Follow the “Dead Parrot” Rule

“This parrot is no more!”…“It has ceased to be”…“Bereft of life, it rests in peace. If you hadn’t nailed it to the perch, it would be pushing up the daisies!”

I promise, I’m not a Python Nerd.

I’m not one to spout “What have the Romans done for us?”… “No-one expects the Spanish Inquisition”…and “We are the Knights Who Say Ni”…on a loop.

That ain’t me. That’s for speccy geeks with a Physics degree and no girlfriend.

So why the Parrot Sketch?

Well it just popped up in my Facebook feed. And, with it, a handy brainfart…

This sketch…like any decent sketch…follows a basic rule.

A law of writing.

And as in comedy, as in copy. The same rule applies. It’s –


That single, big, bad-ass moment of inspiration that gives rise to the whole script…message…whatever…that follows.

Think on. When John Cleese takes his dead parrot back to the pet shop, he’s fuming – because he’s getting a crap service:

“You want to get anything done in this country, you have to complain till you’re blue in the face.”

That’s the BIG IDEA. And every single line in the sketch is built on that foundation. They don’t break off in the middle to tell knock-knock jokes. Because the BIG IDEA controls the whole thing, from start to finish.

And like I said – a decent bit of copy does the same.

You need a BIG IDEA to hang your message on. A fresh concept…an angle…that no-one’s used before. It could be a unique offer at the top of the page. A bold new claim or promise. Or just a novel way of starting the conversation. Anything goes – as long as it’s new and intriguing.

Take any classic ad…

David Ogilvy’s ad for Rolls Royce:

“At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this
new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock”

Or John Caples’ ad for music lessons:

“They Laughed When I Sat Down At the Piano
But When I Started to Play!-”

Or Eugene Schwartz’s ad for a health program:

“How To Live To Be A Hundred!”

They all lead with a BIG IDEA. A promise…a tease…an emotional trigger…that becomes a jumping-off point. It grabs the reader. Then the copy expands it, and builds a case around it.

You see this thing everywhere. It’s an Invisible Rule, that’s rarely broken.

In fact, this post is an example. The BIG IDEA is how a classic sketch gives you a lesson in copy. It’s the theme, and the whole message is wrapped around it. (There is method here!)

So – when you start your next promo, ask yourself: what’s the BIG IDEA?

And don’t start till you’ve got one!

If finding it takes up half of your writing time, that’s fine. Don’t sweat it. Because it should account for more than 50% of the sales that follow…

FOOTNOTE: If you’ve never seen the awesome Parrot Sketch, here it is.

See? One BIG IDEA, paid off, equals something unforgettable.

Meet the Author

James Daniel

You might not know who James is...but you've probably read his copy. Through high street clients like Hidden Hearing, or big gun marketers like Jonathan Jay and Chris Cardell. His words are out there, pulling in new business every month. What else? Well his books, Do You Talk Like That at Home? and Direct Mail 101 will help you squeeze out more sales. Oh yeah - and his next book Before You JFDI will help you plan your next campaign. Get on the list for a free advance copy here.

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