Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Effortless writing.

One of the great contradictions (or is it a causation?) in our industry is that it seems that the copy people swear is least likely to be read is the copy that's most likely to be picked-over. No one reads anymore they say, but still copy is tweaked, scrutinized, monkeyed with, and re-written at the last minute.

Now I'll admit, I believe in copy. I believe that words make a difference. I believe it because I've seen it. I believe it because I've seen it one-thousand times over my many years. And I believe it because it's what I do. I write words, or try to, that are memorable and motivating.

I also believe that good thinkers are good writers and if you can find one, you should cherish them. Cherish them to the point where you might actually listen to them as often as one time in ten.

Readers in this space know that I revere certain writers for their craft.  A.J. Liebling. Joseph Mitchell. George MacDonald Fraser. Stacy Schiff. Jill Lepore. Dava Sobel.

But above all, in a Pantheon all his own (if that's not a mixed metaphor) sits Robert Caro. 

Through the years in advertising, I've had the great good fortune to learn from, or just observe, some of the best in the business. Marshall and Harold Karp when I was at Marschalk. Ed Butler when I was at Ally. Steve Hayden and Chris Wall during my first stint at Ogilvy. And Steve Simpson and David Fowler during my second go-round.

The writer I've learned most from, however, is Robert Caro. And what I've learned I've boiled down to three things. The three things that good thinking and good writing can bring to an agency and their clients.

1.           Good writers know how to concentrate. We know how to keep turning pages. We know how to uncover important information, feelings, and details others may miss.

2.           Good writers understand that the world is complex and know it needs to be made simple. So we know how to discover how things work. Then we explain them to people.

3.           Last, good writers have learned that time equals truth. It takes time to find something unique. It usually doesn't happen between the 10AM briefing and the 4PM 'full-team tissue session.'

It takes these three things to make something good. The first 23-hours of your writing might sound like everyone else’s. The trick is persevering until you write something for the brands you work on that nobody else could. That no other brand can say. Something that is true, genuine and ownable. That shit don’t come easy.

Last night, I came upon an ad in my social feed that really pissed me off. It didn’t piss me off because it sucked. It pissed me off that the writer of the ad (if there was one) and the company behind it were so lazy, so lacking in care and how they present themselves to readers.

The season's carefree mood? I thought this season was all about mass shootings.

Or what about this line I heard just now in a Cadillac commercial: "The 2019 Cadillacs are made for summer. And made to move."


If your job is to create something, create something with meaning. Resist cliches. Resist the nonsensical. Resist dumb.

Part of our jobs in life, in advertising, as humans, as parents is to find a way to have personal integrity. It's our duty to try.

Unlike cops, or neuro-surgeons, or chemists who might find a way to actually materially improve the world, all we have is our integrity. That and an ethic that says we have to try our hardest and do our best.That’s really what this is all about.

It may be Sisyphean, but I’m going to keep pushing the writing rock up the hill. And I’ll be damned if I care how many times it rolls back on me.


No comments: