Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Words, words, words.

I've read two things recently and though they were written a continent and a decade apart, somehow my head has put them together.

The first is an article by the great writer Verlyn Klinkenborg that appeared in Sunday's "New York Times."  It's called "The Decline and Fall of the English Major."

The second is by British ad legend Robin Wright. It was published in "Campaign" back in 2003 and was titled "Would David Abbott Get a Job in Advertising Today." In the interest of full-disclosure, I came across this piece in Ben Kay's excellent blog. You can read his post by clicking here.

Both Klinkenborg and Wright bemoan the disparagement or, more dramatically, the dearth of good writing.

Klinkenborg has this to say about teaching writing to college and graduate school students at some of the top colleges and universities in the United States. "They can assemble strings of jargon and generate clots of ventriloquistic syntax. They can meta-metastasize any thematic or ideological notion they happen upon... But as for writing clearly, simply, with attention and openness to their own thoughts and emotions and the world around them — no."

Wright says of the 2002 D&AD Annual, "But today, Writing for Advertising is a thin joke when we actually look at what has been selected by the eminent jury. Most of the ads selected for this "writing" category have no text. And of those that do, in an unconscious but real demotion of the relevance of words, the words are displayed in such a way that none of the text is actually legible."

In short, it seems to me that both men lament the “passing of writing.” And both men seem to attribute the passing to simply being out of fashion. Klinkenborg notes that the number of English majors at prestigious universities has declined precipitously. At Pomona College, one of the nation’s elite schools, just over 1% of the student body are English majors. And the number of English majors at Yale are down from 165 in 1991 to just 62 in 2012.

Here’s where I net out.

Most brands cannot state simply, clearly and in a compelling manner what business they’re in. What makes them different and worth considering. We live in a world where few people have brand preferences because 99% of all communications do a crappy job at articulating those preferences.

Back on September 5th, when Obama was nominated to run for a second term, Bill Clinton delivered a 3,100 word speech telling viewers what this nation and Obama were about.

You can read the speech and my post on the speech here.

There was no technology involved.

Not even any graphics.

But there was warmth, humor, humanity.

And it moved people.

It changed opinion.

It got people to act.

There are scads of people who would like to say writing is dead. Maybe because it’s hard and they can’t do it. Maybe because they don’t consider it cool. Maybe they believe thought can be outsourced. Maybe because real writing and real thought is expensive.

I happen to believe otherwise.

What's expensive is not finding the right words.

Because I happen to believe words matter.

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