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John the copywriter’s recipe for content marketing that sells

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Content Marketing That Sells

“Writers tell, copywriters sell” is one of my favourite lines that I’ve penned over the years.

Now it’s being challenged by content marketing—the publication of material designed to promote a brand, usually through a more oblique and subtle approach than that of traditional push advertising. Read more

John the copywriter’s recipe for dumb ways to die

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The super-viral, animated “Dumb Ways to Die” train-safety video rolled over the competition this year, picking up the top prize in five categories. A delightful masterpiece of craft, it had the whole world humming along—and the Cannes judges, too.

Agency: McCann, Melbourne, Australia
Client: Metro Trains Melbourne “Dumb Ways to Die”


John the Copywriter’s belly-achingly funny social video recipe for the dangerously uncool Ford Focus

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Ford were about to announce a massive recall of its 2102 compact car the Ford Focus for being dangerously uncool.  The social media was on fire with its view that the Ford Focus was a “Piece of S**t”.  “Today I had a dream somebody stole my Ford Focus. It was a good dream”

The result: The 2012 Focus Launch Campaign featuring Doug, Ford’s Spokespuppet.

More on Doug’s story at Mashable

26 Content Marketing Tools to Use in 2013

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Content marketing is so hot right now. No, really, it is. According to Content Marketing Institute’s recent B2B Content Marketing report, 9 out of 10 B2B marketers are using content marketing, and 45% plan to increase their spending on content marketing over the next 12 months. More marketers are shifting their content creation efforts in-house, but at the same time, producing enough content is their biggest challenge heading into 2013.

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John the copywriter’s recipe for an art thriller

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My latest journalistic adventure about the reopening of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum (inspired by a brilliant BBC documentary) has all the ingredients of a mad, crazy, insane art thriller.

The restoration of this national monument to Dutch history was supposed to take three years. But it took them 10 years, which gives you some idea of the obstacles they had to overcome. It was scheduled for completion in 2008.

So what took it so long? Some historic aquatic problem, some logistical issue?

No! The uniquely Dutch issue: The humble bike.

Read the full story in the ZINE, my monthly expat magazine: 

Penguin and Panda Update

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Google’s Penguin and Panda algorithm. The G in Genius? Or the O in Obfuscate?

I’ve been a writer for many years and I can tell without blinking that great content does not come from a formula. Instinct, gut feeling, being in the flow and in the zone play the important roles here.

In all honestly, nobody knows where ‘great’ comes from. All I know is that it comes in at a high left trajectory. Hence the expression left of field. Apart from that I don’t have a clue.

This is not how ideas arrive all the time, but when they do they are inevitably surrounded by an aura, a life force of their own. It takes great effort not to clip their wings in an attempt to fit them in the media for which you are being paid to fill.

You know you have a great piece of  content when it has that certain something, that je ne sais quoi. A quality or attribute that is difficult to describe. So it’s hard to judge rationally. You just ‘know’ it’s great.

So how, I ask myself, how has Google managed to come out with an algorithm that can measure this beauty? It’s almost as mysterious and the writing process itself.

In the process of updating this algorithm with the introduction of Penguin and Panda algorithms, Google has declared war on the sneaky tactics of some of its SEO practitioners. Less a game and more a skill, Penguin and Panda are designed to help better writing and PR rise to the surface.

The new kid on the block is Content Marketing. Which is a good thing. I’ve always hated the gaming nature of the web.

Some say that Google’s love affair with content marketing is not only going to leave SEO behind, but it will also impact ‘traditional’ online media.  While I believe there will be a new renaissance between SEO and Content Marketing, especially with strong internal navigation, I have to wonder how these magic algorithms will pull this off.

My question will always be: “How can the objectivity of algorithms account for the subjectivity of quality?”

If Google have cracked this conundrum, without conning us or themselves, I think they truly must to credited with the title of “Genius”.

Just like the financial markets, what if they have created algorithms so complex that nobody understands them anymore? What if these algorithms are creating their own algorithms? Then we content writers are at the mercy not of our own gut instincts, but of an artificial intelligence. One that nobody readily understands. Which work at speeds that nobody can comprehend.

Can we really trust this reality? And if not, what is the alternative? Play the game, which they say is not a game anymore, or find alternative ways to engage customers? And how do you know if you are paying the game correctly if the rules are subjective?

Google describes “quality content” as “content that you can send to your child to learn something.” Which I think means that your content should be easy to understand, informative, useful, useable, engaging and shareable.

Which takes writers years to master.

Develop High-Quality Content. Or have it created for you.

So what is the answer? To stand any chance of getting your content to rank well in the new world that Panda and Penguin have created, you should only publish highest quality content on your site. Even if this means slowing down to publish better, longer, meatier content. If you don’t have the expertise in-house to deliver great content, you should consider outsourcing your content creation to published pros.

Authoritative authors can raise the perceived value of your content. If there is anything we can learn from the financial market is “Don’t underestimate the value of perception”.

Great content is 90 percent perception.  The perception being that it’s not about you anymore, sorry, it’s how well you articulate the value you can bring to your prospects and customers. That’s it. It’s about professionally created content that builds the audience that builds your brand. And the best, most qualified to that are subject matter experts and writing pros. If you don’t have either, seek outside help. It’s an investment that will pay off for the future of your brand.


John the copywriter’s recipe for a sound logo

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Food for the ears.

Take one Hamburg skyline and its reflection and turn it into a sound wave. Then record idea with the Philharmoniker Hamburg orchestra. Eye-wateringly delicious.





You can listen to the logo in the video below.


Agency: kempertrautmann GmbH
Client: Philharmoniker Hamburg
Creative director: Marcell Francke, Patrick Matthiesen
Art director: Bruno Luglio


John the Copywriter’s deliciously devious recipe for running shoes

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Onitsuka Tiger’s running shoes aren’t running shoes. In the same way water isn’t beer. Or a goldfish isn’t a shark.

So I go to buy a pair of running shoes at the Onitsuka Tiger shop on the Leidsestraat, Amsterdam.

I’m happy to see they have a whole wall dedicated to running shoes.

The word ‘Running’ is in both Japanese and English. Very cool. And it’s repeated about six times along the wall.

They even have fascinating little stories about each shoe’s running history.


I ask the attendant which running shoes have the most arch in them and he says “What?… Eh?…No, you want running shoes. These aren’t running shoes”.

So I point at the numerous ‘Running’ signs and he says “No, these are just based on running shoes. These are NOT real running shoes.”

So I said, “You mean I can sell water and call it ‘beer’ and write fascinating accounts of the beer’s heritage next to each pint, but if anyone notices that it’s not really beer I can say ‘No It’s just based on beer?’ ”

He said “Are you taking the piss?”

I said “No, I’m merely pointing out that you are deliberately flaunting of the trade’s description act in the name of fashion”

To which he said “Ugh?” and walked off.

Well folks, you’ve heard it from the tiger’s mouth. “If you think ‘running’ means ‘running’ in the fashion jungle then you obviously don’t get it.

Get what?

Ah…that’s the point of fashion. If you have to ask, if you have to question, then you can’t become a fashion victim, a tiger’s breakfast… just a stupid cunt who knows nothing about fashion’s vacuous nothingness.

No, you are not gullible enough mate. Run away.

It’s about the look. Looking like a runner. A runner without a clue.

It’s a bit like strapping a sharks fin on a goldfish.

Which reminds me…

These two guys were running away from a tiger. Suddenly one of them stopped to put on his Tiger running shoes. The other guy said “What are you doing? You’ll never outrun the tiger?” To which the Tiger shoe guy said, “But I can out run you in those broken flipflops.” The other guy shook his head and said, “Dude, you’re wearing Tigers. No way”.  A few seconds later the tiger ate the dude, but spat out the Tiger running shoes.

Moral? In the world of fashion, words meet shit. Which is why most fashion ads run away from them.