Hired Pens Helps Launch Kick The Cans Website

By Dan O'Sullivan
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“More and more, schools, sports teams and youth groups are forced to have kids sell overpriced products like candles and gift wrap or — worse — send them out begging with cans. Parents are hassled, kids are embarrassed, and the programs that need funding get only a tiny fraction of the funds collected.”

That snippet from the Kick The Cans website sums up the problem founder Manassah Bradley is trying to address with his new venture.

How does Kick The Cans work? In a nutshell: The group looking to raise money chooses a community project to take on and then encourages family and friends to support its efforts. Sponsors can go to the website to learn about the project and the group, and pledge their funds.

With input from Manassah, The Hired Pens crafted the copy for the Kick The Cans site. Check it out for more details on what Kick The Cans is all about — and why it’s a lot better than traditional fundraising solutions.

On behalf of everyone who’s ever bought a $30 bag of popcorn to support the Boy Scouts, thanks, Manassah.

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Support the Ortus Regni Kickstarter Campaign!

By Dan O'Sullivan
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Ortus RegniWe’ve written a lot of things over the past 13 years at The Hired Pens. Web copy for gastroenterology programs. A speech for a rodeo queen. Copy for the back of a receipt handed out at a bakery chain.

But we had never written a rule book for a “closed-deck, deck-design strategy card game set in the Late Anglo-Saxon era.” Until earlier this year, that is.

The card game in question is Ortus Regni, the brainchild of local resident Jon Sudbury. We worked with Jon over the course of a few months to bring the comprehensive rule book to life.

You can check out the rule book here. Like what you see? Throw in a few bucks toward the Ortus Regni Kickstarter campaign by the June 30 deadline.

Thanks to honorary Pens Ethan Gilsdorf and Mary Ann Guillette for their fine work on this project. Good luck on the Kickstarter campaign, Jon Sudbury and Team Ortus!

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Has Spamming Hit a New All-Time Low?

By Dan O'Sullivan
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Because if that’s what the nice folks behind this piece were aiming for, they win. Setting a bait for unsuspecting people trying to find out if their friend just died — Bravo!

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A PowerPoint … About Why PowerPoints Are So Bad

By Anna Goldsmith
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Venn Diagram by Rebecca Schuman

This PowerPoint presentation really speaks for itself. And that is EXACTLY what you don’t want to do if you’re trying to engage with your audience in any meaningful way. The slideshow was directed at professors, but anyone can benefit. Well, anyone who uses PPT. My favorite tip: If your audience can understand everything they need to know by simply reading your PPT, cut 50% of the visuals and 90% of the text. The most important part of the presentation is you actually talking to people.

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‘Duck Dynasty’ Hallmark Cards? Seriously?

By Dan O'Sullivan
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There are times in life when one feels hopelessly out of touch with pop culture. Like when I saw this Hallmark display in a CVS. Are people actually giving loved ones greeting cards featuring members of the Duck Dynasty? I’m so confused …

"Happy birthday, honey. Please enjoy this card featuring Phil Robertson, patriarch of the Duck Dynasty. I love you so much."

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Write a Kickass Craigslist Ad: Six Tips

By Karen Dempsey
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Write a Kickass Craigslist Ad: Six Tips

Looking to offload an old chair or futon? How about that jogging stroller you’ve never used? Craigslist can be a boon if you know how to use it.

As with any ad, when it comes to writing a Craigslist ad, your best bet is to be clear and concise. Especially since your ad needs to stand out on a smartphone, where more and more people are doing their shopping.

Here’s what you need:

1. A strong subject line. Write a brief descriptive headline in 30 characters or fewer. Avoid using ALL CAPS, exclamation points!!!! and the obvious, “used” or “for sale.” Be as specific as possible. Readers should know from the headline whether a desk is an office desk, computer cart, writing desk or vintage secretary desk.

Bad: Used desk for sale!! PERFECT for a student.

Good: Mid-century writing desk, solid maple

2. The right image. Get a clear, close-up image with no clutter or dust in the frame.

  • Use your best shot as the first image.
  • Include different angles that highlight its selling points (e.g. the solid construction).
  • If the manufacturer or brand name is a selling point, include a snap of the label or imprint.
  • Add a close-up of scratches or damage (so you won’t waste time with the buyer who wants a perfect piece).

3. A brief, accurate description. Get straight to the point with a few lines of concrete description conveying the condition of the piece (e.g. pristine, like new, light scratches, freshly painted).

  • Don’t waste time suggesting different ways someone could use the piece or explaining how your mother-in-law gave it to you for your birthday.
  • Don’t sound like used car dealer (Amazing deals! Everything must go!), even if you’re selling a used car. People hate that. Trust us.
  • You can have a little fun here. Just don’t be too wordy.

4. The right price. Always include a price, and make it reasonable.

  • Research similar items to determine a fair price. If you’re listing something at more than half its purchased price, it better be a high-demand item.
  • It’s not necessary to say “or best offer”; that’s kind of implied. But you can say “price is firm” to filter out folks who want to haggle.
  • Don’t say, “Make me an offer.” And don’t be one of those jerks who list it as $1 with the real price hidden inside.

5. One product per post. Write individual posts for separate products unless it really makes more sense to group them (e.g. baby items, a living room set). This way, each piece will benefit from its own solid headline and an image that shows up without having to click through to the listing.

6. Search terms. To come up in more searches, be sure to use the generic and brand names in your headline and in the post. For example, an ad for a dining room buffet might have “IKEA desk” in the headline and words like “writing table” “small table” and “work station” within the listing.

What are your tips or pet peeves when it comes to Craigslist ads? Let us know if you have any to add!

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Coming Soon to Your Corner …

By admin
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There’s a rising trend these days in viral location-based marketing. A lot of people have been talking about this clever campaign for TNT, these secret-agent Coke machines branded toward the latest Bond flick and this hilarious bus stop campaign from the folks at Qualcomm.

What are the agencies behind these campaigns doing right? In a word, spectacle. With talented plants and careful planning, they’ve managed to generate visual fireworks on a dime — and draw the attention of everyone in the area as well. But of course, it all means nothing without the hidden cameras and sleek editing. The real value is in the sharing: watching our friends watch people as they watch something amazing happen.

And let us not discount the can’t-miss alchemy of mixing crazy contrivances with regular folks. You can’t fake some of the reactions in these campaigns, and there’s no getting around the fact that these things really happened. Maybe not to you, or in your hometown, but they did happen somewhere, to someone. That feels very different from a canned spot on a soundstage.

Final bonus: All three campaigns use cleverly integrated slogans to make sense of the chaos: TNT’s “Push to Add Drama,” Coke’s “Unlock the 007 in You” and Qualcomm’s “Born Mobile” all dovetail nicely with their respective marketing concepts.

If we had to pick one bone of contention, though, it feels like only TNT’s campaign relates in a lasting way to the brand. The Coke campaign seems better suited to Mountain Dew, or perhaps Stoli, while the Qualcomm campaign might feel more at home for a bubbly Internet startup than a 28-year-old semiconductor manufacturer. But hey, that’s why they say marketing changes everything.

Some good brand experts are at work here, and our hats are off to them. Here’s hoping that yellow Lamborghini makes a stop in our home of Somerville sometime soon.

Watch all three videos below:

TNT:

Coke:

Qualcomm:

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Our Favorite TV Ads from Childhood: The Pens Weigh In

By Dan O'Sullivan
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Now that The Hired Pens is four Pens strong, we thought it would be fun to do the occasional roundtable discussion. Our plan is to tackle all the important, life-transforming issues of the day. Like our favorite TV ads from our childhoods. Enjoy …

The Energizer: It’s Going to Surprise You (Dan)

It’s 1987, and I’m a freshman in college. My roommate Chris and I are up late watching Letterman. Without warning, this ridiculous commercial comes on. “Jacko,” a muscled Australian lunatic with spiky, dyed blonde hair, is screaming at us about the merits of Energizer batteries. His eyes bulge out. He sings while holding a giant battery over his head. He rhymes “Energiz-ah” with “gonna surprise ya.” He punctuates the jingle with a demonstrative “Oi!”

