The Art of the Blurb
By Brad Dosland
In the course of loading the upcoming-events database for
Unmata's web site, I've been wading through dozens of listings
provided by various event organizers. And cringing with every
new one I read. In fact, I have an awesome gallery of examples of bad promotional posters on Facebook. I have to say we can and must do much better.
I'm not suggesting that folks quit their job, get an MBA,
or work on Madison Avenue; just follow a few simple guidelines
that many of us probably forgot when we graduated grade school.
To that end, I've compiled a handy checklist of common listing
Click on the images below to see the sample posters in more detail.
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Jason Mongue, Oakland, California.
Provide Complete Information
To me, this seems like job one, but I'm amazed how many listings
don't include one or more of the 4 essential Ws:
Frequently, I have to do a Google search just to find out
what state an event is in. I guarantee you I care more than the
customers you lose do. I just added one event to the calendar
on which the venue name and address are only included as graphic elements
in their online poster. (If that file doesn't load when you visit
the page, tough luck!) I actually missed the info in the poster
on my first pass and had to look closely to find it. No show
time is provided at all, although I scoured the poster, thinking
it was hidden in the background pattern like one of those cross-your-eyes
3D posters. The city where the event is taking place is tucked
in a corner and is roughly the size of the poster artist's signature.
Why make it so hard for people to find you? And if you're
not in a major city, tell people what state and country your town is in,
Personally, I'm a big fan of including a point of reference
(e.g., "at the intersection of Main and Elm") in addition
to just the address, but leave the door-to-door directions to
MapQuest or AAA.
When you list the date, include what day of the week for those
of us who are calendar impaired. The big upside is that you may
discover that the day and date don't jibe. Believe me, this happens
all the time!
ABOUT THE IMAGE: This promotional poster was designed for the SF Mecca Revue in August 2009.
List Important Information Legibly
This starts with using type big enough to read without bifocals
and enough contrast between type and background to make the text
pop. Next, format your information in a way that's easy for folks
Wherever space allows, spell out words such as "Monday"
(as opposed to "Mon"), "October" (as opposed
to "Oct"), and "Street" (as opposed to "St").
This avoids the whole "Mon Oct 7 13" crypticness. Everyone
understands "Monday, October 7th, 2013" on first glance.
Write phone numbers in the old-school format of (212) 555-1212
as opposed to the terribly techy 212.555.1212. People instantly
recognize that format as a phone number, and not an IP address.
Help people find those most crucial nuggets (date, time, price,
etc.) by bolding, coloring, and underlining them to stand out
at a glance. Capitalizing proper nouns and pronouns (save the
modest lower-case "i" self-reference for text messaging)
makes it easier to digest information without effort. Use of basic grammar
and punctuation such as capital letters at the start of sentences
and periods at the ends of sentences goes a long way as well.
ABOUT THE PHOTO: This poster was created to promote the Eyes of Eve show in September 2009.
Provide Convenient Contacts
A web page that answers everyone's questions is best. An e-mail
address where someone gets back to potential audiences in a timely
manner is good. Your personal cell phone number is awkward and
inefficient for all involved.
If you don't have enough basic answers for a web page yet,
you shouldn't be promoting yet. Link directly to the event info
being promoted. Don't make people treasure hunt your entire site
to learn more. Too many will wander off long before finding your
prize. If your site uses frames-based code and you can't link
directly to the target content, it's the perfect opportunity
to quit using frames.
ABOUT THE PHOTO: This poster was created to promote the event Tribal Throwdown in 2007.
This is a subtle detail that impacts people's confidence in
you and your event, often subconsciously. If you list a time
as "7:00pm" in one place, listing another time as "8
p.m." somewhere else (or worse yet, "eight o'clock")
makes it seem like you don't know what you're doing. This holds
for intermittent use of "and" and "&",
"versus" and "vs", and random capitalization
("the Very Best music and dance").
In the aforementioned "8" and "eight" example,
newspaper style is to always use numbers for times and to spell
out other amounts under 10 and use numbers for amounts over 10
(but marketing 101 says to always use numbers everywhere. People
feel like they're getting more when numbers are involved).
