The Mad Men Guide to Changing the World with Words

The Mad Men Guide to Changing the World with Words

Reader Comments (159)

  1. Jonathan:

    I’m happy you chose to mode your blog post around the AMC hit series Mad Men. I have read other blog posts saying the Mad Men approach to advertising won’t work now. Don’t know! Yet if people follow the steps you outline – it will.

    I do know that Don (i.e. Mad Men) always came up with the big ideas. Maybe it’s due to the factors you suggested. I believe so. I sincerely hope it’s not the 3 martini lunches – nor the string of affairs – portrayed in the show.

    I especially like the section on “digging for inspiration”. I believe that this story is attributed to Scientific Advertising by Claude C. Hopkins. He was coming up for an idea to pitch for a brewing company. They gave him a tour of their brewery. Claude wanted to show how they brewed their beer. A company spokesperson say everyone brewed the same way. Claude mentioned that nobody showed the process before. He then devised a successful campaign around that process.


    • Hi Randy,

      I’d like to let you know that my goal this week is to beat you to the first comment one time. Just wanted to give you a heads up. 🙂

      Anyone else want to join the challenge?


          • Numpty? Is that actually a word? And what does it mean? LOL! I’d be happy to join in on the great challenge, but since I’m not usually even getting around to logging out of email and into the day’s blogs until 10 or 11 I have a feeling it’s a lost cause. But the battle rages on…

          • Just so we are all clear on the word numpty :p According to numpty means:

            “Deriving most probably from a combination of an abbreviation of the word numb (meaning deprived of feeling), numskull or numbskull (meaning stupid person) with the name ‘Humpty Dumpty’ – the nursery rhyme character who in his foolishness fell off the wall – not good for someone made of eggshell!

            In other words a numpty is a person who is, by their own actions or statements, demonstrably preoccupied, forgetful, naiive or stupid in some regard. It is perfectly possible to be highly skilled or educated to a greater degree yet a complete numpty when it comes to certain aspects of one’s life.

            The term is at the lesser end of insults and may generally be used amongst friends without causing too great an offence, especially if the recipient of the term has already shown the deservedness of its attribution.”

            Hope that clears up any confusion! 😀

          • Thanks-for the entertaining post and the new addition to my vocabulary! The next question is, can it be used as a noun? For example, “Stop being such a numpty?” And could you, say, derive the word “numptiness” from that?

          • Haha I would say yes it can be used as a noun but in all honesty I think it is slang. It is very much a Scottish word, not that I am Scottish or anything but it is where it originates from. Never heard numtiness in my life but hey as bloggers we can make any word fit any sentence. So go ahead give it a bash. There is quite a lot of numptiness going on around here…. so I think I am just going to leave it at that!

      • Joseph:
        You probably will win. Perhaps if you have a software program installed, that lets you know when the latest Copyblogger post, appears in a browser window (i.e. I’m sure a creative programmer type can create such a beast) ? Otherwise, it’s a manual attempt.

        • No worries, I’m not that high tech. It’s just a matter of getting out of bed a little earlier, which poses significant challenge. Don’t worry, the odds are in your favor.

          • If you do become the first, I’ll treat you to a bottle of “virtual” champagne – that’s the virtual French stuff – not the virtual, sparkling bubble imitation.

            I did find an example of a blog post with an opposing viewpoint on Mad Men at But please note, they didn’t cover the fine points Jonathan made.


      • I do not know yet how to beat this guy. I think I have to know exactly when is the next time the next blog entry will appear.

        Actually, I am now use to looking for Randy’s comment for he supplements the blog entries with his intelligent contributions.

        But maybe someday, I can be number one too. And when that happens, I will make sure that I will also have something intelligent to write.

  2. Hmmm surprise Randy hits the first comment again! Lol 🙂 Good thing he has something intelligent to say on every post 😀

    Anyway nice post Jonathon, I particularly like the part about finding ideas. Sometimes as writers we just hit a rut and it’s like our brains are empty on the creative side. I normally go for a run when this happens and just empty my mind. Sometimes listen to some inspirational music helps too!

    Cool well done and keep up the good work!


    • You are so right Mark; it is easy to hit a rut and getting out can seem harder than usual sometimes. I like what Jon said about (1) collecting ideas and (2) working hard to find what to write about. Often times, the only way to get out of a rut is to work out of it. Or run 🙂

      This was a good post, quite helpful. Thanks!dot

      • Oh man even better I found these crazy earphones you can plug an Ipod shuffle into and hit a run. You look like a bit a cake running around with a shuffle in one ear phone but hey anybody who dresses in bright shorts and t shirts and then runs around in public shouldn’t really care what they look like! So whack the ear phones in, hit a run and change the world in your head inside 30 minutes!

        • “hit a run and change the world in your head inside 30 minutes!”

          I love that! You certainly have a way with words. As for looking like a cake running…oh well…the things we do to keep sane 🙂

  3. Great post on many levels. But fair to say, I love anything related to both Mad Men and writing blog posts.

    In case you haven’t come across thought I’d share info about a great book I read a few months ago, Mad Men Unbuttoned: A Romp Through 1960s America by Natasha Vargas-Cooper.

    I reference it in this post.

    Thanks again for great post.

    Debbie Hemley

    • I love your comment Debbie, as a fellow Mad Men fan I thought this article was brilliant. I also like the social media quote because it is so true. The amount of advertising on facebook and companies who have useless twitter accounts is growing and unfortunately these are not filled with the musings of one D. Draper. Thats why I read blogs to reconnect with like minded people and actually form a relationship.

  4. “Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK. You are OK.“

    How could you not be seduced by Don Draper?

    Thanks Jon.

  5. This is a fantastic post. Thank you so much for opening my eyes as to what I should be doing. I love mad Men and actually try to learn marketing from watching the show. However, I am guilty of writing about what I believe is a great idea vs. what people may want to read. This post will help me think differently about that. As a new marketer ( year old) I find I learn so much just from this one blog so thank you for all you so and I take heed to your words here.

  6. Ok, this post just made me late for the day job. But who cares. I loved it!

    However I think that some of your points really fly in the face of what other professional bloggers have suggested for years now. Especially your point on blog about something that others care about and convince yourself to write about it.

    It’s obviously you don’t mean that one should choose a topic with very little interest, but blogging is so time consuming that if you don’t have an interest, even if others do, you will burn out. At least that has been my experience.

    Or worse, blogging about something that has no real way to monetize it.

    • Ideally, you choose a topic that you enjoy AND millions of other people are interested in it too. But I was being unequivocal to make a point. Of the two, having millions of people interested in is far more important, if you ever want your blog to become popular.

  7. “A) Starting a blog about a topic you are interested in, and then convincing the world to listen to you?
    B) Starting a blog about a topic the world is interested in, and then convincing yourself to write about it?”

    Jon, The quote above surprised me. What if no one cares about your topic? but it is important? there is no existing niche? YET.

    This seems to contradict your powerful ending about writing about happiness, a reason to laugh and a reason to keep going.

    I’m not understanding why B is the right choice. Easier sure, but better?

    • The ending is about delivering happiness to other people, not yourself. The more people you have interested in your topic, the more you can deliver happiness to. So no, it’s not contradictory. 🙂

      Also, “better” is a subjective word. Some people write because they enjoy it. Others write because they want results.

      If you want results, then the size of your niche is hugely important. The more people who are interested in your topic, the bigger your blog can become.

      If all you’re in it for is the enjoyment though, then no, you would do the opposite.

  8. “Personally, I spend about 3-4 hours per day watching television, reading books, and listening to NPR. On average, I also stare into space for about 1-2 hours, just thinking.”

    OH, thank Jesus it’s not only me! 😀 I do stuff like this often, and always feel mildly guilty when I say I’m “working”. But since I’m not the only one, now I can feel a little better about all this fun I have in the name of “work”! ;D

    WONDERFUL post Jonathan, the 2nd in a row this morning that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.


  9. Here are two good quotes about digging for new ideas:

    “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” – Steve Jobs

    “For [a product] to surprise me, it must be satisfying expectations I didn’t know I had. No focus group is going to discover those. Only a great designer can.” – Paul Graham

  10. Jon Morrow, you inspire me. As I read this post, and was loving it, I knew that there was someone behind it that sounded familiar. I should have known it was you.
    I too love the concept of ‘digging’ for ideas. One of my favorite quotes on the topic of digging for stories is from Stephen King’s book on writing. One of the recurring themes for King is that of story. He writes that, “stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her tool box to get as much of each one out of the ground, intact as possible.”
    I think we are all connected by our stories, all of humankind. I just want to do my best to dig ’em out and present them to my readers in a way that they resonate. Thanks for the inspiration….AGAIN!

  11. “And then ask yourself: what can you possibly say that would be worthy of the attention of more than 100,000 people?

    Whatever it is, that’s what you should write. Nothing else”

    This one was powerful. Simple. Doable. And I can already see it will be effective, God willing. Thanks.

  12. I worked in ad agencies for about 10 years, mostly in PR, but was called in lots of times to take place in the creative process which I loved. Mad Men is surprisingly accurate for a show about advertising. However, unlike the show, the ideas came from everywhere, not just creatives.

    One group/department that spanned creatives and account people (which they don’t have on the show) were account planners. They aren’t exactly “research” — they are typically research experts, but then they work hard to find the customer need, and REALLY define it/pinpoint it. This kind of discussion could take days and days.

    The “ah ha!” moment was when you found this “pain” and could then develop a campaign around how to solve it. For example, we had a national home repair client, and with research & discussion came to the conclusion that people’s biggest angst when something broke down in their house wasn’t the fact that their home was broken, it was that (ah ha!) they had to take a day off work and wait around all day for someone to come fix it. We came up with a promo (a 2-hour guarantee or the service call is free) and an ad campaign around that. The account planners drove the “ah-ha” discovery process, then the creatives came up with the campaign.

  13. Thank you Jon for a great post. I loved everything you said as it is so true and therefore inspirational.

    I printed out the section on Doing Nothing and stuck it up on my wall. I do exactly the same thing, spend a significant amount of time each day reading and watching a lot of media/news/articles/blogs etc. which I view as essential to my creativity and work.

    When people as me what I’m doing while immersed in feeding my mind, I answer “I’m working”.

  14. You realize, of course, that you’ve really just introduced me to another bad habit? I’ve never seen Mad Men. Have no idea who they are. But I’m now so intrigued that I’m going to have to go home and find the show somewhere, either on the web or on DVD, and watch it. Are you sure AMC isn’t paying you to do their publicity?

    That said, these are great examples, all of which point back to the key focus of advertising: Hook their interest, don’t play off yours. If you can interest your audience, you’re gold. But it’s easy to forget that in your never-ending quest to find a job that fulfills you. But success breeds fulfillment.

    And let’s face it, nobody’s masochistic enough to go into advertising if they don’t enjoy it in the first place…

  15. To all those who create this blog AND those who leave comments:

    I’ve been reading this blog for ‘decades’ but never took the trouble, little as it is, to express my appreciation. After reading this, yet another great piece, my guilt finally overcame my ridiculous inflated sense of “I’m too important with too many important things to do to bother”.