All of this couldn’t have been any funnier to Chris and me. Too bad they switched to that damned Energizer bunny just one year later. Jacko, I guess the advertising world just wasn’t made for muscled Australian lunatics like you.

Just One Look … and America Fell So Hard (Anna)

Commercials are better now. I think as a nation, we’ve gotten funnier. Or at least more comfortable with using humor to sell things. I like that.

But let’s be honest. There’s one thing that sells better than humor. That’s right: Cindy Crawford. This 1991 Pepsi commercial does everything a good commercial should: It gets your attention. It’s fun to watch. And it makes you want the product.

Back then, girls like me hoped one day to be as glamorous as Cindy. And the boys we loved hung posters of her on their wall, hoping we would, too — or that we’d at least outgrow our training bras. We all drank a lot of Pepsi. Since then, this ad has been imitated many, many times. It still works.

I Wanted to Like You, Mikey (Karen)

You were cute, in a chubby-faced underdog sort of way. Your older brothers seemed like real a-holes, forcing you to try that cereal no one wanted. As one of seven kids myself, I could relate.

The thing is, Mikey, you let your brothers have all the lines. I didn’t feel like listening to them anymore than you did. “He likes it! Hey, Mikey!” So grating. I’d run for the TV and crank the dial to another channel before they said it, and still that one stupid line would stick in my head all day.

I wanted to root for you, Mikey, but you could’ve shown a little self-respect. You could’ve said no to the cereal. And while your ad ran for 12 years and was considered a huge success, I think America agreed with me. Hence the rabid rumors of your untimely death by Coke and Pop Rocks candy.

I was glad to read recently that you’re alive and well, working as an ad man for a New York radio station — but a little sad to learn those jerks in the commercial were your real-life brothers. I hope you’ve found happiness, Mikey. I really do.

I Hanker for a Pair o’ Kneeees (Zach)

It had serpentine, boneless legs. It had internal rhymes and an elective cane. It even had a recipe: crackers and cheese; serve stacked.

“Time for Timer” was part of a frankly bizarre PSA campaign to combat … hunger? Cogency? I know it received heavy airplay throughout my childhood (WLVI-56!), and somehow that little bolus in boots stuck with me all this time.

Call it the power of context-free marketing, or perhaps a testament to some memorable jingle writing. Point is: I eat cheese constantly today, and I almost never don’t think of Timer. He was an extremely tiny part of my life, and it breaks my heart to see what’s become of him.

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Color Matters: Why Facebook’s Blues Make You Trust It

By Karen Dempsey
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Color Emotion GuideFast Co. has a great post up from Buffer’s Leo Widrich, and it’s all about color. Widrich pulls together different data about how color works (or doesn’t) in marketing. According to the research, our own Hired Pens online color scheme suggests “credibility,” “clean” and “direct” with a little “excitement” thrown in for good measure. Sounds about right.

Widrich goes on to describe an experiment that found that even a minor tweak to a button’s color can have a significant impact on conversion rates. The tricky part? The research into how colors make us feel doesn’t necessarily line up with how things played out in the experiments Widrich cites. But the big, concrete takeaway is that color does matter, and you may find a few small changes can yield a big payoff.

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Check Out Our Work for OneVision Resources & Saturn Partners

By Dan O'Sullivan
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We recently wrapped up two website projects — please take a moment to check them out!

OneVision ResourcesOneVision Resources is a really interesting business that helps rich folks manage all the personal technology in their lives. We worked closely with founder/managing director Joey Kolchinsky along with the superstars at Fresh Tilled Soil to create this new slick site (which looks especially great on iPads, by the way).

Saturn Partners is a venture capital firm focusing on seed and early-stage technology companies. For this site, we relied heavily on input from one of the firm’s partners, Ed Lafferty. Rob Torres and the team at Digital Reaction Total Web Solutions brought the site to life.

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