Friday, December 14, 2018

Read it and weep.

I read a sentence just now from two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof in “The New York Times.”

It was a sentence of such power that it reminded me of something much of our industry (and our world) has forgotten.

Words matter.

They move people.

They inspire.





Not all words. Not any words. But the right words.

Kristof was writing about the on-going American-backed carnage in Yemen. Here’s how he started his column:

“I’m giving up most of my column space today to introduce you to Abrar Ibrahim, a 12-year-old girl in Yemen who weighs just 28 pounds.”

A 12-year-old girl…who weighs just 28 pounds.

Ten powerful, shocking words.

You can read Kristof’s entire article here.

On the subject of the power of words, there was another opinion piece in last Monday’s Times, on the 100th Anniversary of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s birth. It was the headline  and subhead of the article that got me thinking about this topic, they read:

"The Writer Who Destroyed an Empire. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, born Dec. 11, 1918, did more than anyone else to bring the Soviet Union to its knees."

You can read the item here. About a book that led to the ruination of the USSR, "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch."

It’s painfully au courant these days to minimize the impact and power of words.

We routinely see ad after ad with no copy. Those are usually the ads that win awards.Copywriters hear every day that “no one reads anymore.” It's another spurious, unfounded allegation in an era that seems steeped in them like the Gowanus is steeped in toxins.


I’ve viewed entire agency reels that are wordless, that are devoid of copy.


And not an ad goes by when we aren’t commanded to ‘make it shorter.’


This is not my last gasp attempt to make advertising and communications prolix. It is merely my belief that the right words can—if given room and consideration, have amazing, transformative power. Of course, I am not advocating against visual ideas and representations. Just asserting that we should not overlook words because of an assertion that no one reads or cares.


The problem is, no one gives anything room and consideration anymore. More and more often we are often both managed and governed by tweets. We speak and read and write with half-thoughts and ill-formed phrases.

Mostly because we’re too harried to actually think. Or it's not fashionable. Or whole swaths of our world have simply grown lazy and gotten out of the habit.

I believe people can think. Especially if they can be convinced that there is something worth thinking about.

We'd be better off as a "culture" spending ten minutes a day reading William Faulkner, or Eudora Welty than a spewing, bubble-brained Trumpublican.

Not long ago I read a story about Bill Bernbach.

A client asked him why there was so much copy, because after all no one reads copy.

Bernbach replied. “Ten percent of people read copy. That’s who I wrote it for.”

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