    So, once again: kudos and commendations to the blog’s producers *AND* commentators. BTW Do not take that tribute lightly since I’ve been gainfully employed in an online profession since the Web’s began, consequently I read oceans of blogs – many in depth. In other words, I am humbly highly qualified to offer that assessment.

    So what is it about this blog that is so praiseworthy?

    I offer three reasons, each one necessary for a blog one repeatedly returns to, but glaringly regrettably absent in way too many of sites; all the more curious since they represent allegedly premium firms and brands. But this triplet is by no means complete. Hence I am curious to hear others opinion:

    1) The physical structure/layout is superb – clean, crisp, concise.
    2) The writing style is compelling. There is simply something about it that is both stimulating and alluring. I’m hoping that by reading it I absorb some of the quality.
    3) The comments are notable by what is absent: the snarky mean put-downs that plague so many other blogs, thereby substantially diminishing their usefulness.

    In summary, this site is a classroom example of the benefit the Internet promises.

    BTW Needless to say, or perhaps important, I am in *no way associated* by birth, commerce, marriage, or any other connection/relation to the sites creators or administrators.

  16. I Have been following for a while but this post made me want to comment. I’ve been an animation producer for years, a writer more recently and now deciding what to write in a blog about my side venture, dyeing yarns. Your words apply to all writing, no matter what the end goal, and I read the post just thinking about being a writer, then read it as a tv producer and again as a company owner trying to get my new product out. Yay for words and a great post. Thanks.

  17. By far my most favorite Copyblogger post. I want to hang it in front of me to read often. Thanks for reminding me why — despite everything– it’s still great to be a writer.

  18. This is powerfully cool! I’m a copywriter who is recently taking leaps when it comes to my ad writing and now I feel less guilty of the fact that I take a lot of time reading and imagining things! Lol. Thanks for this post.

  19. Hey Jon — really damn well done. Post really builds from section to section, and you found some killer quotes from the sexiest marketers around… never really considered the fact that advertising also changes the world… just wanted to say, kudos.
    ~ cheers

  20. Great post. Love your blog and the show. Minor point. I’m no Mad Men expert but have watched most shows and am pretty sure Don drinks Canadian Club while at work, which is Whiskey not Bourbon.

    I believe this was a product placed mention in Season 1 from Peggy when she was still his secretary.

    • Yes! Canadian Club is Don’s medicine of choice. Always amazes me how much he belts down, right? If I tried the same while working I’d wake up with a keyboard imprinted onto the side of my face.

      I loved this post. Anything Mad Men gets my attention, but this came with a gift. Lots of useful advice and inspiration for us writers. Thanks Jon, good stuff.

  21. Wow- One of the best posts I’ve ever seen on here. Even though I stopped watching Mad Men long ago, it does hold a certain charm and romantic magic.

    Finally, the credit we writers deserve 🙂

    Your post is full of nuggets of wisdom, the Don Draper quote on selling happiness (or the perception of it because we always want more), adn the relationships quote was brillant.

    Relationships take work. Nothing is a flash in the pan.

    P.S.-What TV shows do you watch?

    • I watch anything and everything that’s popular. Even if I think it’s dumb, I’ll still watch it, just to dissect it and figure out why people like it.

      But what TV shows do I enjoy?

      My all-time favorite is The West Wing. Well, the first four seasons, at least, when Aaron Sorkin was writing.

      I’m a big fan of Mad Men, Grey’s Anatomy, and Lost, when it was on the air, too. Enjoy them and learn from them.

  22. Jon,

    What a great way to start the week. This post rocks! I especially like the part about doing nothing. What a great confidence booster that is. For us creative types, doing nothing (or seemingly nothing) is a huge part of our jobs. Glad you point that out, I am one who often feels guilty that I could be doing more, when in reality I am doing the one thing I should be doing, feeding the creative juices.

    Also the healthy fear. Forcing yourself to donate money to something you despise is a fantastic idea. I love it! Thanks for helping to start my week, and month off with a bang!

  23. I was so impressed by this post that I was already writing my comment as I read it. It was that I’ve been reading blogs on this subject for so long that they all were starting to seem repetitive, different ways of saying the same things. (Not that that’s bad – repetition is one way to learn).

    But these Mad Men quotes, and your explanations, were brand new brilliant stand out from the crowd pieces. That’s still true, but what brought me to a screeching halt was the pop quiz, where I confidently answered A. Starting a blog about a topic you are interested in, and then convincing the world to listen to you. Then I read on to find B was the correct answer.

    But I’m not sure I agree. Advertising used to be about appealing to everyone and thus changing the world, but that doesn’t work any more. Now it’s about finding your niche market and devoting yourself to those few (in comparison). So it’s OK to blog about something non-traditional, out there and possibly wacko, because there will be people out there who get it. I don’t need the whole world to get it.

    And I’m going to be a lot more inspired writing about something that excites me. Quite frankly, the thought of coming up with something to say on a daily basis about a subject that doesn’t propel me out of bed in the morning sounds like torture. And at some point, that’s going to show in the writing.

    So I’m sticking with A on the pop quiz, but I also stand by my first impression, that this post is an original, a keeper, one that will keep me thinking for a long time. Now I’m going to have to get AMC, because I’m tired of waiting for Netflix to get the Mad Men episodes. I already signed up for Showtime, for one reason only (who mentioned favorite TV shows?)…Dexter. The best written show on television…ever, and last night’s episode tops them all.

    And thank you for numpty. I love it!

