It’s Not Easy Being Green …
7 Things Web Writers of Any Age Can Learn From Jim Henson
One of my favorite ways to make small talk at conferences and parties is to ask the people at the table, “If you could meet any famous person or historical figure, dead or alive, who would it be?”
It’s a great icebreaker that makes for interesting conversation with strangers.
Most people say an important historical figure or artist of some kind. My choice is Jim Henson.
When I was young, Mom could call me to supper with a bullhorn, but if The Muppet Show or Sesame Street was on, I didn’t hear a thing. I was in the “Muppet Zone,” glued to the television, chanting along with the silly mnemonic songs.
Now that I’m in my thirties, it amazes me just how much I learned and retained from a bunch of fuzzy monsters with googly eyes.
The copy bone is connected to the creative bone …
Writing effective copy day in and day out requires an extraordinary amount of creativity. Henson was a creative genius. And some of his greatest talents translate brilliantly to the written word.
Let me give you an example.
Raise your hand if you remember, “C is for cookie, dat’s good enough for me!” You remember it because it’s catchy, it’s funny, and the target audience even learns something from it — which is exactly the point. It’s so memorable that I bet you even smiled and sang it in the Cookie Monster’s voice in your head.
Now, if you were to hear, “It tastes awful. And it works.” do you automatically think of Buckley’s cough medicine? Slogans and jingles in marketing are really not that much different than “C is for Cookie.”
Stand out in the crowd
In order to stand out from the 5,000 advertising messages we see every day, copy needs to be captivating to be seen. Ideally it will be interesting, entertaining, memorable, useful, and make the audience want to keep reading.
The reality is, whether you’re writing for the Web or print, you’ll need to parlay dry, boring, mind-numbing facts and figures into convincing copy that people will want to keep reading, and eventually take the action you want them to take.
Well it doesn’t get much duller than learning the alphabet, right? But Henson managed to make that fun and so memorable that it’s still instantly familiar decades later.
So how can you give your copy some pizazz by visiting the Henson Dimension?
Like I said, many of Henson’s methods translate nicely to the written word. You can juice up all sorts of dry copy by applying the same methods he used to burn “C is For Cookie” into your brain.
- Tell a story — Henson told quick, captivating stories through short skits. Now, copywriters don’t have the luxury of video visual aids (unless you’re writing for video). For the most part, writers need to paint a picture for the reader that sets the stage for when you ask them to take action. Stories help the reader relate to the situation, which increases the chances of them reading the entire copy and taking action.
2. Be innovative — One of Henson’s greatest talents was the ability to flesh out unconventional uses for everyday things. Some call it “thinking outside the box.” I call it “delving into the Henson Dimension.” For instance, the prototype for Kermit the Frog was sewn from an old green coat discarded by Henson’s mother, with Ping-Pong ball halves for eyes.
As a writer, you can repurpose copy for a client into several different media forms your client might not think to use, which can lead to larger projects and more business from satisfied clients. The facts from your sales letters could be broken down and repurposed as tweets, or puffed up and repurposed as a special report.
Dig deep into your imagination — Henson was always dreaming up new concepts, new ideas, and new designs his audience would eat up. He transformed rudimentary building blocks into a fun and memorable way for children to learn. If you exercise your imagination muscle, you might spot more benefits to your clients’ products and services. More benefits solve more problems, strengthening your sales message.
Find similarities between dissimilar things — Oscar the Grouch shared his trash can with his pet elephant, Fluffy. The Fraggles ate the architectures constructed by the Doozers like candy. A black belt diva pig fell for a reporter frog who moonlighted at a theater.
This is an excellent tactic for grabbing attention with a headline or an email subject line. It makes readers want to pick up the sales letter or open the email just out of curiosity. It’s human nature. That’s why mystery novels and cop shows like Law & Order are so popular. We want to see if we can figure out whodunit before the end. When you saw the title of this article did you wonder what on earth copywriters could learn from a puppeteer?
Recognize opportunity — Do you remember when Mr. Hooper died on Sesame Street? Henson could have just written the character out of the show, but he realized the loss of the beloved actor was an opportunity to teach children about death — an inevitable lesson in life for every child and a delicate subject for parents to broach. Big Bird just couldn’t wrap his head around the idea that Mr. Hooper was gone forever.
Crank up your copywriting radar and watch for news stories that can somehow be related to your clients’ businesses and used to promote their products and services. Hurricane Sandy was devastating to thousands of people, and millions more followed the story. Tragic as it was, it’s a heck of a reminder that people need to prepare for disasters. And there are countless businesses who sell everything from generators to flashlights who could seize the opportunity to promote their products.
But there are far more businesses who could embrace that same opportunity if you help them see it — which may lead to more projects for you. How about companies who manufacture canned goods? What about wood stove businesses that don’t require electricity to keep you warm and heat up food? How about charities who will desperately need a huge influx of donations to keep up with demand? Or blood banks who will require more blood donations than usual for the injured? The list goes on forever if you can connect the dots.
You absolutely must practice — Henson didn’t become a master puppeteer overnight. It took years of effort and practice. The more writers write and study those who have been successful, the better they get at it. You may find this pointer useful as well if you’re just starting to apply for copywriting projects. Instead of dashing for your ideal client right away, why not send out some specs to companies you feel just lukewarm about for practice?
Build a career — Henson turned something he loved into a thriving career. He had a vision of what he wanted, and he made it happen. By identifying exactly where you want to go and what you need to do to get there, you can live the writer’s life.
Of course, like Henson, you’re bound to come up with new ideas, learn new things; find new opportunities throughout your copywriting journey. It might mean rerouting the way to your goal, or it may mean shifting to a totally different map. There are oodles of opportunities out there waiting to be found. It’s okay to veer off-course if you see a more desirable destination on the horizon.
There are infinite ways to tap your creative bone
So the next time you’re stuck for an idea, try to approach your message from a different angle. Dive into the Henson Dimension. Ask yourself how you could apply these concepts to your copy to make it more captivating. More engaging. More memorable. More attractive. What projects are you working on right now that you want to inject with some extra oomph? Could any of these concepts plant the seed for a new proposal to a new or existing client?
I’d love to hear if Jim Henson inspired you to strengthen a piece of copy in some way. Please feel free to share your thoughts and stories below in the comments section. Who knows, maybe your comment will lead to inspiration for someone else!
This article, It’s Not Easy Being Green … 7 Things Web Writers of Any Age Can Learn From Jim Henson, was originally published by Wealthy Web Writer.
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