Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Thinking about writing.

By far the most compelling portion of President Obama's speechifying last night was his call to bring the discussion of gun control regulation to the fore and the floor of the Congress. Obama did this by repeating a simple set of three words--building to a punctuation of those words.

"Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote.

"Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.
"The families of Newtown deserve a vote.
"The families of Aurora deserve a vote.
"The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote."
In our business we seem to be ever-so-slowly waking up to communication techniques that have existed for as long as man has communicated.
You can’t spit on Madison Avenue without bumping into some blowhard blathering about story-telling. As if good advertising, good communication was ever anything but. (VW "Funeral," Apple "1984." CDP's "Hovis" work.)
It’s not new, you blithering idiot, you just had your head to far up your binary ass to notice it before.
Likewise we hear similar imprecations about copy.  The primary shibboleth, of course being “Keep it short!”
Yet there are certain methods and techniques that have existed for as long as we have been a verbal species. And they don’t worry about brevity. They worry about breaking through. Imprinting a message. Compelling people to act.
Surely, Obama could have said last night (and saved a minute) “All those killed and wounded and ripped apart by gun violence deserve a vote.”
The same message would have been spoken.

But nothing would have been communicated.
Good writing is a lot of things.
It is unexpected.
It is visual.
It is real.
It is shocking.
It is motivated.
It avoids clich├ęs.
Phrases you heard before.

In the words of Carl Ally, “It afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted.”
Sure, there’s a power to the discipline of brevity.
But there is also power to techniques like repetition.
Your job as a writer is to be powerful.
It's not to be short.

It's not to spit back product features.

It's not to follow some stinking "One Voice" manual.
Your job is to be powerful.
It’s that simple.


Anonymous said...

You blather about storytelling yourself. I love your blog George except when you play Cotton Mather meets Bill Bernbach from a bully pulpit. yes there is a craft but you don't have a lock on "the way" to do it. Your principles are sound, your intent correct but the piss and vinegar seems out of place when I watch Tommy Lee Jones leaning on a white fence. Quality, yes. Memorability, above all. But it isn't just one way or the highway. anyway, keep writing this blog. righteous indignation is healthy In a world of declining literacy, creative intent, and apps.

uofazwildkitty said...

As a native Tucsonan, I respectfully disagree. And I ask that you review the voting record of a certain Jr IL Senator.

Sean Peake said...

George, you yourself are spouting hackneyed slogans and cliches. Not one of your better posts.

george tannenbaum said...

Sean, as they say at the hotdog factory, they can't all be wieners.