Let’s be real. A good copywriter creates sweet myths because of and despite the bitterness of reality.
March 27, 2014
If the story is good does the truth even matter?
Watch the above clip from Mad Men, where the inimitable Don Draper delivers a moving story to a group of silver-haired Hershey clients in a pitch for their business. Then pause the clip. Think about what he said. It’s a gorgeously romantic picture, linking the venerable chocolate bar with all that is great about childhood, parenting, and indeed life in these United States.
And then he tells the truth.
With a roomful of happy clients, and as the media guy is going in for the close, Don does an about-face, a shocking one: admitting that, in fact, he was an orphan, raised in a Pennsylvania whorehouse. The story only gets sadder… and weirder. He ends it by recalling one of the prostitutes buying him a Hershey bar if he’d stolen enough cash from her john’s pockets while the pair were off “screwing.” Understandably, Don’s clients and partners are mortified. This grotesque portrait is the antithesis of Draper’s previous story. It is another brilliant glimpse into why this show and this character are so freaking special.
I think Don’s ability to create the first tale in spite of the second is precisely why Hershey should hire him anyway. The man is remarkably capable. That he can spin such a marvelous yarn while having no actual basis for it make him the consummate copywriter.
Occasionally, I, too, have had this morbid fantasy (death wish?) of exploding a pitch by telling the unvarnished truth. It’s not that I desire losing. Anything but. It’s just that sometimes I feel compelled to remind everyone in the room that we are all in the business of telling stories, that what we are creating together is grandiose fabrication. Strategy is merely the plot.
Though I wasn’t orphaned in a brothel, by most standards my childhood was far from ideal. Chances are neither was yours. The point is some of us were able to transcend our compromised upbringings by creating stories in our heads that made us, well, happier in our conditions. This ability may have started as a coping mechanism, then evolved into a means of survival. For me it became a vocation. I found I could create stories for brands that in turn made them “feel good.” I could make people want things they did not possess the same way I filled these wholes in myself: with myths.
Left brain thinkers often fail (refuse?) to realize that emotional connections to brands can be the result of deep seated anxieties or longings. Apple’s iconic “1984” commercial made obvious virtue of negative emotions, supplanting societal angst over a computer driven society by introducing the first personal computer. When Coca Cola made its epic “Buy the World a Coke” commercial it was interpreted as a love anthem, which it was. But beneath that song was perhaps a yearning by the copywriter for a world that absolutely did not exist, empirically and personally. Can you say Viet Nam? And it’s not just in ancient TV commercials. So much of what we do now –interstitially, experientially, et-cetera- is totally based on creation myths. Even a lowly banner beseeches us to take stock of our present situation and, upon finding it lacking, to take action. Click here for relief!
Critics admonish this ‘gift’ as duplicitous, which of course it is. Even the subhead of my own blog suggests as much. Sigh. It’s called copywriting. For most people the real world is deeply challenging. We believe in God to make us feel better. Well, guess what? We are made consumers for the same reason. Think about that next time you’re noshing on a chocolate bar.