The Secret to Captivating Content?
More Cowbell!

More Cowbell

In April of 2000, Saturday Night Live aired one of the few truly classic sketches outside of the 1970s and 80s. The sketch is a spoof of a VH1 “Behind the Music” episode featuring Blue Öyster Cult and the recording of (Don’t Fear) The Reaper (watch it here).

The sketch stars host Christopher Walken as famed producer “THE Bruce Dickinson,” with Will Ferrell on cowbell alongside a faux Blue Öyster Cult. The whole joke centers around the fact that the song has a cowbell percussion element that will never be more obvious than played by Ferrell.

Here’s the point.

Someone came up with the idea for this sketch simply because they paid closer attention to (Don’t Fear) The Reaper than most everyone else. It’s the same with copy… the copywriter who digs deeper into product research and the mindset of the prospect often finds the gem that others don’t see, which leads to a killer promotion.

Successful content relies on the hook, the angle, the tiny little element no one else takes time to notice. It’s not that others are more talented than you, it’s that they work harder finding the winning difference.

In the blogging game, there are two typical winners:

The person who gets the scoop.

And the person who notices, thinks about, and amplifies the cowbell.

Guess who endures?

About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on Twitter.

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Reader Comments (52)

  1. says

    This is AWESOME. The key to effective copywriting is “exploring the space.” :) Seriously, this is a nice idea, that our greatest strength is in looking further than others, pushing ideas further than others. We work harder in finding something cool and unique to guide our writing.

    Remember: “I put my pants on, just like everyone else. But, once my pants are on, I make gold records.” Wisdom for the ages.

  2. says

    I got the fever…the only problem is no one else does.

    Most copywriters know you need a good hook. The problem I run into a lot though is the information you are given to create “a hook” is lacking. It’s hard to create a winning promotion when the information (or lack thereof) leaves something to be desired.

  3. says

    “In the blogging game, there are two typical winners:
    The person who gets the scoop. And the person who notices, thinks about, and amplifies the cowbell.
    Guess who endures?”

    — Brian, you left out one. I’m thinking the one who manufactures/sells the cowbell not only endures, but profits … :)

  4. says

    I completely agree with you and that sketch never ceases to double me over with huge belly laughs. In fact, I can’t hear the song on the radio without picturing Will Ferrell and that belly.

  5. says

    Great post! I saw that episode and was hiliarious. And great analogy. Many folks seem to “gloss over” a lot of the substance that needs to be “banged on.” That is the difference between a pro and an amateur. Thanks for the revelation!

  6. says

    I will never hear (Don’t Fear) the Reaper the same way again.

    That said, great post. I sometimes wonder how bloggers *get* the scoop in the first place. Finding and amplifying the cowbell seems easier, in certain situations.

  7. says

    I have a friend who is always quoting this–so even though I had never seen the skit, “More cowbell!” is firmly planted in my brain. :-)

    This is an awesome point to think about when I hear it between my ears again!

  8. says

    This is true about a lot of things and not just writing. The person who always puts more effort will ultimately acheive more.

    Well said though, this is definately something I will think about in my next post.

  9. says

    It’s a good thing (Don’t Fear) the Reaper is on Rock Band, because after I blow the entire day playing the song trying to hear the cowbell, I’ll be able to chalk it up as “market research.”

  10. says

    What a brilliant analogy, I’d never seen the sketch before, but after watching it and going back to the original track, sure enough there was the hypnotic cowbell that I’d never noticed before.

    A very memorable post!

  11. says

    “It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.”

  12. says

    Like everyone here, I absolutely love that sketch and cry laughing every time I watch it.

    I agree with the point that the “amplifier” is the better role (nice music tie in Brian). What does it mean to amplify?

    1. to make larger, greater, or stronger; enlarge; extend.
    2. to expand in stating or describing, as by details or illustrations; clarify by expanding.

    That’s our job folks.

  13. says

    I love that sketch almost as much as I love BOC. I have to admit though that every time I hear the song I picture Will clanging on the cow-bell. They ruined it for me! But think what it could mean if the cowbell was an advertising campaign and every time you heard the song you associated it with “Bill’s Cowbells”. There are opportunities everywhere…..

  14. MikeTek says

    “Listen, fellas. I put my pants on one leg at a time, just like everybody else. Except, once my pants are on, I make gold records.”

  15. says

    I love the cowbell amplification of this thread, Brian.

    Inspiring comments, too, like Jeff’s quote on bringing new meaning to familiar concepts.

  16. says

    Love. This. Skit. Seriously, you got my attention! This skit was brilliant and it all came about because someone happened to notice that there really is a cowbell part in this song…

  17. says

    “the person who notices, thinks about, and amplifies the cowbell”

    I do that kind of thing a lot, the noticing, at least. Just the other day, I was watching an episode of Law and Order, and missed most of it because I went off on the mental tangent of imagining the casting process for finding the “actor” who played the corpse.

    I should have written an SNL sketch about it.

  18. says

    Hasn’t Seth Godin made a career out of doing this? It’s amazing the little thoughts and insights that he has. I need more Purple Cowbell! (I know…terribly cheesy, but I couldn’t resist!)

  19. says

    Love this post. Currently I am looking at writing a post on how to be intriguing. This may be just the thing to help me get the right hook or angle. Thanks!

    Sincerely,
    Jeremy

  20. says

    I got the fever…the only problem is no one else does.

    Most copywriters know you need a good hook. The problem I run into a lot though is the information you are given to create “a hook” is lacking. It’s hard to create a winning promotion when the information (or lack thereof) leaves something to be desired.


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