  24. “Personally, I spend about 3-4 hours per day watching television, reading books, and listening to NPR. On average, I also stare into space for about 1-2 hours, just thinking.”

    Yes, it’s the thinking part that I find really important. We can consume as much information as we want, but if we can’t transform it into something new and creative then it is useless.

    ” * A) Starting a blog about a topic you are interested in, and then convincing the world to listen to you?
    * B) Starting a blog about a topic the world is interested in, and then convincing yourself to write about it?

    If you chose B, congratulations. You chose correctly.”

    Sorry, but bullshit. I couldn’t disagree more here. Moreover, this is a false dichotomy. If you are interested in something, there is a good chance that others are interested in it too. I say follow your passion and then package it in a way that others find valuable. Trying to “convince yourself” to be interested in something you obviously aren’t is a recipe for disaster.

    • I couldn’t disagree more here. Moreover, this is a false dichotomy. If you are interested in something, there is a good chance that others are interested in it too.

      It’s not a false dichotomy. If you choose B, you’re absolutely assured that others are interested, which is different and better than “a good chance.” Start with the audience and work back to yourself and your interests. This isn’t that complicated, but people tend to get hung up here unnecessarily.

      • Hey Brian,

        I was wondering did you start copyblogger because the content interested you or because you saw that the world loved to read about this sort of stuff and thought it would sell?


        PS: Sorry for the leading question 😛

        • I think we should add a choice C. A topic that has a huge audience but little opportunities to make money from it. Your blog may be popular, but with little monetization opportunities, burn out comes quickly. A strictly creative outlet only takes you so far.

    • Hmmm tend to agree with Steven here I am afraid on this note I must add something that may make me a little unpopular on this site. Have you ever noticed that many blogs focus on how to blog and how to market your site and they tend to draw quite a bit of traffic however how many real blogs on life do you see out there that are actually successful? Sure there are a few, but in comparison to sites like this one on how to blog? Not many I am afraid.

      This is a classic case of what Jonathon is talking about and in part he is right. Find something that sells and then sell it. Like bread for instance, it sells so lots of people make it. However if you Steve Jobs you would say, find something that you think might sell and get people to want it.

      In essence I can see Jonathon’s point by writing something that the world is interested in as it will sell but if the world is already interested in it then the chances are the market is saturated already (like the how to blog market) and you aint going to make much of a name for yourself you will at best gain a steady income. However take the risk of writing something that is new to the world and manage to create an audience and you will make a million. Generally speaking that comes from writing something that you are interested in.

      Hope I didn’t confuse anybody there! (May have confused myself a bit I think!) and if you read to the end cheers for that!

      Steven brave and solid comment my friend!

      Cheers 🙂

      • In my experience, market saturation is an almost complete myth.

        Sure, it’s true for commodities, but if you’re selling commodities without billions of dollars to back you, you’re going to be in trouble, no matter how good your marketing is. And if you’re not selling commodities, then no, I don’t think the market is ever saturated. Ever.

        And this is especially true for blogging. The more crowded the niche, the more people there are to link to you, and the easier it is to build a successful blog. No, you can’t blog about exactly the same thing as everyone else, but it’s pretty easy to find a fresh angle and run with it.

        Just look at Social Media Examiner. Most folks thought the social media niche was saturated, and then they build a seven-figure blog in like one year. Same thing with KISSmetrics. It’s a blog about marketing, which you would think would be saturated, but the blog is getting hundreds of thousands of visitors already.

        • Interesting, perhaps my thinking could do with a tweek or two, shot for the input Jon. Btw I really liked the post in general just didn’t agree on that one point entirely but hey the world would be pretty boring if we all agreed hey? 😉


      • Steve Jobs is actually a great example. He bought Pixar the company because he thought people would want the Pixar *computer* for processing digital imaging (for MRIs and such things). The animation was an annoying sideline that he considered a distraction and was always on the verge of shutting down.

        The computer bombed — even Jobs wasn’t marketer enough to create a market for a machine hardly anyone wanted. But by creating animated feature films (a market no one thought had room for any players who weren’t Disney) that were just *better* than anyone else’s, Pixar made Jobs a billionaire.

        • Hey Sonja,

          This is true, I agree I mean there have to be exceptions to the rule. However lets look at the many products Apple have made that did not have a market as such. The I phone, at the time of launch, only touch screen on the market, going backwards a step the I touch even. I-Pad, I-pod family, mac book air….. All very trendy and mostly unique products. One may argue that Mp3 players were around before I-pods and Mac book airs existed within the laptop family however the products themselves are so incredibly different from the others that their USP’s were very strong and noticeable.

          It is not uncommon for a big company with lots of money to just diversify and do something better than all the other companies and have the money to penetrate the market. Steve Jobs could do that with Pixar, Richard Branson does it with Virgin all the time in tons of different markets. Nokia used to be a tyre company and boom then they were a phone company…. but they had the money to take the losses and penetrate the market.

          However in the blogging world the question is, is it EASY for a no name brand to rock up onto the scene in a popular area of the blog market and take down the competition and in my humble non experienced opinion I would say no. I believe it is possible, but not necessarily easy. He/she will surely receive traffic as it is a popular market but will generally not receive more than a small market share. However if he/she is seriously interested in something and realises that the blogging world doesn’t really have much on it in the form of a market and gives it a bash….They will find it difficult to begin with as there is no market to network with but once noticed they will form their own market and the flood gates will open.

