For the past few days, even longer, I have been working on a manifesto for one of our (hopefully) new clients. Actually, I’ve been working on two. Even more actually, I’ve been working on manifestos for 25 years, since becoming a copywriter.
Nothing suits me more. For like many a creative soul, I am by nature a show off. And this is the way I can do it. I know I am not alone. Most copywriters get off on writing manifestos. At least they’d better. Writing such documents is at the heart of what we do, and can do, for our clients.
Most of you know what I’m talking about. For those unawares, a manifesto or mantra or anthem is the bringing to life in words the highest and most noble aspirations of its subject matter, aka the brand.
Yes, it is advertising copy but in the best sense of the word. Think Apple’s great script to the modern world: Think Different. Consider the lines that first and forever defined Nike to a generation: Just Do It. We know these iconic tags because we fell in love with the manifestos. Frankly, neither line would have lasted this long, or even gotten out the door, if not for their beloved manifestos.
The power and glory of a brilliant manifesto cannot be overstated. They raise the hairs on the back of your neck. They make CMO’s smile. They win pitches. Most of all they change things: attitudes, behaviors, even lives.
At least the good ones do.
Alas, we’ve all heard or, God forbid, written our share of shitty ones. They can be purple or redundant or both. They get long pretty damn fast. They turn into cheesy rip-o-matics. Yet, in a weird way, even the bad ones sound pretty good. They are like pizza that way.
Because we slave over them. Into these haloed paragraphs we put everything we know or think we know about writing, about persuading, about life. Here you won’t find speeds and feeds, racks and stacks or friends and family call free! None of that. For these are the best neighborhoods in Adland. No thugs allowed.
Understanding meaning without understanding words…
Tim Nudd of Adweek asks if Beats by Dre “just out-Nike-d Nike” with a new five minute film celebrating the World Cup, which begins shortly in Rio. The answer is yes and the reason isn’t the game’s featured stars’ prowess on the pitch but rather what these athletes do before the games. Hence the film’s title, The Game Before the Game. The rituals, the cultural details, the family involvement. These are the things that make this film shine.
In particular, the riveting opening scene featuring Brazil’s Neymar Jr. engaging his father in a quiet but intense telephone conversation -apparently a pregame ritual. What I especially love about this scene is the use of sub titles. The intimacy of the words is made even more poignant by seeing them.
Not too long ago, in my previous agency, we proposed a concept featuring an Italian mother speaking to her child before sitting down to a bowl of our client’s pasta, which was a huge Italian brand. While the commercial was intended for an American audience, we wanted to highlight the client’s authentic Italian heritage by filming the dialog in Italian and using sub titles. We were filming in Italy with an Italian cast for that very reason: to be authentic.
The client vetoed the idea. In fact, they were vehemently opposed to it. The reason cited was that American audiences would be frustrated by having to read. Instead they preferred we find an Italian cast that spoke English well enough to deliver the lines.
What a fail that was.
In my opinion it is the use of sub titles that drew me in to the Beats’ commercial. Hearing the men speak in a very personal way, in their native tongue, is what establishes the films high level of integrity and authenticity. The filmmakers could have chosen another way to open the spot making it “easier” on foreign audiences. But they didn’t. They could have tried getting the two men to recite their lines in English. But they didn’t.
Conversely, what my provincial client failed to grasp is that we live in a global world. Hearing other languages is a part of our everyday lives, regardless of where we live. Why should commercials be any different?
To this argument, our client said their Middle-American target was not sophisticated enough to appreciate a commercial in another language. Bullshit. While I partially agree the average American may not have patience for a movie with sub-titles they certainly could tolerate a 30 second commercial. Plus, and this is key, the fact that the characters were speaking Italian would say a lot more about the pasta’s authenticity than the inane lines we had scripted. Our pleas fell on deaf ears, pun intended.
