Holly Gonzalez Marketing & Copywriting

Smart, sophisticated copy that sells.

Category Archives: Copywriting


Photo by Leong Lok on Unsplash

Diving into the world of online dating has me thinking two things: 1) I’m too old for this shit, and 2) I should definitely be writing down all these bad date experiences. Like the guy who showed up with his caregiver in tow. Turns out there were a few details that he failed to disclose, including but not limited to the fact that he was “in between dentist appointments,” having had all his teeth pulled to be fitted for dentures, and that he’d had a stroke (hence the caregiver driving him to our date.). Or the lovely man who just happened to be a wheelchair, which you know, I would have known had I swiped through all of his photos. There are more, actually many many more, but you get the gist. What the hell does this have to do with copywriting? As a matter of fact, a couple of things.

It’s not about you. It’s never about you.

Whether someone never messages you back, or fails to ask you out again, I swear, it’s about them. People want what they want, and you can’t legislate what floats your boat. And that’s also the secret to great copywriting—stop making it about what you want to write, and focus instead on taking the client’s ideas and zhooshing them up. Make it about them, not you.

The more information you have, the better.

Ask questions, do research, and realize that both prospective dates and clients don’t always reveal all the information you need to move forward. Better writing is the product of more in-depth sleuthing—the more you know about their product, service, target audience, competitors and brand personality, the easier the writing will come to you. As for googling your dates? It’s always nice to know about that felony before you start going out with someone.

Profiles and headlines: more alike than you’d think.

Whether you want someone to swipe right or click through, your message has the same goal. In just a few well-chosen words, you’ve got to convince someone that they’d like to know more. It’s about being intriguing, getting someone’s attention and most importantly, being honest. Your headline should be more than just “catchy”; it’s got to ring true and be aligned with your client’s business goals.

Oh, finally, people are all about algorithms when it comes to both online dating and copywriting—and sure analytics are great, but ultimately it’s about making connection based on emotions—and that will always be much more of an art than a science.

Open the Kimono and Run It Up the Flagpole

Let’s talk about business jargon. More specifically, let’s talk about how we can get rid of this blight on the language landscape. Business jargon doesn’t add anything to the conversation—whether it’s in person, online or in print. How corporate language ended up so garbled and meaningless is anyone’s guess, but, really, can’t we do better than “win-win,” “paradigm shift,” and my all-time favorite, “think outside of the box”? Here’s a nifty little site to help purge those bloated phrases from your business vocabulary: http://unsuck-it.com/. Just plug in your most hated office jargon, and poof, you’ll find the plain English translation. I personally pledge to obliterate “tweak” from my business-speak from this day forward.

I Write Like…

In case you missed this meme, it’s great fun. I Write Like is a website that lets you paste in an excerpt of your writing, and uses an algorithm to tell you which author’s writing yours most resembles. It’s fascinating stuff. Who doesn’t want to be told they write like David Foster Wallace or Kurt Vonnegut? Although some folks are mighty disappointed to learn that their choice of words mostly closely mirrored those of Stephanie Meyer and Dan Brown. And, imagine Margaret Atwood’s surprise when she pasted in a sample of her own writing, only to find she writes like… Stephen King. Interestingly, I plugged in a few excerpts from my “I get paid to write this” copy, and turned up H.P. Lovecraft. When I used a few random posts from this blog, it spit out Douglas Adams. Nice to know I’m part of the society of weird fiction writers. I couldn’t be happier. Just for kicks, I analyzed the lyrics to the Banana Splits theme song. Apparently, Cory Doctorow—science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger—could have written this gem!

Say “thank you” like you mean it.

I’ve received and given my share of client/vendor gifts. But none touched me in the way that a recent gift from longtime client Matrix2 Advertising did. They’re a Miami-based marketing agency (and a darn good one), and out of the blue, they sent me a personalized spiral-bound notebook with my name on the cover and in the corner of every page. Also on the cover is the quote: ‘Life isn’t about how to survive the storm, but about how to dance in the rain.” It’s a lovely sentiment, and especially meaningful now—when marketing budgets are tight and clients are grim. But what really surprised and moved me was that on the first page, every member of the staff had taken the time to thank me personally. It was genius, really. They did so many things right. First, it wasn’t the obligatory holiday gift, lost amidst the other corporate gifts. Second, the personalization is always a winner. Who doesn’t love their name on stuff? Bonus points for the spiral-bound notebook—I confess to being a junkie for notebooks of all shapes and sizes. And the hand-written notes just sealed the deal. Feel free to steal this idea and adapt it to your clients. I know I will.

My real estate marketing mentor

The NYTimes had a piece about the “marketing revolution” in real estate—a fascinating look at how the promotion of Manhattan apartments has changed over the decades. But what really grabbed my attention was this quote from the head of a residential marketing firm: “Back in the mid-’80s, in the residential real estate world, people didn’t know how to spell ‘marketing.’ ” Really? I fell into residential real estate marketing when I joined Boston’s Schneider & Associates as a pretty green PR account exec. It was the mid-‘80s, and Joan Schneider not only knew how to spell real estate marketing, she pretty much invented it. It was Joan who taught me to treat marketing real estate like you would any other luxury consumer product. I learned the art of naming real estate developments, and the craft of creating memorable special events. Mundane real estate milestones such as topping off events were turned into spectacles—an all-tuba concert on the roof of a Cambridge condo, or a lifestyle vignette with mannequins on the final beam of a Malden townhouse complex. There were plenty of challenges, too. Banks were financing construction projects in less than desirable locations; places Joan termed “emerging neighborhoods.” No matter where the developments were, Joan approached each one with the same determination and pluck—we were going to promote the hell out of this condo in the middle of some skeevy section of town, and by god, it would sell.

