Thursday, February 18, 2021

Copywriting rules.

If you spend any time at all on social media, depending on who you're connected to, you'll find there's no shortage of advice on what it takes to write a decent bit of copy.

A lot of that advice, over the years, I've published here. I think doing so is some rendition of "paying it forward."

A lot of good creative (or even planning, or even account) advice can be learned from David Abbott. There are thousands of rules banging around in the ether, Abbott knocked them down to just a handful.

  • Put yourself into your work. Use your life to animate the copy. If something moves you, chances are, it will touch someone else, too.
  • Think visually. Ask someone to describe a spiral staircase and they’ll use their hands as well as words. Sometimes the best copy is no copy.
  • If you believe that facts persuade (as I do), you’d better learn how to write a list so that it doesn’t read like a list.
  • Confession is good for the soul and for copy, too. Bill Bernbach used to say “a small admission gains a large acceptance”. I still think he was right.
  • Don’t be boring. (You’d be surprised how many folks in advertising struggle terribly with this last bit.)
That's about as good a list as you're going to find anywhere. But many writers, myself included (not that that matters) go even further.

This process, btw, is like going from the Talmud's 613 rules, to the Ten Commandments, to the one golden rule. Like most good communication, things get better and stronger and more memorable when you leave as much out as you reasonably can.

The simplest form of all this advice is this:
Write how you speak.

Write how you speak.
Write how you speak.
Write how you speak.
Write how you speak.
(I tend to repeat myself when I'm fervid.)

Assuming you're not a pompous ass, a pontificator or a blowhard. Maybe think about Bob Levenson describing how he wrote so many great Volkswagen ads while at DDB. For that, I'll turn to the last paragraph of Levenson's obituary as published in "The New York Times."

Right now, there's an ad running for a car called Buick. In it, an impossibly beautiful woman is surprised to find out she's having friends over for dinner at her impossibly beautiful home, with her impossibly hunky husband standing by getting ready to greet the impossibly impossible friends.

Never in the history of Homo Sapiens has someone said, "Alexa, ask Buick to start my Encore GX." Never.

Never has a millennial turned and said to another millennial "Nice Buick." Never. 

The humans in this commercial, and thousands more that blight the airwaves, or the coaxials, aren't Homo Sapiens, however. 

They are Homo MBAens. Homo PowerPointus. Homo Focus GroupGrope. Homo SAGAFTRA.

They are a convolution and a convocation of stupidity, over-think, brand-metrics and ass-puffery that compels Madison Avenue and its rank, rancid and rat-infested side-streets to convince themselves that they're making a human connection via a billion-dollar fireworks display of un-human behavior.

This spot--this brutally ugly and inappropriate vomiting of the brand's name right down to its "GX" (whatever that means)--violates every rule.

Not only every rule of good writing, but every rule period. It is as false as the republican concern about the deficit. It is as phony as a three-dollar bill, a wooden nickel, or a holding company's heart.

70 years ago or so, David Ogilvy said, "The consumer isn't a moron."

We have forgotten that.

And every time we forget it, we insult the very people we want to sell to.

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