In 2014, l like to think most advertiser’s are “progressive” enough to get that American audiences can handle a foreign language being spoken in a TV commercial as well as the sub-titles (if necessary). Ironically, in other countries other languages (particularly English) are a part of modern advertising. Granted, English is the default language of the world.
Whatever. Are we still asking if “it’ll play in Peoria?” Are we that provincial? Are we that stupid?
Special update: super similar story via AdAge:http://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/world-cup-marketers-air-subtitled-spots/293973/?utm_source=daily_email&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_campaign=adage&ttl=1404854361
When it comes to evaluating ad copy, it’s not purely about judging the meaning of words. In order to truly assess copy properly, I also need to see what it looks like in a layout. The art directors were right: a block of copy is a visual. It needs to look right. Losing or adding a word or two in order to accommodate the layout should not be viewed by the writer as a concession. it’s also a part of creating good copy. Seeing your words “in-situ” provides explicit proof that what you’ve written is correct. The perfectly rendered paragraph in a Word document is seldom right the first time in a layout.
This notion predates technology. If anything, word processing tools have made it even more pronounced. Now we can see finished looking ads before they are produced. (Ancient history, I know. It’s been years since anyone relied on marker comps to sell an ad.)
For me, visually orienting words is equally necessary in my other writing, like this blog. While I write and rewrite these words in Microsoft Word, I’ve really only created a first draft. The true test comes when I preview a “new post.” Then I see the paragraphs as you will see them. Suddenly their flaws become manifest, almost like an allergic reaction. Lose this sentence. Change that word. Move the photograph down a peg. Why these things were not apparent on a white screen is a mystery.
Looking at words adds more time to the editing process, which I suppose is anathema in the modern world. New content is the key to new readers, or more views anyway. Therefore, many bloggers crank out content as fast as they can. Like in a MASH unit, they sow up stories and send them to the front. The sentences bleed adverbs and are pockmarked with dot-dot-dots, suggesting the writer had no time to tie up paragraphs or suture a proper segue.
I can’t work that way. Whether it reflects in my writing or not, I treat each story and every block of copy as if it were being looked at as well as read. It’s a habit I got into a long time ago.
January 29, 2014
Poetry is a dying vine clinging to the stinking roadhouse of pop culture. Verse and beat and alliteration are now 140 characters, the new haiku. On steroids.
Brand after brand after brand like boxcars moving their freight using the rhyming words of dead men: Walt Whitman. Allen Ginsberg. In the ultimate Meta even the poetic rant of Robin Williams from a film called, of all things, Dead Poet’s Society is the new message for all of Apple’s new, new things. “What will your verse be?” As if Mac needed the incantation.
It is the ultimate irony the demon gatekeeper of popular culture has commandeered poetry. We are hearing it everywhere. Levis gave us the scratchy live recording of a dead poet in their propulsive and romantic “Go Forth” campaign. Johnnie Walker tells us to “Keep Walking.”
And so we do. Mashing words and music and imagery into myriad beats. We iterate. We aggregate. Co-opt and curate. We celebrate the stuff of life.
Copywriters are nothing if not failed poets turning out catch phrases “Just do it” and puns “Nothing runs like a Deere” and those are the good ones! The dusty classics. How many now don’t even compare? It doesn’t matter. We sing the body electric for toiletries and blue jeans. And when our great words are not great enough we simply commandeer someone else’s, someone who came before us, someone who died drunk and broke and likely unhappy but maybe not.
Who cares? Using old poems make advertising feel new and improved!
We wrote poems before copy. We read poetry before streaming horror movies and Old Spice commercials on You Tube. We wanted to be heard. And because the rejections from the New Yorker piled up like delivery menus in the hallway, spam in the inbox, we turned to advertising.
I mean I. Did that.
But We sounds so much cooler. More like poetry. Manifestos begin with “We.” Mantras and mission statements. Let’s motor!
In Adland, our lines mean a little something to all kinds of big nobodies. There we find recognition, awards and a paycheck. There I found an audience. There I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked…
No, I will not go there. But someone will. And soon. I guarantee it.