Beginning with my days at Schneider & Associates, writing for and about real estate has been my forte. From Boston, I headed back home to Miami to work for an advertising and public relations firm that specialized in luxury real estate and resorts. As a freelance copywriter, real estate remains one of my specialties. I’ve been through a couple of real estate cycles now, and the lessons that I learned from Joan have stayed with me. Everyone should have a mentor in their life from who they learn even half as much.

800 Headlines

I’m pretty much a “one and done” copywriter. My clients rarely come back to me with edits, and sometimes, with tight deadlines, my copy goes whoosh into layouts before I can even ask, “Any changes?” When it comes to headlines, I usually develop 5, 10, maybe 25 if I’m really stretching myself. And my clients always find one that works. I was feeling pretty smug. Until I read about Sally Hogshead. She’s the author of Fascinate, about seven triggers that help marketers break through the clutter. On her website, she writes about her days as a copywriter on the BMW account. Her rule of thumb: write 100 headlines for every 1 you need. For the new BMW campaign, the client needed 8, so she wrote 800 headlines. Yep. 800. Pretty brilliant, I thought. And it inspired me, too. While I probably won’t be churning out 100 headlines for every headline assignment, it’s made me rethink how I approach developing names, taglines and headlines. Quantity doesn’t equal quality, but I do think that as you develop lots of names, sometimes you’re taken in new directions along the way. Thanks for the lesson well learned, Sally.

Don’t Forget the Serpent

Diana Vreeland

Diana Vreeland was the legendary Vogue editor who shaped fashion history like no one else.  Influential, opinionated and original, she was the essence of fabulous. Visionaire recently published a series of her staff memos. Cryptic, brilliant, like little haiku jewels, these staff memos were dictated to her assistant from Mrs. Vreeland’s bathroom (how’s that for multi-tasking?). Some of my favorites:

The serpent should be on all fingers and all wrists and all everywhere…
The serpent is the motif of the hour in jewelry…

Nothing gives the luxury of pearls. Please keep them in mind.

Let’s promote grey.
For everything.

So often clients want to cram copy with every product feature, selling point and offer detail. If you ever wanted evidence that spare, elegant language trumps bloated, superlative-laden writing, just read Mrs. Vreeland’s memos.

Pleased to “unmeat” you

Turns out that when you Build Your Own Pizza online with Dominos, you can choose from “meats” and, in an interesting turn-of-phrase, “unmeats.” Yep, rather than your expected veggies or non-meat, Dominos chose to go with unmeats. I love this word choice in a way that isn’t entirely rational. I mean, I should recoil at the “trying too hard to be hipness” of it all, but it made me smile. And I think that’s the point. Whatever you’re writing, it should be authentic, and sometimes that might mean making up a word or two.

I had a suite-mate in college, a free-spirited modern dancer who invented the word “limble”—a mash-up of flexible and limber. College is but a dim and distant memory, but I still remember Cindy’s uncanny ability to put a fresh spin on language. While there are plenty of new words (including “tweet” and “bromance”) that make me cringe, unmeats isn’t one of them. Neither is kinnearing, which is defined as “to take a candid photograph surreptitiously, especially by holding the camera low and out of the line of sight.” It was coined by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee of the Yarn Harlot blog when she attempted to take a photograph during an encounter with the actor Greg Kinnear at an airport.

So the next time you’re looking for just the right word, maybe it’s because it’s doesn’t exist yet. Go for it, and don’t be afraid to be limble with your word choice.

I enjoy being a girl

I enjoy being a girl

Apparently the Flower Drum Song soundtrack is being piped into the Dell marketing offices, because that’s the only explanation for their latest campaign for women. Their new website is named Della (get it? It’s Della, a girl’s name), and trust me, once you land on that page, it’s clear that they are targeting girly girls. At Della, it’s all about style, not substance. Their mini netbooks are “another cool gadget to compliment [sic] your lifestyle.” (Yes, to add insult to outrage, there’s a freakin’ grammatical error on the site.) The only problem with their strategy is that I don’t buy my computer based on whether it’s available in “Ice Blue” or “New Cherry Red.” Nor do I need “stylish sleeves” or accessories that combine “a laptop case and designer handbag into one exciting package.” Tech Tips touts tools to track workouts and map out running routes. It’s a good thing I don’t use my computer for business. Oh wait, I do.

Since the site launched last week, the consumer and media response has been blistering. To be fair, Dell has listened, and tweaked some of the content to be less fluff and more informative. Still, Della is a great case study on how not to market to women.

At the end of the day


I, personally think that at the end of the day what really matters is that you give 110%. With all due respect, it’s not rocket science to come up with writing that’s fresh and original, or at the very least, fairly unique. Absolutely, it’s a nightmare to slog through writing that’s cliché-laden, and if you’ve managed to read this far, I’m amazed.

Last year, researchers at Oxford University compiled a list of the top ten annoying phrases (I crammed in seven of ‘em in the paragraph above) “At the end of the day” topped the list, and while it’s a worthy contender, I’ve got my own list of phrases that push me over the edge. Some are business jargon, some are trendy, and some are just plain wrong. Here you go:

1.     A myriad of (It’s just “myriad,” I promise.)

2.     My bad (Please, let’s retire this one.)

3.     Basically (as in, “Basically, it doesn’t add anything to a sentence.”)

4.     Hunker down (I come from the land of hurricanes, and this one gives me the willies.)

5.     Think out of the box (I’m not in a box)

6.     Are we on the same page? (… or in a book)

7.     Touch base (… or on a baseball diamond)

8.     Paradigm shift (Cringe-inducing marketing-speak)

9.     Synergy (Double cringe)

10. When all is said and done (then why are you still talking?)