Monday, August 31, 2020

Headlines that work and no longer work.

I was up, as I am so often, at the behest of Whiskey's cold, wet nose. She nuzzles me with her proboscis most mornings around five AM, or a little earlier if she had been dreaming puppy dreams of over-flowing bowls of kibble.

If I push her gently, away she walks around the bedroom and then in fewer than six or four minutes is back by my side of the bed with wake-weapon number two. 

She shakes rapidly her head and her ears flap and sound like the sparse applause at a poetry reading in a five floor walk-up on the Upper West Side up around Columbia. If that fails, she thumps her tail piston-like against the side of the bed.

In life, there are many ways to be roused from sleep. The shrill insistence of an alarm clock is most typical. The ringing of a landline phone is the scariest save for perhaps hearing someone rapping rapping at your chamber door, raven or not. 

Whiskey's arsenal is really pretty benign in the scheme of things. I stumble downstairs with her following, prepare and serve her her morning meal, pour myself a cuppa, and usually spend fifteen minutes going through The New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

I try to get out of the house while it is still dark out. I have missed much in life--who hasn't--but I'm smart enough at age 62 to realize that I should enjoy every remaining sunrise I can. Especially while I am lucky enough to have Whiskey leash-less and by my side as we walk in the dark along the thunder of the sea.

On Saturday morning, I came upon this headline in The Wall Street Journal. I also had an email from Rob Schwartz in my email box.

Rob and I, for whatever reason, had had a bit of a kibbitz a week or so earlier about compound interest, specifically a quotation on the subject from Albert Einstein, and here was an article about the same.

I sent Rob the article, along with yet another shiv at our moribund industry. 

Rob and I are both copywriters. He's moved on to CEO-hood. I remain a dull three-finger-typist.

"I think journalists are writing better headlines than copywriters these days," I wrote. "They're fighting for every click and it shows."

The headline above "Warren Buffett and the $300,000 Haircut," to my eyes, is all but impossible to ignore.

Rob wrote back in seconds.

"We have forgotten why we're called agencies. We're agents for our clients. We go to war for them."

Precisely. As good journalists today go to war for clicks.

As an industry, we have forgotten. Worse, we have caved in. Caved into the copy-length dicta of the giant online media channels like Facebook and LinkedIn and Instagram. And their graphic standards, too.

Rules that make it all but impossible to create work that interesting, persuasive and stopping.

For about two weeks, I have been running a series of advertisements for myself. Call them the "I AM NOT" series. This weekend and last a couple of my ads have caught fire. They have each gotten something above 100,000 views. That's just from my organic reach. I've put no dollars behind them.

I think as an industry we relegate print to a set of mandates from Zuckerberg and a set of bullet points about the product that have little or no consumer saliency.

Then we wonder why the work doesn't work and declare the written word dead.

I said to a bunch of media people six years ago, "your job should be to figure out how we do a spread ad in a digital world." In other words ads with the impact, the presence, the information and the readabilty spread ads used to embody.

There were a dozen media people in the room.

They all came back with 300x250 ads.

I'm going out for a walk.

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