Connecting to Multitudes

[January 8, 2010]

Embedded in the career of many a copywriter is an ongoing tug of war. On one end of the rope are colleagues who believe Copy’s main purpose is to instruct and flatter. In their mind, the job comes down to endless variations on a tiny array of schematic messages:

• Do “This” now and get “That”
• Other cool people like you have already done “This”
• Read these tips. They make “This” easier to do
• Do “This,” get “That” and we’ll send more instructions
• Tell all your cool friends to do “This” too
• We really like how cool you are!

On the other end of the rope are colleagues who believe Copy’s main purpose is to be allusive and who have their own cherished list:

• Profile-Appropriate Pop-Song
• Whatever’s on YouTube
• Calvin Klein Ads from the ’90s
• Facebook!
• Hot Celebrity Wearing Jeans (We’ll fit some words in later)
• Seriously, whatever is on YouTube

And there in the middle, ropes tied to either wrist, is a copywriter who, even through the searing pain, can still grasp the pros and cons of either extreme.

Lurid and reductive metaphors aside, the issue here is that writing for adware cannot be reduced to a mechanical bag of tricks. Neither the “Copy That Gets Results” nor the “Entertain Me, I’m Bored with My Career” school of creative direction can ever produce anything more than a lifeless imitation of good work.

Simple Impulse.
As I said, each ideology contains a nugget of truth, even if it’s buried under mountains of emotional, political and intellectual effluvia. The problem is, as an industry, we’ve been at this game long enough to have lost its original impetus.

The point, as I see it, is to connect and motivate. How you do it, and why, depends on the particulars. Not that there isn’t tons of advice available, but most of it is beside the point. Far more important than the top 10 tips “every writer should know” is a simple impulse to reach out to another person. Which person? That’s where the particulars come in and the particulars can only be found through direct observation.

It’s easy really, assuming you actually have talent for writing, a talent that includes the capacity to acquire writing technique. Given that, you only need to open your carefully trained eyes and look. Because just as much as any true visual artist, you’re a keen, sympathetic observer of everyday life and the human condition.

Telling Observation
Let me guess what your observations tell you: People—all people—contain multitudes [see #51]: multitudes of opinions, emotions, desires, aspirations and ornery bits of half-digested nonsense. As such you can’t hope to make your point stick without first dipping it in a very specific cultural context.

Here’s the glimmering coin that’s caught the eye of the “Entertain Me…” school. At the same time, with so much going on in the noggins of the people you want to reach, you need to give them a clear focal point. That’s the shiny bauble that’s turned the head of the Results worshippers.

Delicate Balance
At the end of the day, however, all the breathless theorizing in the world can’t alter the facts. It takes time and patience to build an audience’s trust or, for that matter, even get their attention. There’s simply no point in asking copywriters to cram every possible message from every possible angle into every single consumer engagement. Instead, brands and their agencies need to take better note of the pace at which people absorb information, learn to trust that information and therefore feel motivated by it.

If it’s true that post-digital consumers are deeply suspicious of advertising, you’re going to have to reach them in small, incremental steps and always as one “multitudinous” human being to another. Accomplishing this task requires a delicate balance of talents and skills, but don’t worry, your copywriters can handle it—as long as you stop hog-tying them with poorly absorbed dogma, political posturing and the absurd notion that writing has anything at all to do with words.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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