U.S. didn’t work well with Europeans who on top of not liking aggressiveness, didn’t idolize athletic heroes like Americans. Nike adopted a softer tone and took over the distribution chain in order to control their brand image. Due to some criticism Nike also started showing concern for global social issues like the company’s labor policies in Asia aiming to become the industry leader in employee relations by raising compensation, improving working conditions and transparency in their labor practices. What stayed the same, however, was the importance of celebrity endorsements and sponsorship programs that are vital to Nike’s brand personality. By endorsing the right celebrities, sponsoring and supplying uniforms for big events and games, Nike effectively differentiated itself from competitors and built a strong global brand.4

Cinema Checkmate

Be it shoes or ads, one attribute keeps appearing in all sources when talking about Nike: Innovative. On top of everything mentioned above, I remember the FuelBand, slogans such as “You Don’t Win Silver, You Lose Gold.“, Cole-Haan’s high-heeled pumps with Nike Air soles, and the Men VS Women -running campaign. And naturally, all the excellent films! Due to my early relations to Michael and Marty, I may be biased, but I do think that the movies alone make Nike a Master Marketoid. Adidas kicks might get the job done, but it takes a brand with true grit to star in these flicks:

Terminator (1984)

The Karate Kid (1984)


The Goonies (1985)  & The Breakfast Club (1985)

Back to the Future (1985 & 1989)

 Big (1988)

big nike

Do the Right Thing (1989) & White Men Can’t Jump (1992)

“She gave me the best gift anyone could ever get in the wide world” – Forrest Gump (1994)

Space Jam (1996)

space jam nike

“No Games, Just Sports” – What Women Want (2000)

Lost In Translation (2003)


The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)Wolf-of-Wall-Street-nike

And naturally, Batman wears Nikes!

That concludes my nostalgia trip. With all the applause for Nike, let’s give credit where credit is due. Last time I checked, the Mad Men of Nike are to be found at Wieden+Kennedy.

Catch you later! ..a

Business Today
Harvard Business Review
Brand Management Nike Building a global brand case analysis

64 Clickbait Headlines for You to Steal

They are called headline formulas. Blueprints that never fail. Ultimate CTR winners. Annoying to many interweb savvy creatures but irresistible to most of us. We keep clicking on them, knowing perfectly well what they are, clickbait. It’s no secret that they work, and since they’re out there, why not use them?

There are actually quite a few reasons why not to use them, but let’s not get into that now. As a marketoid I find them interesting, they exploit our curiosity gap, i.e. make us curious enough to want more while still leaving us unsatisfied. The problem with clickbait headlines is usually the content that follows. Click-throughs are generated with the expense of content quality. You don’t have to go that road. Make quality stuff, and use your sensational headlines if you want, just make sure to deliver on your clickbait promise.

So here, as promised, 64 headlines for you to steal. Mind you, I also stole them. Check the sources at the bottom.

  1. The secret of getting [blank]
  2. [Do something] like [world-class example]
  3. Have a [blank] /or Build a [blank] You Can Be Proud Of
  4. What Everybody Ought to Know About [blank]
  5. X Lessons I Learned from [blank]
  6. The Ultimate Guide to [blank]
  7. How to Survive Your First [blank]
  8. What [Group or Celebrity] Can Teach You About [blank]
  9. Behind the Scenes of a [blank]
  10. 9 Out of 10 [Group Members] Can’t/Don’t [blank]. Are You One of Them?
  11. Make Your First [$] Sale in Just [X] Hours (Watch Below to See How!)
  12. Are You Still Wasting Money on [blank] (Without Anything to Show for It?)
  13. People Regularly Pay Me [$] for This Information – But You Can Have it for FREE:
  14. How to Make [$] With Your [blank], Step-by-Step.
  15. How to Permanently Stop Your [problem]. Even if You’ve Tried Everything!
  16. Is [subject] a Scam? Find Out If You’re Putting Your [blank] at Risk
  17. How Your [blank] is Ripping You Off – And What to Do About It Right Now
  18. Recently Downsized/Fired [profession] Reveals the Dirty Little Secrets to [blank]
  19. X Little Known Factors That Could Affect Your [blank]
  20. A little mistake that cost a [target market] [cost] a year
  21. Advice to [target market] who want [results]
  22. Do you suffer from [problem] at [occasion]?
  23. Who ever heard of [target market] having [results] without [objection]
  24. How I improved [problem] without [objection] in just [time]
  25. Discover the [benefits] you get with [results]
  26. Proven: The most effective way to get [results]
  27. How a [something perceived as bad] resulted in [results] and [benefits]
  28. Do you suffer from [problem]?
  29. Do you have these symptoms of [problem]?
  30. Guaranteed to [results] without [objection]
  31. How a new [product] solved my [problem] in just [time]
  32. Which type of [target market] are you? Is it stopping you get [results]?
  33. Does your [problem] ever embarrass you?
  34. To people who want [results] but don’t know where to start
  35. How much is [problem] really costing you?
  36. The right way to solve [problem]
  37. [thousands / hundreds / etc]of [target market] now have [results] will you join them?
  38. For the [target market individual, not plural] who has less [results] than she wants
  39. Suppose this happened to your [business / life / relationship etc]. Would you survive?
  40. Are other [target market] secretly overtaking you?
  41. [X] proven ways to get [results] and [benefits]
  42. Are you ready to have [results] in just [time]?
  43. Get your hands on this system that took one [target market] from [starting results] to [end results] in just [time]
  44. How I got [results] by making this unusual mistake.
  45. Why some [target market] always have / get [results]
  46. You can laugh about [problem] if you follow this simple plan
  47. Five common [problems] faced by [target market] which one do you want to solve?
  48. What [industry experts] do when faced with [problem]
  49. [industry] experts prove that you can have [results] and with this new [product]
  50. Why it’s not your fault you have [problem]. And how to make it disappear in just [time]
  51. Why [target market] are raving about this [blank]. ([Results] is just one of the reasons)
  52. For just [cost] a day you can have [results] and [benefits] in [time]
  53. To [target market] who want [results] by [time]
  54. This new [product] will get you [benefits] galore
  55. The secrets of [target markets] that always get [results]
  56. What the [industry] experts don’t want you to know about solving [problem]
  57. Why do some [target market] have more [benefits] than others? The answer might surprise you
  58. Who Else Wants [results]?
  59. The Secret of [blank]
  60. Here is a Method That is Helping [blank] to [blank]
  61. Little Known Ways to [blank]
  62. Get Rid of [problem] Once and For All
  63. Here’s a Quick Way to [solve a problem]
  64. Now You Can Have [something desirable] [great circumstance]

There. While effective in viral marketing, beware of the backlash when using clickbait headlines. People don’t like spammy content and that one click might just be the last one you ever got from them. The use of headlines like these has also led to Facebook taking measures to reduce the impact of clickbait on its social network since 2014. So, in summary, create quality stuff that people want to read.


How much money could your banners make?

Making money is fun. Especially when it’s a little extra cash you weren’t counting on while setting up your website. As your audience grows, different income opportunities arise; content marketing, affiliate marketing, guest blogging, selling user data, and display advertising; putting banners on your site. The banners are often the first thing you do because it’s simple enough. They don’t make much money with very little traffic but the whole thing pretty much runs on autopilot. When your traffic starts hitting 40 000 weekly visitors you might want to turn that autopilot off and start looking into what’s happening on your site. There are things you can do to get even more money out of those banners.

This post is a short intro to the very basics of online ad inventory optimization, i.e. what you, as a publisher, can do to make the most of your display revenue. I recommend you to read this if you are a blogger, have a media site or you simply want to learn a few things about display advertising from a publisher point of view.

What is Advertising Inventory?

Just as in traditional media, i.e. newspapers, radio, and TV, an online medium has a finite advertising capacity, a reserved slot or time for advertisements. The sum of these ad spaces is the medium’s total advertising inventory and it strives to maximize the revenue gained from selling this inventory. Traditionally, you get more money by either selling for a higher price or just having more stuff to sell. So online, the more banner ads you have the more money you make, right? Wrong. It’s a little more complex than that. That’s why we love online! Among the few things an online publisher needs to consider are:

  • inventory categorization
  • pricing model of ads
  • types of ads and their position on the site
  • frequency of showing ads
  • targeting

Maximizing online ad revenue gets complicated. Like you, everyone else hates banners. There is an endless battle between ad money and user experience. Users have been winning for a long time now and if you keep scattering ads everywhere, they will leave your site. That’s why I don’t call this process increasing display revenue rather: optimizing online ad inventory. Publishers need to find an optimal mix of the elements above to move the needle. Adjusting the levers to find out how far you can go before it backfires on you.

Premium vs Non-premium

Advertising inventory is traditionally categorized into premium and non-premium inventory. Same principle applies online. When website visitors arrive they land on the first screenful, i.e. page fold, of a web page. They then scroll down for further content. Publishers often categorize ads on the first page fold as premium and everything under it as non-premium. This is old fashioned and too simple. The real categorization is that premium inventory is all inventory where a publisher successfully charges a premium price. New premium slots can be created to previously categorized websites with clever site design. In other words, if you are creative enough you can come up with new premium ad slots for your website.

Publishers can choose to sell their inventory in many ways. They can sell it themselves, use partner sales such as media agencies, and sell it through third party ad networks. There are different types of ad networks ranging from blind networks, to vertical networks, and targeted networks. The most popular network out there is Google AdSense.

CPM, CPC, CPA and You

So premium ad inventory is all inventory where you get the higher price. But how do you go about pricing your ad slots?

If you are used to traditional media, pricing online media is a little different. In print media the advertising inventory is constrained by space, consisting of the room that remains when editorial content is done. Hence, you might be selling full pages, half pages or centimeters. On TV the constraint is time and time left over after a TV broadcast constitutes the time sold as advertising inventory. Online advertising inventory is defined as the total amount of advertising impressions that a web site can sell over a specified time period. An impression is the moment when the ad appears on a visitor’s screen. This means that a website’s advertising inventory is constrained by not only space (the room you have left for banners on your site) but primarily by the number of visitors that the web site receives. Consequently, the traditional forms of selling ad inventory do not apply online. Online ad space is sold and bought through CPM, CPC, CPA, CPL, oh, and if you have a very small site, flat free rate for a given time period, e.g. a week.

Cost Per Mille (CPM) a.k.a. Cost per Thousand is the cost of buying 1000 ad impressions. On the publisher side you could call it RPM (revenue per mille) i.e. how much money you make with 1000 impressions. CPM keeps track of the number of times one ad is shown on a site. Because everything you do can be tracked online, some might think that buying advertising through CPM sounds a little old school, and depending on what it is that you’re trying to accomplish, it sure is. Therefore, in addition to CPM, we have performance-based pricing models. These came about when advertisers wanted results for their ads instead of just “showing” them, and publishers were looking for ways to sell unsold inventory. The most common performance-based pricing models are CPC (Cost per Click) and CPA (Cost per Action). In CPC the advertiser pays for each click her ads receive and in CPA the advertiser pays for every time the media converts a visitor contact into a desired action. The desired action could be sales, registrations, subscriptions etc. In a way, CPC is just a form of CPA were the desired action is a “click”. Usually, however, CPA refers to something that happens a little deeper in the sales path, something after the click.

There are quite a few variations of performance-based pricing models, like CPL (Cost per Lead) where the action is a lead, but the main point of them all is that the advertiser only pays for results. Publishers do not really like to sell premium ad inventory through deals like this because it means taking on the risk of the advertiser. A publisher usually has no say in what the creative looks like or how the landing page is optimized for conversion, so performance-based pricing quickly becomes unattractive. Put very simply, CPM makes more money. I say this with a big disclaimer. It all depends on content and audience. For example, If you are an affiliate writing stellar content to a clearly defined target audience and you have a great match with the product or service you are pushing, you have a good chance to win big with some form of CPA model.

Our Mighty Mate eCPM

eCPM (effective cost per mille) is probably the one thing you need to remember from this post. It makes all your testing possible. It enables you to test which of the above mentioned pricing models shows you the money. It also allows you to adjust your inventory to find an optimal mix of the different elements we’ll continue with later in this post. This might get a little numerical, so bear with me.

If you are looking for the ideal pricing model or combination of pricing models to create maximum revenue you can use eCPM to calculate the effectiveness of profits earned by CPM and the other methods. eCPM is calculated by dividing total earnings by the number of impressions in thousands. E.g. a publishers earns 100 euros from 20 000 impressions. eCPM = 100/20 = 5. When using eCPM to reveal the effectiveness of online inventory sold through other pricing methods (CPC, CPA etc) the figure shows what the publisher would have gained had she sold the inventory on CPM basis instead. When you compare pricing methods you need to consider click through rate (CTR).

