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/

“We’re digital and you’re not!”

With equal parts frustration and delight, I read Andrew McMains’ article in Adweek about the preponderance of digital-only shops and their growing irrelevance to marketers.

Say what?

For the last ten or fifteen years, advertising agencies have obsessed over digital capabilities, devoting umpteen resources on building and/or purchasing the capability.

Meantime, countless digital shops sprang up, pimping their digital superiority in the marketplace.

Then the agencies started buying the digital shops.

And now it appears those same digital shops are trying to build their own advertising capability.

Once again, I am reminded of the famous Doctor Seuss fable, The Sneetches. In the story, the vain but insecure Sneetches keep placing, removing and replacing stars on their bellies, based on an irrational fear of being, for lack of a better word, uncool. By the end of the story no one in Sneetchland has a clue what is cool anymore.

Substitute the word ‘star’ for ‘digital’ and Sneetches for Agencies and it’s the same story. Yet, the saga ends well for the Sneetches. While it was a painful experience, they eventually come to their senses. Sneetchland is best served by having both. Just like Adland.

As I said: delightfully frustrating.

Boxing and advertising -Down for the count?

AdAge did an interesting story about waning interest in professional boxing by corporate sponsors. Specifically, the piece is about one-time welterweight champion, Floyd Mayweather. He, as you may know, also did a turn on Dancing with the Stars. Mayweather still commands huge paydays in the ring –some 75 million for his last bout- but advertisers by and large remain indifferent to him.

In his piece, Jeremy Mullman cites continuous bad publicity and corruption as primary reasons for the sport’s diminishing popularity, in particular with advertisers. The onset of Ultimate Fighting into the mainstream is another. The “sweet science” is being upgraded by fighting that is both more brutal and more technical. Call it fighting 2.0.

Boxing has always been an enigma to me. In my early twenties I adored it. I suppose a lot of men did. Fighters like Hector “Macho” Camacho ruled the ring and Wide World of Sports. Remember that? Ali had long since retired but, of course, his nemesis, George Foreman was still banging heads and then began selling grills as well. We all know Mike Tyson. Big personalities and badass boxers as well.

For whatever reasons, boxing seems antiquated now. Something from another time, like the afternoon paper, playing cards or …advertising?

I wonder if there are lessons in this for us in Adland. Perhaps the sweet science of “persuasive communication” could learn from boxing’s downturn. Farfetched? Think about it. We too are being encroached by more brutal and more technical means, first the Internet and now social media. Corruption and bad press also beset us. Like boxing, twenty years ago we were the shit. Like boxing, we are now in the shit.

More likely, I’m full of shit. Boxing and advertising are completely different, like apples and oranges. But it was fun comparing them, sort of like those writing exercises we’d get in college: discuss two disparate things and form a cogent argument. Anyway, I suppose I got carried away. But what can I say? I like boxing and advertising. I also like writing exercises!

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Birds of a feather?

As a copywriter at Leo Burnett, I cut my teeth on writing and producing breakfast cereal commercials for Kellogg’s. Most writers (then and now) don’t consider these assignments potential award winners, yet it was desirable work for many reasons. Mainly, it taught us how to make TV commercials. You laugh, but learning how to write a 30-second spot with numerous mandatory elements, and then putting it together (shooting, editing, music and AVO), is something you have to do many times before you really get it. For that, these briefs were invaluable. We became pros. The carrot, of course, was the all-expenses paid trip to Hollywood to produce these commercials. Going on production provided more than just valuable training, it also gave us dinners at the Ivy and stately rooms at the Four Seasons. Beverly Hills was ours!

Times change. Making TVCs is not the right of passage it once was. Obviously, this can be attributed to the digital revolution as well as the recession. Changing consumer behavior and shrinking marketing budgets have taken a serious toll.

Still, the demand for commercial video continues. Yet the rules for creating video content are different than they used to be. You Tube and the like have given everyone the idea that making a commercial is now cheap, fast and easy. You know: viral. Consumers are generating popular content for next to nothing. Why, clients ask, should we spend six or even seven figures?

Because that’s what it costs. In general, an “A” commercial requires anywhere from 500k to well over a million dollars to produce. Packaging two or three provides obvious efficiencies but the numbers are high. Unlike “consumer generated comment” a typical shoot has over 50 people on its crew, not including agency and clients. It may require several days to produce. You do the math.

On the other hand, a so-called “viral” need only cost a few grand to make. Or less. Right?

Not likely. Cheap, fast and easy is a myth born out of confusion and ignorance. Twenty million people watched a sleazy chicken dancing around a cheesy set, and as an industry we all jumped to conclusions. “Give me one of those!” our clients screamed. We all screamed. Everybody wanted the next big thing for next to nothing.

First off, I don’t think “Subservient Chicken” was all that cheap to make. It only looked inexpensive. I wouldn’t be surprised if the price was low to mid six figures. Not to mention operating costs.

Fact is, viral hits like “Swear Jar” for Budweiser and the seminal BMW films “The Hire” cost as much as anything you’ll ever see on TV.

And so production heads are scratching their heads over how to manage. Maddening is the client who wants a “viral” budget instead of a “commercial” budget, as if they were two different things! It’s daunting.

What is quality then? If millions of people view a piss-poor piece of film does that make it a standard bearer? Thanks to You Tube, I do believe people are more tolerant of crappy looking film. On the other hand, Hi-Definition TV gives these same folks picture quality unheard of before. Are these opposing forces or unwitting allies?

Because of the Internet, our industry and its critics like to trumpet the death of the 30-second TV commercial. But think of it this way: the Internet is also another screen, which gives life to commercials. Millions of them!

Furthermore, consider the 21st century rogue-darling agency, Crispin Porter & Bogusky. They are rightly credited for taking advantage of the social web like no other agency but, if you count the touchdowns, most of their biggest gainers come from good, old-fashioned 30-second TV commercials. Like I said, daunting.

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Digital. Easier than it looks?

The following in an excerpt from a piece I wrote for Campaign Magazine last week. The juiciest piece, it also fits into a wider discussion we’ve been having here about integration…

The biggest obstacle towards achieving creativity with digital can be found in our very own creative departments. For various reasons, we tend to build the digital creative group separate from the traditional.

This is a grievous error. In order for creativity to thrive (not just survive), another marriage is required: that of general and digital. I see a creative department made up of copywriters, web designers, art directors, flash artists and so on. Pair them up. Let them mate and have babies! These hybrid teams are the future. They can truly create worthy content that also functions precisely as portals.

Agencies hold on to old ideas. Unless we are forced (by conditions, clients or competition), we are likely to construct inefficient silos within our creative department, if not the agency as a whole. Separating digital creatives from traditional creatives (not to mention direct marketing from general) causes fiefdoms and redundancies. Working in multiple channels serves agency and practitioner alike, as well as the client.

We perceive digital creative to be more complicated than it really is. A screen is a screen, after all. Words are spelled the same.