Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Be a mensch.

I've been doing a lot of teaching of late, predominately because I have a hard time saying "no" to people who pursue me.

In August, after my teaching term at AdHouse ended, I made my wife swear to never allow me teach again. I've been going pretty hard since I was booted to the curb by Ogilvy--and teaching takes a ton of time and energy.

What's more, I was usually so charged up after class, that it took me a good two or three hours to calm down afterwards. Since I get up usually around 4:30AM, that pretty much assured me that I'd have a sleepless night. That one lost night of sleep would put me in sleep arrears for the rest of the week and I was often walking around like someone put a benzodiazepine straight into my Ovaltine.

Nevertheless, in short order toward the end of summer the Co-Chairs of AdHouse, Paul Fix and Tom Christmann coaxed me to teach another class. And Sarah from Chicago Portfolio School prevailed on me to do the same.

The main reason, really, is certainly not the money. Rather after a literal lifetime in the business, I know I have a lot, I think, to give. Additionally, of all the things I missed about no longer being at an agency, working with and getting to know young people came in second.

(First is a big juicy solo assignment on a tough client and an even tougher account person. Something that would force me to learn more about a topic than anyone on god's dying earth and translate the ins-and-outs of that knowledge to simple, usable copy.)

One of the things I've noticed in teaching approximately 25 student this term is how many bad rules they've learned. I don't know if they've picked them up from in-house agencies, from client-side experience or from a general slovenliness of advertising education. But to my eyes and ears they need to be almost constantly reminded not to shout at viewers or readers.

Maybe it's a side-effect of our darkening age that everyone seems to be loud. Exclamation points are everywhere. As are ALL CAPS. And somehow these young people believe in the dopey idea of a call to action.

That's right. If your ad sucks, pasting "Learn more!!!" or "Find out how!!!" or "Order our Free e-Booklet" is not going to impel anyone to do anything.

The ad itself must be convincing and interesting enough to get people to act. Not some asinine appendage in a fluorescent "lozenge."

What's not been taught in ad school or in life is the thing that should have been taught first.

People like brands for the same reasons they like people. They like brands that act like people they like.

They like reliable.

They like honest.

They like informed and informative.

They like helpful.

They like being listened to.

And getting help when they need it.

I could go on. And maybe I should. Because it seems that about 99.7 of brands and their messages are bombastic, or they talk down to people, or their messages are convoluted and deceptive.

I don't know why this is so hard. Why it seems so difficult to apply the Golden Rule "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," to advertising.

I recall Bob Leveson's obituary from The New York Times almost eight years ago. 

"In interviews over the years, Mr. Levenson elucidated his philosophy of copywriting, which was, at bottom, epistolary.

“When he was asked how he wrote the copy for all those Volkswagen ads he said: ‘I always started by writing Dear Charlie, like writing to a friend. And then I would say what I had to say, and at the end I would cross out Dear Charlie, and I was all right.’”

I know it's bad for the ad school business. 

But that Levenson bit is all you really need to know.

No comments: