February 16, 2017
Copywriting is not about the print ad anymore and hasn’t been for some time. But that doesn’t make the skill set any less important. You don’t have a website without words; try building a wire without them.
Providing clever, provocative and powerful copy to web designers and the like is critical. For many copywriters, feeding them content that inspires their work is the job. Just as art directors and designers have had to evolve so have writers. When the dust cleared from these early transitions both writers and art directors realized that what they do is essentially the same. New media still uses words and pictures. Creating a “look and feel” for this website or that social campaign has new obligations but the fundamentals are the same.
For example, I’m asked to help create a website for a B2B start up. The first thing we need is an “organizing principle” or key idea that drives the whole thing. This means a strategy line and a creative line – just like it does for any mass media campaign. Without it, you’re flying blind.
In a sense then the landing page functions as your “anthem” or “mantra.” Clients need, want and demand this asset the same as they did 25 years ago. So we write it. I present these to my clients much like I did in the beginning, when I was creating brand campaigns at Leo Burnett. Poetry and power had better be there.
Subsequently, each page of a website operates like a print ad, with a killer headline and precise and compelling copy. Every vertical needs an “ad” that wholly demonstrates its unique offering while at the same time adhering to the covenants of the organizing principle.
The email campaign directing targeted customers to the website is not much different than your classic teaser campaign. When we make advertising it is still advertising, be it online or off. And it damn well better be magical.
The lesson for clients and agencies alike is not to forsake the core skills of writing and designing in a chase for so-called digital natives. If they are mediocre designers or write like they text the output will suck. Don’t go there. Look for brilliant writers and art directors. The modern world is not an excuse for creating superficial tactics.
For magical copywriting and creative direction, no matter what: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/
February 14, 2017
Creator for hire…
That’s right, to prove my chops as elegant persuader I’m going to sell you on the idea that God exists using intuitive and rational arguments. No new age mumbo-jumbo. No beatific platitudes. No doctrine. I won’t apply one single faith-based point in my brief. When I’m done you may still not believe in a higher power but you may well be closer to Him (and hopefully me) than you were before.
First a proposition: If anyone can definitively prove God does or does not exist I will give him all that’s left in my bank account. Non-believers and agnostics crave proof of God’s existence and, of course, it never comes. But why is it we rarely flip the question and demand proof that some Higher Power doesn’t exist? It’s just as impossible.
Let’s go totally left-brain and talk percentages. Applying common sense, one must conclude there is at least a 50% chance that God does exist. However, that also means there is a 50% chance that God does not. “God is everything or nothing.” It’s 50/50. If you had those odds on the lottery –or anything really- you’d take that bet. You’d be a fool not to.
Yet, so many of us are ambivalent about God or even the idea of God. Why is that? Because we can’t see him? Well, you can’t see gravity either. “That’s different,” the unbeliever claims. You can prove gravity. There are equations.
Do you believe in love? For your children? For your wife? Of course you do. But one cannot prove that love definitively exists. You feel love or you don’t depending on your circumstances but you can never see “love.” So, if one can believe in love then why not God? They are both faith-based concepts with no rational foundation. Why is one different from the other?
Do you covet money, prestige or status? Are you addicted to drugs or alcohol? Have you ever been? What about chocolate or coffee? Or your boyfriend? We often make higher powers out of people, places and things. The alcoholic knows this all to well. When she wakes it’s all she can think of. The addict’s drug of choice brings him to his knees every night. They will put spirits ahead of everything else, including jobs, loved ones and personal health. Even the sanctity of human life will not deter the devoted from blindly worshiping their drug of choice. In 12 step recovery it is suggested that the addict replace one higher power for another. When he or she is able to do so the results are demonstrable, even astounding. A freaking miracle.
I’m a cynic and a realist. But I’ve come to believe, even know, God is as likely to exist as not. Such circumstantial evidence may not hold up in court (which ironically trusts in God) but public opinion is all that matters here. Persuasion is an art that uses facts, not the other way around. Have I moved you even five percent closer to believing in a higher power? Or in me?
So, how about that freelance? Let’s do some creation together: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/
February 10, 2017
In absence of full time employment, I’ve been working my tail off. If this sounds contradictory it is not. As any freelance writer will tell you, the hustle is as crucial as the creation. Unlike fat and maybe-happy FTE’s the freelancer must work to get work before he can work.
Ah, the hustle. It’s like the fisherman who has to both catch fish and sell them. Two jobs. Both with distinct roles and responsibilities. He rises early to fish. Stays up late to sell.
Same for me. Work the phones in the AM. Write into the wee hours. Get up and do it again. Call it hustle and flow. I’m not complaining. Just saying.
Though I am also primed for full time work, I do find rogue satisfaction in being a grinder. The hustle keeps one alert. My sonar is on. Even the glimpse of silver beneath the waves and I turn to it. Lowering my bait. Jigging for a nibble.
The writing part I know well. Am good at it. Adore it. But after composing a manifesto for this client and writing content for that website, I’m just too fatigued to tend to my blog.
I trust you understand. And if you’re so inclined, hit me up. I will most certainly deliver. Spoken like a true hustler, right?
My portfolio: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/
Coen Brother’s masterful TVC for Mercedes AMG demonstrates why quality film making still matters in advertising.
January 27, 2017
The high degree of craft demonstrated by the Coen Brothers is obvious in this new “film” for Mercedes AMG. The casting, wardrobe, acting, editing: it’s all first rate. Seeing Fonda at the end is wonderful – the cocky peace sign he flashes. Yet, everyone in the commercial shines, transcending the biker stereotype. You’ve got to love the two brutes getting stuck in the silver chains adorning their leathers. Or the grizzled biker chick wearing her lines like so many badges. Good stuff, which is what we’d expect from a Super Bowl commercial directed by the Coen Brothers.
Beyond the obvious, however, a thing I really dig (60’s verb intentional) about this film is how damn analog it is, on both sides of the camera. No smartphones. No CGI. Nobody’s tweeting. Instead we see a jukebox. Playing Steppenwolf. Dude holds up a cigarette lighter not an iPhone. Gloriously absent is all evidence of the modern world.
That is until we see the sleek new AMG roadster at the end.
Lots of commercials riff on previous decades but we can often sense the phoniness, kind of like viewing an off-Broadway production of Hair. Something about the cast or wardrobe gives it away. And we’re like: Oh, here’s a commercial making fun of the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s.
But not here. The righteousness of this commercial lifts it above mere advertising content. Rich in detail, fun to watch and just plain good the Coen Brothers remind us of why quality filmmaking still matters. Even in advertising. Especially in advertising.
Agency credit (and kudos) to Antoni, Germany and Merkley + Partners, USA
January 16, 2017
When I was in college, I took a course on rhetoric and debate in 20th century America. In it, we looked at numerous famous speeches made by famous people: Lincoln, Jefferson, King, etc. Learning from great persuaders how to fashion a rational and emotional argument would later become useful as a copywriter and presenter. During that semester, no document we studied was more powerful than Martin Luther King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail.
I am not being glib when I say Letter from a Birmingham Jail is one of the finest pieces of long copy ever written. No question Equal Rights was and is a big idea. I like LFABJ better than King’s more famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Not because of content (both are awesome) but because of circumstances. King was alone in a jail cell when he wrote it.
On this, the anniversary of what would have been MLK’s 87th birthday; I think it a fine thing to reexamine this seminal document. An excerpt follows. The full text is linked below it.
“We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”