          Anyway those are just an inexperienced guys thoughts on the matter, btw I really appreciated a video I watched the other day of you, Brian and Darren. Really insightful to the blogging world I must say. I follow you and some of these other crazy guys in the hope I may catch some drips from the fountains of wisdom you guys produce! (Small vacuum cleaner noise in background) 🙂

          Take care look forward to more intelligent debates!

  25. Inspiring on two counts:

    The image of a lone blogger in a stadium surrounded by 100,000 anxiously awaiting each word to appear on the Jumbotron.


    This was the final straw, I vow to watch Mad Men.

  26. You know what really struck me the most about this article? It was the part that talked about creativity and fear.

    Spending 3-4 hours a day watching tv, reading, and listening to NPR doesn’t exactly come across as work to me. Even more so was the 1-2 hours of staring into space! It made me cringe a little bit because I feel that I have this pressure to ALWAYS be productive making progress for the better. But what I didn’t realize was that that’s exactly what you were doing. I just needed to reshape the way I looked at it. Or maybe, I just needed to know that it’s okay to draw outside of the lines.

    The second part was fear. Yikes…It just scares me.

    It’s funny, but understandable, that we shy away from the things that scare us.

    But why???

    What is it that we are afraid of? Is it the unknown? The idea that maybe we are something we are not? Or is it that our impression of ourselves doesn’t quite mesh up when faced with an obstacle such as fear itself? I don’t know. But I do know that I need to start tackling fear head-on. I mean looking straight forward, unflinching and unwilling to defect. Because you know, I’m tired of being so restricted and debilitated by fear. I want to feel alive and really liiiiive!

    For me, it’s time to embrace it. If it scares me, then I must be on the right track. I’m not saying that I’m going to physically put myself into harms way. No no no. But more like taking those risks that I’ve never done before. Exploring my own creativity without regard to those who see it.

    Living free…wow. Now that is inspirational.

    • That is definitely inspirational Josh.
      By acting within the realms of our fears, we build an image of ourselves that we show to the world. We use this facade to protect ourselves from being hurt or rejected and we don’t acknowledge our true thoughts and feelings. By facing fear head on – really looking at what it is, where it came from and the beliefs that sit behind it – we discover who we really are.
      I’ve started to do exactly what you are describing here. I’m finally looking within and sharing my real self with the world. Facing your fears is scary…. and so liberating.
      So go forth and be creative, with no attachment to the outcome. You will truly discover yourself and be free.

      I stumbled across copyblogger this morning and I am so glad I found you. I will definitely be back to learn more as I embark on my new venture into blogging.

  27. Dammit Jon, I’ve been meaning to do a Mad Men post for ages, then you come out and write the definitive article! 🙂

    Really nice job, on my new favourite TV series.

  28. Wow. There are so many amazing points in here I’m not sure where to begin. The one that struck me as the most true is that writers need to spend their days reading as much as possible. In fact, anyone who says they’re a writer and doesn’t spend at least a couple hours a day reading is probably a sham. For me, I don’t even realize I’m doing it, but an hour will pass and I’ll realize all I’ve been doing that entire time is reading. A book, magazine, blog posts, the NYtimes, all if it sucks me in, and keeps me. That’s what great writing is about. And this post is also right in the assertion that it’s not the writing that sucks me in, it’s the idea. But I’d like to add that it’s the writing that keeps me.

  29. You have to find a niche that you’re deeply interested in in a topic that others love. You have to find the good parts about what people are talking about now.

    And as far as mad men go: I bought all 4 seasons after watching an episode. I went on a bender of about 3 days where I watched every episode.

    I don’t own a television.

    • I think the key is to be actively engaged. A lot of people turn on the TV but turn off their brain. Might feel good, but it’s not going to help you very much.

      When I watch TV, I pause, rewind, dissect, think. I take notes. I’m enjoying it, but I’m also studying it. I want to know what makes it tick.

      • Too many people turn off their brains. How else could you possibly explain reality television? I guess I should have said my favorite tv shows happen on the History Channel, TLC, PBS, NatGeo and AMC of course.. Mad Men 🙂

      • Yes–I read this way, watch TV this way, and watch film this way. I also listen this way. Dissection is fun! If I forget to do this, I know I’ve hit on a fantastic piece of work. Those are the ones that often make me want to revisit them.

  30. I loved this article, thank-you – my boyfriend is an ad man who started his own agency in his 20’s and I’m going to frame your description of how a writer spends his day, it’ll help me to understand that he’s working, not procrastinating, spaced out or just addicted to media 🙂

  31. The themes of giving readers a reason to laugh and encouraging them to persevere struck home. Smiles and perseverance are sorely strained by today’s challenges. A positive word is a precious thing!

  32. Woww!! You nailed it with that Post. Did you just write it for me. I really thank you so much.

    My friends would laugh at me, everytime I do this:

    “…I also stare into space for about 1-2 hours, just thinking…”

    Today I went to the bank; while I was waiting in line, I was staring at all the ads…they probably thought I wanted to rob the place, but I was trying to get some ideas.

  33. There is an inspiration everywhere, including Mad Men Series, I thought of it but never wrote about it. I guess I did not think to write it and you have done heck of lot better job compared to my thinking so I am happy to be a reader here and learn from it. Thank you.

    Writing what others are interested in it works in online and offline both.

  34. “Advertising is based on one thing: happiness.” I love this Jon and I really appreciate you driving this home as your last point in the post. The reality is that successful marketers are the ones who provide a real solution to a real problem. Problem solving makes people happy.

    Also, candy 🙂

  35. Thanks for the support for staring into space! Definitely an under-appreciated creativity tool.

    Though in my case there’s less of that and more reading a million newsletters, and playing Bejeweled…it’s all part of the creative process, right?

  36. I love mad men. Those one liners totally fit into the blogging philosophy. I specifically remember Roger’s line to Don about how it looks like he’s not doing anything. In reality he sits and thinks a lot and that’s part of the secret to his success.

  37. Dig for inspiration, totally true especially with you relating it to Mad Men, so true. Taking risks and going beyond what we do in order to gain more knowledge and ideas will make our results better.

  38. Love the idea of exclusion! I exclude mean-spirited folks from my site; it makes the overall experience far better for my tribe.

    And don’t forget about bizarreness karate for inspiration – I’ve written some of my best posts (like what being kicked thru the air taught me about blogging) from it.

  39. Anything about Mad Men gets my attention because they look so glamorous !!

    Great post Jon, I see you now on that coach, contemplating…. (maybe with a beer rather than a bourbon 😉 ??)


  40. While I’m still mulling over the word, “numpty,” this post was both entertaining and profound. It so skillfully illustrates all of those points that so many BELIEVE and to which we attempt to adhere … and at times become a bone of contention with our clients or employers who JUST don’t get it. (does that make them “numpty dumpties?”)

  41. I particularly like this question:

    what can you possibly say that would be worthy of the attention of more than 100,000 people?

    I am writing for myself, but I am also writing for 100,000 people. I hope that I can give them a high return of investment.

  42. This is an excellent post. When I help someone start a blog, I tell them that nobody will return to their site to see what sidebar plugin they found or what nifty change was made to the theme. No, they will return if you create compelling content. Focus on the writing and everything else will take care of itself. You can also go back and fancy up your blog. But people return because of the content and that must be taken care of above anything else.

  43. I agreed with the first portion of this post, but disagree entirely with the latter.

    I believe that if you follow the advice in the bottom of this post, then you’re following a recipe for being ridiculously average, but more importantly, average and unhappy.

    I just don’t see the need to cater to anyone other than myself. In turn, the people that like what I like will follow. If they don’t, my writing simply is not good enough. We’re not all cut out for it, present company included.

  44. Jon is an alien. A prescient brilliant seer sent from another world to occasionally illuminate we lesser beings with his laser like and insightful wit and wisdom in words. Thanks for steering me over here Jon for this installment. Having been married once upon a time and for a long time to a successful Mad Man, I can say, Jon truly hit all the marks here. My favorite? The stadium filled audience bending ears in an E.F. Hutton moment to listen for that one thing I may have to say…
    Takes it to a different level doesn’t it?
    Brill. Guys. Absolutely Brilliant. 🙂

  45. Hmmm. A very interesting post, Jon, and no doubt controversial (I like that!).

    I’m not sure if making people “happy” per se is the ultimate goal, but it should be to make people feel something (enlightened or entertained). And I believe that comes down to the quality of writing and how well you can create a connection with your readers.

    As far as passion before market vs. market before passion, I’m neutral. I can see both sides of the coin. You have to consider that not all of us are blogging as if we’re an ad agency. You’re talking about the Copyblogger blogging model, which obviously works. But it’s not the only way.

    Often through our passion of a topic we can organically make connections with others without having to watch a bunch of TV (3-4 hours per day? Really?) or stare off into space. It doesn’t have to be so calculated.

    Personally, I’d much rather create a successful blog on a subject I’m 100% devoted to than something I researched while smugly sipping bourbon by the pool.

    Sure, it may not work, but it’s a chance I’m willing to take.

  46. Yeah, but Jon . . . what if:

    I write about stuff I don’t care about, and

    that no one wants to read?

    That seems wasteful, right? Of course, unless . . . you are doing it to learn something. Which is what we do so often in school.

    In schools it is ingrained in us to do just that: write about stuff we don’t care about, and no one wants to read.

    That is a hurdle many of us have to overcome . . .

  47. Very challenging topic…being that I started writing about something that is important (fatherhood), while also being interested in the topic.

    I have actually thought about writing in another area but it is tough to write on something that doesn’t interest me. I guess your suggestion of studying something a while in hopes that it sparks some interest is a good start.

    I just have to figure out if I have a “writing problem” or a “topic” problem. If only I could spend time on this without the pesky distraction of making living!

  48. Great post–so much truth.

    Ever since I learned author, Brenda Ueland’s word, “moodling” years ago, I have embraced “doing nothing.” She says that an author is never not working, or to dispense with the double negative–we’re always working. I love that. And I hate it. But mostly I love it.

    Ideas are never a problem. The trick is coming up with the spin that makes them unique and not derivative, and that comes from getting to know yourself, I think. When I read, I end up with a pile of post-its scribbled with ideas. Then I sort through them to see what might interest someone besides me. 🙂

  49. Hey Jon,

    it’s a cool post, sorry to say that I never heard about Mad Men before – either it’s the other side of the world or I haven’t been watching enough TV. Anyhow the point still reaches me, it’s a great reminder that working isn’t only about being on my keyboard and typing something.

    I don’t think I’d like to choose between A & B, I’d always prefer A & B (and that’s what I’m doing). But sure, getting into a subject belongs to the things I like to do even if it does often take a huge amount of time (thinking, reading and researching :))

    thanks for the post

  50. I agree- read! I always have two books going- a self help or educational book, and a biography or auto-biography.

    Right now I’m reading Millionaire Women Next Door and a book by Valerie Bertinelli .

    Both look like they will have great nuggets of wisdom….

    I’m not sure I could write on something that doesn’t interest me.

    Never seen Mad men, never heard of it. Need to check it out!

