Monday, April 13, 2020

Good writing is a business advantage. (An advertisement for myself.)

Starting about ten years ago, I started hearing about agencies and agency people getting involved in what they were calling product design. For five of those years, I was at the coolest and most-awarded of all agencies. In the hierarchy of agency life, creating communications was in the sub-basement. Creating new products was up in the penthouse.

I had been hearing about new products for about a year when I decided to admit out loud that I didn’t know what anyone was talking about. I had been hearing about everyone designing new products (not just in this agency—everywhere) but I hadn’t seen any new products.

A Dyson vacuum cleaner may work differently than an old Hoover, but I’d hardly call that a new product. In fact, I would go to stores and look for new products—and come up empty. Scrubbing bubbles might have 20% more scrubbing power, Saran wrap might be less clingy, but I scarcely saw anything really new.

Even Elon Musk’s Tesla, innovative as it is, is still a car. The leap from horse-drawn buggy to Model T was much broader than from the Mercedes-Benz S-Class to the Tesla Model S. Even the vaunted Amazon Alexa is really nothing more than a voice-command radio that spies on you.

I might change my mind if the Hyper-loop really happened. Or if we had electromagnetic drones that could give us haircuts while we’re on socially-distant quarantine. I might be more optimistic if one out of the 100,000 articles you read about recycled-ocean plastic-made highways that recharge cars by sunlight, remove carbon from the air and infuse Mitch McConnell with compassion had come true. But none have.

If you read Robert J. Gordon’s “The Rise and Fall of American Growth,” here or at least Nobel-Prize-Winner Paul Krugman’s review of that book, hereyou may find yourself drawing a less rosy view on the future of product design and the progress it’s supposed to deliver.

As Krugman says in his New York Times book-review (written a full four years before the full-force of the Coronavirus disaster visited us) “Gordon suggests that the future is all too likely to be marked by stagnant living standards for most Americans, because the effects of slowing technological progress will be reinforced by a set of ‘headwinds’: rising inequality, a plateau in education levels, an aging population and more.

It’s a shocking prediction for a society whose self-image, arguably its very identity, is bound up with the expectation of constant progress. And you have to wonder about the social and political consequences of another generation of stagnation or decline in working-class incomes.”

So, as marketers, what to do? I’ll tell you what. I don’t know. No one does.

But I know what I believe.

I believe it based on a lifetime in the industry and a lifetime of reading and a lifetime of studying history.

It’s pretty simple: Good writing makes a difference. 

Good writing is a business advantage that goes beyond almost anything outside of real transformative technological leaps, like say, cold-fusion nose-hair trimmers. Which as I said above happen about once in every 100,000 inventions and, if you believe Gordon and Krugman, will happen with much less frequency in the foreseeable future.

Back when I was at that aforementioned vaunted digital agency I had developed what Einstein might have called a Unified Field Theory as it applies to marketing communications.

Because I’m merely a copywriter and an obstreperous one at that (and therefore unsuitable to be either a) listened to or b) considered for senior management) no one took it very seriously. But, with all modesty, I’ve yet to stumble upon any system that makes more sense.

Like Caesar might have said, “All Communications can be divided in three parts.” I called by system "the three Ds."

First is definition. This is our hardest job. What does a product, service, person or company actually do? How do we define them in a brief, ownable and memorable way.

Second is demonstration. Today this is difficult because so many agency people and marketers believe people can’t read and have almost zero attention spans. They do not consider that people pay attention to things that are interesting. (Maybe cheap content badly executed isn’t really cheap.)

The third part is dissemination. How do we use the 32 million channels people tune into these days to get our messages out?

Good writing is a business advantage for a few key reasons.

1. It’s unique. Not many people/companies have access to good writers. If you do, you have the advertising equivalent of a more powerful engine in a racing car.

2. Definitional writing informs people of what a brand is or what it sells and why it’s better and why you need it. Can you really succeed without that?

3. Demonstrations show how things work and helps people believe in the verities and realities off a product or service. In a unique, memorable and ownable way.

I don’t know of a single agency that does work like this. And to my mind any of the three demonstrations above is a better “ad” than anything I’ve see at Cannes in the last decade.

To get a little personal, I have a weakness for cars. If the world has some semblance in a year or two of the world I was born into, I might try to buy a car BMW is supposed to be coming out with. An electric i4 with an almost 400-mile range.

Here's a promotional film on the car that was sent to me on Saturday. It's almost impossible for me to believe this passes for work today. It's incomprehensible, unappealing, uninteresting and meaningless. It provides no information that makes me want the car. 

That's bad writing.

It's even worse when it's from a brand that used to do work that was so good it's withstood all of the brand's current efforts to kill whatever made the brand great in the first place.

Bad writing is bad thinking.

Good writing makes a difference.

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