As an example: What is the optimal pricing method from the publisher perspective if CPM of a campaign is 4€, CPC is 0,2€ and CTR is 1,5%? eCPM = CPC x (CTRx1000) CTR being 1,5% means that 15 out of every 1000 impressions will be clicked. This means that 0,2€x15=3. eCPM of the campaign is 3€ and the publisher should stick to the CPM (4€) pricing assuming he can get it sold for that price.

Fine tuning for performance

The better the advertiser’s results from a campaign the better the publisher’s results. So long-term success comes from happy customers. A publisher should constantly work on the quality and amount of visibility an ad receives. There are a few things a publisher can do to influence the results, those are; ad positioning & ad type, frequency capping, and targeting. You could say that these are levers for publishers to adjust in order to find the perfect composition appealing to visitors. With simple A/B-tests it’s easy to find combinations that yield higher eCPM.

Positioning & Ad Type

The interesting thing about the interwebs compared to electronic media is the sharing of bandwidth. Advertisers broadcasting on radio or TV know that their message is not interrupted by competing messages. Online, the bandwidth is shared, however, and because everyone hates ads as much as you, they avoid looking at everything that resembles an ad. This means that positioning your ads becomes important.

Different parts of you site get more attention and higher CTRs. A lot of publishers tend to blend their ad slots in the content as much as possible. Also, they add different type of ads on their sites such as banners, textinks, and videos, and keep changing them in order to create a surprise effect to get people to stop avoiding the ads. Many times, however, the eCPM of your site will improve by removing ads rather than adding them. Why? Because there is more bandwidth for the remaining ads. So, less might be more!

Frequency Capping

There is a thin red line between showing an ad too often and not showing it often enough. Some studies claim that the magic figure is 3. That means that after the third exposure to an advertisement, a person remembers the message and no longer needs reminders. For advertising online, some research state that it is beneficial to show an ad to the same person up to five times. At some point, however, the banner will stop performing and its CTR will drop. Online exposures are controlled by setting a frequency cap for an ad. Frequency capping goes hand in hand with the goal of an online ad. Usually, frequency caps are set to maximize CTR but sometimes you might want to brand build and stick you logo everywhere to increase recall and brand recognition. Still, there is a point where another ad impression stops adding value. The key is to find that point.


Targeting enables you to deliver a message to the right audience, in the right place, at the right time. There are several targeting methods, e.g. demographic, contextual, behavioral, geographic, daypart, affinity, and purchase based targeting. Some targeting methods focus on website visitors by tracking the individual’s actions, gender, age, location, interests, other online behavior, and desires.

To sum up, this is a never ending job

Optimizing ad inventory is all about testing. Testing different combinations of ad formats, sales partners, pricing models, ad positions, ad types, frequency caps, and targeting methods. You set up small A/B-tests and always check for highest eCPM. The time span of your tests depends on your site’s traffic as well as content. Another thing to keep in mind is that the different ad networks’ performance levels might vary on short-term, so keeping a long-term eye on them is a good idea.

The goal is to make the most of you ad slots, blend them into your content, and sell them at a premium price. The nice thing about optimizing your ad inventory is that you will never run out of premium ad slots, you can design new ones. The hopeless thing is that the process of making the most of them never ends. There is always more A/B-testing to do.

My Truth About Great Copy

Writing. If I could choose to master one thing, it would be writing. One of the finest arts of storytelling and probably the most difficult one.

Being told the same joke for the seventh time by your coworker is annoying. You lack the enthusiasm of a great audience and finish the joke for him. It’s funny how listening to uninteresting stuff bothers us. The problem is that our ears don’t have an Off-mode. Even when we concentrate on something else and stop listening altogether we still keep hearing. On the other hand, you can rant at people all you want and they’ll continue hearing you until they have somewhere else to go. Storytelling through video or pictures is the same; a captive audience will passively watch if you just turn their head in the right direction. But reading? There is never anything passive about reading. It takes effort and time. And it’s the writer’s task to persuade people to invest that effort.

So, in my book a great writer is anyone who accomplishes just that. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Christmas letters, outdoor advertising, fantasy literature or email newsletters. If you get them to read it, you’re a winner. Now, what is successful writing then? Successful language succeeds in doing what it was meant to do. It will have the impact the writer was going for, e.g. stir emotions, bring clarity, convert readers into prospects or trigger some form of action. There are loads of rules and guidelines on how to write for different platforms but I find that three main characteristics keep surfacing in great copy regardless of channel. Great writing has personality, rhythm, and value. With value I mean that it’s either entertaining or educating and ideally both. I’ve never written anything lyrical but in the most beautiful writing that I’ve read those same 3 things keep popping up. So, how do you begin to bring personality, rhythm, and value to your writing? I’ve found that focusing on the following things help me in my writing process.

  1. Audience
  2. Structure
  3. Headline

Let’s see if I can make sense of them to you.

Why is Peggy in Mad Men such a brilliant copywriter?

Tired yet critical advice: know your audience. This intelligence will make your whole content. You need to know what kind of people you’re targeting and what those people are doing just as they see your copy. Is it a young soccer player who notices your print ad while having lunch with his friends? Or maybe you’re sending an email to a busy salesman just as he hits traffic on his way to meet a client. Knowing your audience allows you to design your content to fit their daily routine. You will know your audience’s fears and dreams. You’ll understand what they’re working on and what challenges they’ve met. Peggy is brilliant because she has a talent for understanding the consumer’s mind. She is able to offer her audience a thought that is more intriguing than anything that they were thinking about earlier. That understanding is what defines the voice and personality of your writing. You’ll know how to talk to your readers and how to catch their attention. Moreover, you’ll know how to write copy that resonates with them and makes them believe you.

The Secret about Structure

Rhythm in writing is all about style. William Strunk Jr. says it well in the The Elements of Style1

“A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”

At its simplest, I find style in writing to be a very clean structure. I try to remember three things when it comes to cleanliness in structure: Clarity, Promise, and Call to Action.


There are two levels of clarity: visual clarity and comprehension clarity. In visual clarity you are looking at your layout. Does it look nice? Is it easy to read? Is it inviting or does it look exhausting and messy? The key in visual clarity is to make the copy easy on the eye. Cut the text into proportionate sections and keep the paragraphs clean. In other words, make the structure “flow”. Don’t scare readers with too long paragraphs or messy fonts. Place your pictures in places where they feel natural and provide nice breaks for the reader. For example, if you are writing copy for a landing page, consider using bullets, bolded keywords and sub headings. People like scanning web copy and these elements make scanning easier.

Comprehension clarity means that your copy is understandable. Are you making any sense? And if you are, does your audience understand you? And if they do, do they care? This is where you should write text that is easy to read grammatically, i.e. no difficult words, long sentences, complicated concepts, irrelevant anecdotes or silly metaphors. As Joe Miller in the 90s movie Philadelphia says “Now, explain it to me like I’m a four-year-old”. Regardless of what it is that you’re actually writing that advice usually works very well.


As you know your audience and what problem you’re out to solve, you need to know how to communicate it. This is the classic benefit vs feature -rant. Copyblogger.com2 has an interesting post about fake and true benefits. Make sure that when you present your solution that you’re actually telling your reader how she stands to benefit from it. Don’t sell a product or a service, sell an idea. This has been said many times before, yet, we keep having trouble with it. Look at any marketing copy around you and check whether it states features or benefits. I’m guessing features and it’s scary, it means big marketing campaigns with piles of money put to shame. The reason we keep doing this is that extracting benefits is difficult especially if you are very close to the product, service or concept. Here are Copyblogger’s four steps for digging out the benefits.

  1. Make a list of all the features in a product or service.
  2. Ask yourself; why are these features in this product or service?
  3. Keeping your last answer in mind; how does the feature and its benefit connect with the reader’s needs?
  4. What does all that mean to the reader on an emotional level?

Now, what is step number 4? As I see it, the difference between step number 3 and step number 4 has to do with fears and dreams. For instance, a benefit that connects with a reader’s needs might be a gym that’s open 24/7 and she can go there whenever she wants to making it easier for her to plan her busy day. On an emotional level that benefit might mean less anxiety about missing a workout which in turn could lead to decrease in fitness progress, loss in motivation, and a scary weight gain. So the key is to look at the solution through the reader’s eyes.