  51. Love this post! Fear is such a wonderful thing, isn’t it? When I feel a little bit of fire, I’ll get into action pretty quick. It’s funny how I can find the energy and gusto when there’s an element of ‘do or die’ and when there’s no sense of urgency, writing seems to take a back seat. Accountability for me is huge and I realize that I need more of that. Thanks for provoking some thoughts!

  52. My congratulations to Jon Morrow on a very interesting Post.

    “Mad Men” is a great show. But long before there was the show, there were the Real “Mad Men” copywriters of Madison Avenue with great talent, too. In the 1960s there was David Ogilvy who would sell Rolls Royce automobiles by telling you as it rapidly motors along a country road – to emphasize the silent power of its engines – “All you hear is the ticking of its clock”. Bill Bernbach, who after a campaign extolling the virtues of the Volkswagen car, came out with a billboard which pictured a Volkswagen with a flat tire – his slogan was, “we can’t all be perfect” and he made America chuckle. Talk about sexy, who can ever forget Clairol – picturing a beautiful, slightly older blonde lady with the slogan – “Does she or or doesn’t she”, i.e. referring to whether or not the lady colored her hair.

    I’m sure the Real “Mad Men” had the kind of elements in their ads that Jon Morrow talks about in his Post regarding the “Mad Avenue” show.

    Best Regards-

    Richard Wanderer

  53. Your POP QUIZ is dead on: Choice (A) is called a “diary.” (Which is fine, but usually only makes money if you’re famous or infamous, get a huge marketing push in hardcover, and has legs with swell photos/ghostwriting.)

    Your email pointing to this post is quite bright, thanks a bushel and a heap, sweets.


    PS: bookmarking this for the comments, too; makes for fun “skim-skim-OH YES!-skimming.”

  54. There’s a quote I heard a long time ago that has stuck in my head ever since – “If you want to go duck hunting, you have to go where the ducks are.”

    So your pop quiz makes perfect sense to me. Loved this post. Reassuring and butt-kicking all at the same time.


  55. I love this. People have sometimes questioned (I won’t go so far to say they are criticizing but it’s there) that I sometimes blog about things that are off my personal favorite topics. They think I should only write what I WANT to… but I agre with you, sometimes you have to serve your readers and give them what they are looking for (NOT to be untrue to yourself or your personal style, but they WANT to hear your take on topics that interest them.).
    I love this article. Plan to share! 🙂
    Thank you!!!

  56. Hi Jon,

    You make a great point about writing about what readers want to ingest.

    Major news empires have been built on this basic principle of delivering not what one would like to write but what thousands want to read. The old news quip, “if it bleeds, it leads” is a prime example of choosing the topic / article that people want.

    If the goal of your blog is to write to get the demons out of your head, then rock on, don’t pay any attention to what most interests your readers.

    If on the other hand you would like to engage with and provide some value to your readers, get to know their needs, fears, objections and passions. And then deliver content that addresses those issues.

  57. Wow, “The Mad Men Guide” hit the spot right on. Write, tell, and show your customers what they want and not just whatever you want. Show them you care about them and how important they are to you makes a world of difference.

  58. One thing that did appeal to me: the red velvet rope analogy. Not that I plan to be rude to my readers. The content will draw who I mean to reach and turn off those who aren’t my target readership.

    But write a blog on something that’s a guaranteed draw, THEN convince myself I’m interested enough to write about it? That sounds too much like fitting my square peg into the round abyss of a miserable job. The reason I blog is because I get to write about things other than what my job dictates I must write about.

    With my blog not three months old yet, I don’t know what my readers (and yes, they’re readers, not “customers”) want. They seem to want the content I’ve given them thus far, because they keep coming back. Eventually they might heed my invitation to comment. Then I’ll know.

    Imagine myself standing in front of a stadium full of people before I write? Prescription for writer’s block. When my analytics said I’ve begun to draw readers from every continent, I had to talk myself down from the scaredy-cat tree. My Facebook post that day said, “Quick, gimme something pithy to say to them!”

    Much of the advice here went over well with the marketers. I read a few creatives pipe up. You can be a creative marketer, sure, and that’s why the fans of Mad Men have found this post resonant. But I create first, market later. I can’t market what I haven’t created yet. And I can’t create if I’m too worried about whether it will sell.

  59. Don’t watch the show, but like the lessons here. Especially the “doing nothing” is actually work. Being one of these creative PR, marketing types, so much of what I do is that intangible, thinking of ideas, better ways to tell stories. Only quibble is fear: yes it’s a strong motivator, but it can spur some bad actions; if you force yourself to write for the sake of writing, it can lead to some bad blog posts. I’m of the less is more philosophy, FWIW.

  60. Write about what interests them, not you? That’s valid, however, I would add that it depends greatly on how you’re “wired.” I simply could not create fresh content day after day, year after year, unless I’m interested in it, first.

    On the other hand, what I can do, is write and film what I feel passionately about, and then look at the analytics and comments, and figure out what from my library of content is resonating most with viewers, and then consider EMPHASIZING that.

    P.S. I so agree with the “do nothing” section. Ultimately, marketing is both a science (complex project management, and details-details-details!) and an ART. With any creative position, you’re always “working” because your output is the sum total of how you process and interpret the world’s moment-to-moment info through your artistic lens. In that sense, Marketing positions are 24/7, and the higher up you go, the more intensely that becomes true.

  61. You are making more sense to me the second time.

    This morning I decided to write like an expert. Yes, an expert at providing people what they want and need.

  62. That’s got to be some of the best advice I’ve read in a long time.

    And I’m stupefied by your ability to keep me on the site for hours. You’re the pros of eloquent prose.