Consistency also applies to spelling... Star of the $20 bill
Andrew Jackson is quoted as saying, "It's a damn poor mind
that can't think of more than one way to spell a word",
but Old Hick'ry earned his credibility the hard way: Killing
Indigenous Peoples. You'll want to spell words the way most people
agree on or risk coming off poorly. Don't use the word "cornucopia"
unless you are willing to make sure you know how to spell it
correctly (I had to check Merriam-Webster Online to make sure I had
the right number of "t"s in "intermittent"
in the item above).
The same holds true for punctuation. Sure, many of the arcane
rules of punctuation come off as arbitrary and just fodder for
tsking grammar teachers, but some of it actually helps you communicate
much much better. Abuse of apostrophes and quotation marks is
so rampant that there are actually web sites dedicated to documenting
the embarrassing mistakes (Apostrophe Abuse and The "Blog" of "Unnecessary"
Quotation Marks respectively). A crucial but common error
is the dauntingly named "compound modifier" (basically
it's when two words combine to describe a third word). Wikipedia's "Compound Modifier" article offers the example of "better-educated individuals"
(which describes all individuals in general) versus "better
educated individuals" (which could be read to be about just
educated individuals specifically ).
Let's lay off the exclamation points, people. Using one occasionally
means you're excited about a particular point. Using one at the
end of every sentence weakens the impact of that one special
item you actually are excited about. Using three at the end of
a sentence strains credibility but could work (in a tongue-in-cheek
manner) in rare cases. More than three and you sound like you're
I'm not suggesting you lose your original voice or dry up
your writing (I use parentheticals like they're going out of
style!) but break style deliberately and don't give customers
an obvious reason to doubt your ability to deliver.
The only thing worse than thinking that potential audiences
will be captivated by your oblique vagueness (the world's too
full of competing messages for most folks to puzzle over your
little mystery) is the gift of gab. Sometimes it's more a matter
of organization. You have to intuit where readers are going to
look for specific information and make sure to deliver what they
want, where they expect to find it. But more often, writers are
simply too long winded (such as including random quotes from
Some words (such as "that") can be deleted wholesale
with no impact on the content of the writing. (Try omitting it
from the first sentence of this section if you don't believe
me. Or the dozen others in this very piece
) We must mercilessly
hack out clichés and fillers (for example, "in order
to" and "designed as"). We must purge modifiers
for weak words (It's not "very big", it's "huge").
We must obliterate repetition. We must obliterate repetit...
Well, you get the picture. I once had the pleasure of working
with a member of Tribe.net to pare down a flyer and, in my
experience, most writing can be condensed by 50% or more without
losing any of its info, flavor, or impact. In fact, impact is
dramatically improved with concerted editing.
A real-world example came up on Tribe.net where a dancer seeking
feedback had written, "I will continue adding additional
information on a regular basis... " on the front page of
her site. This is a text-book example of how passive voice, cliché,
and redundancy unfortunately combine to hurt brevity. "I
regularly add information..." says the same thing in less
than half the word count. While I don't claim to be Strunk nor
White, I believe Shakespeare when he said, "Brevity is the
soul of wit." He did okay as a writer.
Although, at this point, I've rambled on so long that I've
probably already violated that last call for brevity altogether.
Sure, everyone has the occasional typo, but always have a second
set of eyes proof any materials that speak for the brand before
they go public.
Thanks for your patience
Now let's make better blurbs.
ABOUT THE PHOTO: This poster promotes an event in Barcelona.
About the Author
Brad has produced and co-produced major events, including Unmata's annual Blood Moon Regale, the national Spark Tour (featuring Urban Tribal and Ultra Gypsy), the San Francisco Mecca Revue, the Tribal Throwdown festival, all 4 years of Undulation shows, the Nouveau Nights series of shows, and the long-running Kosmos music and dance camp.
He has been a judge for the Breakthrough Fusion Dance Competition.
Brad has worked with artists including Rachel Brice, Ansuya, Heather Stants, Amy Sigil, Zoe Jakes, Ariellah, Kami Liddle, Jill Parker, Cera Byer and more on original photography and design. However, most people know his work photographing performances such as Tribal Fest, ShadowDance, Tribal Massive, Las Vegas Bellydance Intensive, and countless sets at afterparties and more intimate venues.
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Kristine Adams, San Francisco, California.
Other articles on this web site related to marketing and advertising include:
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