Atlanta Copywriter,
David Freels.

Compelling ideas.
Persuasive words.

© 2020 David Freels. Contact Me
These are representative examples of marketing and advertising problems I've encountered, how I've assessed and analyzed them, and ideas I developed to solve them. I can do the same for you.

The first title came from a great T-shirt I once saw.

All other titles are quotes from Bill Bernbach, founder of iconic ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach.*
  • Make The Idea Bigger And The Logo Smaller.

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    This Norfolk Southern ad really sucks. It was never mine.

    That time when a bad metaphor got in the way of a really great story.

    This ad was just like the entire NS Railway campaign when I arrived at JWT/Atlanta.

    Some background:

    Norfolk Southern was created when Southern Railway merged with Norfolk & Western Railway. Over 70% of NS revenue came from hauling coal, seen as dirty and dusty and blue-collar.

    Norfolk Southern wanted a new image for the new company, and JWT's “The Thoroughbred of Transportation” appealed emotionally to NS management, persuading them to punt redneck coal mining and reposition themselves as Virginia gentlemen horse farmers.

    Translating the borrowed-interest of "The Thoroughbred" into clear and meaningful product benefits was always confusing.

    Norfolk Southern's Thoroughbred is actually "critter advertising."

    Sometimes critters work, particularly for packaged-goods products aimed at children.

    Tony the Tiger makes Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes taste great.

    Who cares about soggy, milk-saturated cereal if you've got Snap, Crackle, and Pop.

    And moms know kids always love eating vegetables from The Jolly Green Giant.

    The NS horse just confused rail customers. Norfolk Southern drives trains, not horses. Horses are animals, ancient forms of transportation, and highly inefficient compared to trains.

    That's why the inorganic Iron Horse replaced the organic horse.

    Even worse for advertising, Thoroughbreds are very dark-haired animals. Just to figure out what's on the page, readers needed details, which were impossible to see on a nearly-black horse, forcing Thoroughbred images to be very, very large.

    This made every NS ad a big blob of horse-shaped black ink—just to sustain an ineffective and confusing metaphor.

    There was a bigger story that needed to be told: The actual Norfolk Southern story.

    Railroads are commodities. Customer service is the only thing that distinguishes one railway from another, but the horse ink directly interfered with the creation of meaningful and relevant advertising.
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    Today's Thoroughbred dominates the NS logo, not the ad space.

    The new campaign visually placed The Thoroughbred in the background, making room for the story of Norfolk Southern's amazing customer service. Click anywhere to see those transformative ads.
    •  Norfolk Southern does whatever it takes to deliver. So do I.

      Norfolk Southern does whatever it takes to deliver. So do I.

    •  What an incredible example of customer service. Still, NS hesitated to run it, afraid every customer would demand the same.

      What an incredible example of customer service. Still, NS hesitated to run it, afraid every customer would demand the same.

    •  This Norfolk Southern campaign made it to Archive magazine, and it’s also profiled in my Case Studies section.

      This Norfolk Southern campaign made it to Archive magazine, and it’s also profiled in my Case Studies section.

  • Nothing Kills A Bad Product Faster Than Good Advertising.

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    The HUD Letter was better than HUD TV.

    Government accounts are the bread and butter of J. Walter Thompson/Atlanta.

    The US Marines Corp. is a showcase client. FEMA Flood Insurance is another. Plus the US Mint. And for a time, the US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was the largest account.

    JWT/Atlanta brilliantly acquires millions of dollars in free air time by creating ad campaigns aimed specifically at persuading TV stations to run their government spots as Public Service Announcements (PSAs).

    One morning an hour before the HUD team left to present "the PSA package", somebody realized there was no actual note or letter, no message of any kind in The Package for the TV stations.

    A panicked account executive (AE) popped in my office and pleaded with me to please write a letter.

    I dropped everything and knocked it out in about five minutes. There was no time for approval by a Creative Director. No AE read it either. Just 100 copies printed out on the HUD letterhead in time to catch a plane.

    The AE called hours later from the hallway outside the meeting. She said a hushed silence fell across the room of about 100 HUD people as she read the letter aloud. Everything got quieter and quieter. Even after she finished, silence. She saw maybe two or three folks wipe at their eyes, like tears.

    Then suddenly the room exploded with applause.

    Next, a standing ovation.

    Then the actual TV spot was presented, but she said there was no reaction.

    Just silence.

    No applause.


    JWT lost the $200M+ HUD account maybe 6 months later.

    Click here or on the image above to read the letter.
  • A Principle Isn’t A Principle Until It Costs You Something.

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    I suspended my ad agency career to find something to help our brain-injured son.

    I've hesitated to include this case study, but it's an example of finding a marketing solution to a problem believed hopeless and impossible to solve. Click here to read a bigger chunk of the story.

    Though brain injury occurs from lack of oxygen, it can be corrected just by breathing extra oxygen, i.e., Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT).

    We proved it in court, though it took 12 years.

    Hospital ICUs use SPECT scans to determine brain death. We did the same, and then gave Jimmy HBOT. After 21 HBOT treatments we repeated SPECT, creating objective proof brain tissue believed dead is actually viable and recoverable.

    Neurologists ridicule HBOT, demanding proof by placebo-controlled studies, but there is no placebo for oxygen.

    At the same time, nothing prescribed by neurologists is FDA-approved for pediatric use—because nothing has been proven effective via placebo-controlled studies in children—which makes everything neurologists prescribe for children is actually experimental and investigational.

    What hypocrisy.

    The solution? Leverage the power of the Internet to educate frustrated parents with the truth of this institutional hypocrisy. Raise them into an army. Next, give them the same legal weapons we used to force change.

    Then start a fight.

    Just picture the same intensity seen in Braveheart storming courtrooms and doctor's offices with scientific facts, armed with truth instead of swords.

    The result? So far The MedicaidforHBOT Army has forced coverage in about 23 of 50 states, with still more cases starting in Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, and Washington state.
  • Word Of Mouth Is The Best Advertising Of All.

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    Some of my best work is produced on the smallest of budgets and never wins advertising awards.

    The stacked boxes in the picture may appear chaotic, but it’s actually carefully designed advertising and marketing. Read on.

    An Atlanta-area Sam’s Club was one of the top 10 clubs nationally, yet Produce sales were among the lowest.

    In-store ad campaigns failed since 90% of customers spoke no English. On-site, over 40 languages could be heard in the club at any given point in time.

    Key fact: These Sam's customers emigrated from 3rd-World countries where they bought Produce in open-air markets.

    Product freshness drives all sales in open-air markets, not variety of product selection or beauty of product presentation.

    If it’s fresh, it sells.

    Though Sam’s Produce is fresh, the profound language barriers prevented communicating that freshness. A chance observation led to the solution.

    While a Produce worker stacked out 300+ fresh cantaloupes, a customer signaled he wanted one of 40 empty cantaloupe boxes.

    There are pictures on every Produce box of whatever is inside the box, i.e., advertising.

    After the empty cantaloupe box was given away, 7 or 8 customers saw the box's cantaloupe images and immediately entered the Produce section--looking for cantaloupes.

    I then took the cantaloupe boxes up to the checkout area where they were crudely stacked about seven feet high. The first thing everybody saw when they walked in the front door were boxes and boxes and boxes covered with pictures of cantaloupes.

    The boxes communicated FRESH CANTALOUPES NOW AVAILABLE.

    Soon, folks walked around the store with fresh cantaloupes in their carts. This "word-of-mouth" endorsement created still more advertising, fueling even more interest. People shop Sam’s for deals. Soon, everybody wanted in on “the cantaloupe deal.”

    Within an hour, over 75% of the 300 cantaloupes were gone.

    Unlike grocery stores, Sam’s does not bag purchases for customers at check-out. Instead, boxes first used to ship product to the club are available for members to “bag” purchases--except for Produce boxes.

    Even though ideal for this customer use, as they’re sturdy and have built-in handles, because of their extra weight, it’s more profitable for Sam’s corporate to sell crushed and bound Produce boxes to recyclers.

    After the run on cantaloupes, all Produce boxes were taken to the check-out lanes, and within a week Produce sales at that Sam's jumped by nearly 30%.
  • The Purpose Of Advertising Is To Sell.

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    I've won dozens of awards, but nothing's more rewarding than great results.

    Central Bank (now BBVACompass) was Alabama's 4th-largest bank and known as "the $1.83 bank" because the only thing Central ever advertised was their lowest-priced checking account.

    When new account growth stagnated, research found the more affluent believed Central was only for those who couldn’t afford more banking than $1.83 a month.

    Central Bank's constant, low-value message became their brand, but it wasn't their whole truth.

    This led Central to finally produce their first-ever branding campaign around a new slogan, “Unlike other banks, our prime interest is you.”

    Suddenly Central Bank was every consumer’s strongest financial ally, no matter which rung of the economic ladder folks were on, whether at the very top or the very bottom.

    Still, Central insisted on solidifying their position as the champion of low-cost banking, though with a more sophisticated message.

    The re-positioning message was so strong, even the $1.83 product could remain intact--while changing Central's "brand" through creation of a stronger brand.

    The 'Our Prime Interest Is You' campaign proved so successful, Central grew to Alabama's 3rd-largest bank in less than 6 months.
  • The Memorable Never Emerged From A Formula.

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    Unlike some hack SEO guy, this real copywriter makes the memorable, despite the formulas of online marketing.

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    As of March 25, 2014, ranks in Google's top 10 search results for "Atlanta Copywriter."


    When was relaunched in 2012 utilizing Responsive Web Design (RWD), Google ranked it somewhere around #6000 out of about 700,000 in a keyword search for "Atlanta copywriter."

    At the same time, I discovered many of the highest-ranking freelance copywriters for that search criteria specialize in Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

    SEO copywriters are my primary competition, at least for people using the web to find a freelance copywriter in Atlanta.

    Combine this with the fact most people make decisions based on their first 10 search results, and my phone would never ring if I stayed at #6000.

    I studied SEO, and it turns out there are multiple software titles available to assist SEOers.

    This type software is most-often used to study higher-ranking competitors and then duplicate their SEO strategy by "adopting" their "keywords" and other content that most-often shows up in web searches.

    "Adopting" means duplicating. Copying. That's cheating, and I've never copied anybody. I always do original work, even to the point that I don't really like the term copywriter.

    Now that doesn't mean all SEO experts cheat to get results for their clients, but it is a strategy that's often used.

    The more I thought about it, the whole SEO business just kind of rubbed me the wrong way, especially when so many SEO practitioners call themselves copywriters--even though many have never written a single ad.

    Still, I had to break through the "Atlanta copywriter" clutter and get in front of the decision makers who are looking for a freelance copywriter in Atlanta.

    So I did a little SEO myself and wound up in Google's Top 10, #7 to be exact, as of today March 26, 2014.

    My leap began with a blog post on March 13, 2014.

    I published a follow-up blog to solidify my ranking on March 25, 2014.