    Many thanks,


  63. This part made me laugh: “Amateurs do it the opposite way. They worry so much about their domain names and headlines and slogans that they never get around to finding truly great ideas. ”

    So true-
    but- on why blog-
    I think this is where most people fail- it’s to share knowledge- to have a discussion- to help move things forward- it’s not about you- it’s about the whole.
    It’s the same reason you contribute to WIkipedia- to build the worlds knowledge.
    Anything else- and you are fooling yourself.

    And- the part about writing 1000 words a day- or donate. Brilliant- if you are a writer. I think the same should be said for photographers- shoot something every day- designers re-do one logo everyday- it’s called practicing your craft – and it’s the only way you get better.

    • Uh, David, I think you may have missed this part: “Give them a reason to laugh. Give them a reason to cheer. Give them a reason to keep fighting, even when they feel like all hope is lost.”

      Not all blogs are just about sharing knowledge, having a discussion or helping move things forward. Sometimes we just like to read something that consoles us for being human. Personal blogs, written masterfully, have just as much value, and on certain days, are the only blogs that help.

      Copyblogger tends to attract people with a homogenous, marketing mindset. Does anyone know if there’s a counterpart for personal bloggers?

  64. I think it’s very hard to imagine writing something and then convincing yourself to be inspired by it during or even after it’s done. However, it’s intriguing and probably something I have never tried before. I tend to write on subjects that I care about and am interested in, but perhaps this week I’ll find something that makes me feel differently.

    Thanks for the advice!

  65. i really like the “red velvet rope” part. I wish I could do that for my blog.
    it’s a real dilemma to stick my butt on which audience to work to and got to get this gutt-spinning anxiety about what will others think about my content. because in my country (Indonesia, south-east Asia) “bloggers” tend to blog about codes and techie tutorials rather than about writing or marketing. it’s like 89% of them. people here just love structural problem solving like logic and mathematic and computer programming.
    anyway, at first I really couldn’t take the pain because of 1. the fact that I can’t be like them no matter how hard I’d try, and 2. they seem to ignore most of the major “writing manners.” it drove me crazy (and still does sometimes).
    then i learned all seems about being social no matter what you’re trying to shout to the world. I joined a couple of “blogger communities” and have been getting flowing traffic since then (off course most of them are the members of those communities). but still, nobody really seems to pay attention (read: comment) to my posts under the tag “writing”.
    it looks like if I wanna write something that helps people, I need to be dead and just give them the html codes of how to show and/or hide fancy effects on your blog.
    now I’m not sure what to do. I’ve been learning how to write more properly and really want to get real money from writing/blogging job.

  66. My job involves some creativity. I’m still a bit ashamed of the “staring at space” moments, so I click all the tabs I have open in my internet browser, over and over again. I’m sure people notices… but yeah, I don’t care. What I deliver makes up for it. I’m sure a lot of them think like Roger, and say to themselves: “I’ll never get used to the fact that most of the time it looks like you’re doing nothing.”

  67. An excellent motivational speech for writers! You have some very good points here.

    “Give them a reason…” stood out for me. Thanks!

  68. Thank you for this post. I was just struggling with the fact this week that my neighbors often think I do nothing when in fact I am a writer and I am working. It just doesn’t look like it to them. There’s also this thing with needing your solitude to think and needing the actual time to do the writing too, so, in sum, they assume that you are an anti-social slacker who contributes nothing to society and are also probably a little bit weird. I’ve stopped explaining what I do … it’s just too hard. And when I’m traveling and living in other countries, then it gets even harder. But, like you, I’m gathering information and ideas all the time. Because that’s what writers DO aside from the actual writing itself!!!

  69. Jon, this is one of those Copyblogger posts that just keeps me coming back (especially since I’m a recent Mad Men addiction victim)! I especially agree with the “Doing Nothing” point.

    It’s a matter of perspective. People who are unsuccessful are those that have the 9 to 5 mentality. I’m not saying that a person should be working 24/7, but being open to ideas and inspiration is critical to success (especially as a writer or other creative person).

    Thanks again for the great article (and excuse to keep watching Mad Men)!

  70. Somehow I managed to miss this post the first time round. First things first, Mad Men always leaves me wanting to start smoking. I avoided all that peer pressure at school but Mad Men…Now, in terms of the message – and referencing some of the lesson’s in Ogilvy’s great book on advertising, I believe there really are some salient lessons contained in the show. The big idea is always going to trump some of the things we tend to get caught up on, things such as niche domain names, longtail stuff – the big ideas will sell themselves, eventually.

  71. i would like to get paid to change the world with words. Words are powerful and magical. They can have a profound effect on ourselves and others,
    Jonathon Morrow if you are reading this I want you to know: today, I have been inspired like I have not been inspired in a very long time (maybe never). When I began to read about you, I figured you were another typical successful internet writer, bragging about your wonderful life. I was quite flabbergasted when I read the part about you having a disease and not being able to move. My mind immediately rejected this and my first thought was: he must be making this part up for ‘shock value’, but I read on and saw your picture and realized it was all true.
    I had one of those spiritual awakenings at that moment and now as I write this I find myself changed, inspired and feeling (believing) that if you can pursue your dreams and make them real, so can I.
    Thank you for sharing your story. Thanks for doing what you do. Brag on, my friend, it helps others when you do so! You deserve to brag and should brag as much as possible.
    Enjoy paradise. I live in New England. Thankfully, we are having a mild winter but it could turn at any moment. I envy you the gorgeous weather in Mexico.

  72. Hey , great post about the Mad Men and the points you have brought out are also very much incredible.Thanks man.

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