At the end, it all comes down to one thing: promise. Be it Christmas cheer, life-changing news, easy weight loss or financial advice you are always promising something. The promise brings value to your writing and the key is to make a clear promise and to deliver on it. If the headline carries a promise to teach something, make sure that when your reader is finished reading she has actually learned it. If you fail here your whole piece will just be another kind of spam. The reader will either stop reading half way through or never read anything from you again.

Call to Action

Joseph Sugarman put it very neatly in Advertising Secrets of the Written Word3

“All the elements in an advertisement are primarily designed to do one thing and one thing only, get you to read the first sentence of the copy. The sole purpose of the first sentence in an advertisement is to get you to read the second sentence.”

Sugarman is a copywriter with a lot of succesful ads under his belt so naturally he is referring to ad copy. I find that logic to work well for all writing. Everything you write has but one goal: make sure the reader continues to the next word. Finally, when you’ve done your job right and the reader has come to the end of your story you’ll need a call to action. If you want your reader to do something, tell her. This is a mistake I see too often. Copywriters believe that their story has such an impact or that the audience is so energized and focused that they will automatically continue to the next step. You might want them to download the whitepaper, buy the concert tickets, click the banner, take a selfie or call a friend. They will not. They are distracted, busy and unsure of what is expected of them. Make it easy for them, tell them what to do next.

Another thing that Sugarman said was that every element in the copy should be so compelling that you find yourself falling down a slippery slide unable to stop reading until you reach the end. I like that. So, in order to get rid of the unnecessary machine parts from your copy and to create that slide, what do you do? You edit, edit, edit…

Do you pee in the shower?

See what I did there? The headline is actually an element of the structure but it’s so important that it needs a paragraph of its own. A good headline does not make a great story but without it the story is useless. Like with all elements in the text the headline has only one task: Make the reader read the first sentence. So how do you persuade someone to read on in a fraction of a second? How do you write a headline that hooks the reader?

Advertising Agency: TBWA\Vancouver, Canada

Best advice I can give is to put a lot of time on it. All kinds of copywriting books are quick to state that the headline should take 50% or up to 80% of the total time you spend writing the copy. So use the time and rewrite your headline as many times as needed. Test it on people, read it out loud, leave it for a while and edit it again. That’s what the best do. Apparently that’s what David Ogilvy, a legendary adman, did when he rewrote a headline 104 times before ending up with this:

“At 60 miles an hour, the only thing you hear in the new Rolls Royce is the ticking of the dashboard clock …”

When you’ve written a headline that makes your reader nod or shake their head you’ve definitely written a winner. Or when you provoke strong emotions that the reader has on the subject. Think about these things when you’re writing a headline:

  • Are you asking something the reader knows the answer to?
  • Are you asking something that the reader wants to know the answer to?
  • Are you talking about benefits or features?
  • Are you promising something?
  • Are you being personal and open?
  • Are you touching your audience on a personal level? Can they relate to it?
  • Are there details you can use to make the headline more exciting and interesting?

Should my headline be short or long?

I don’t know. Check how it fits your layout. Does it look good? Is it wrapping on too many lines? Does the visual structure work? Where will it be read? In a fast moving car or at a very static bus stop? Make it easy to read. Check the rhythm, read it out loud, does the story flow naturally from heading to the first sentence?

At the end of the day…

Your copy is never really ready. You cannot edit it into perfection. Thank god for deadlines! At some point you just have to hit Publish.


Design Studio for Iterative Innovation

Design sprints. What they’ve all had in common is: fun, inspiration and energy. The outcomes are never disappointing.

Earlier this year we had an innovation problem at the office. We’d noticed that new problems were very inefficiently met with old solutions and bad things were piling up; outdated sales offerings, lack of motivation, and unhappy customers, clearly bad things. We started concepting around a recurrent innovation sprint that would be easy to execute without the whole team present. My colleague suggested the Design Studio. I read a couple of posts about it and decided to give it a go. I liked the concept because of it’s brisk beat and the “getting shit done” -attitude. More importantly, I liked the idea of using a max amount of 90 minutes for a design sprint. Most problems don’t require 3 days of intensive brainstorming. The posts I read before the first studio were: UX Magazine, Zapier. Here you’ll find a summary of what we did and things I learned. Read More »