Copywriting: Captivating

[March 26, 2010]

Read a typical creative brief and, usually somewhere toward the end, you’ll find a slim, generalized description under a heading like “Voice and Tone.” Regardless of the branch of advertising you’re in, models for voice and tone conform to only a handful of prototypes, depending on business category. Often expressed as a chain of adjectives, a typical Voice and Tone summary goes something like this:

• Upbeat, conversational, youthful, affirmative, action-oriented.
• Serious, yet hopeful, empowering, empathetic.

• Confident, positive, authoritative, aspirational.

What concerns me here is the way these shallow descriptions of voice and tone are consistently mistaken for the real thing. Instead of empowering Creatives to craft a viable, branded voice for the project, these ritualized descriptions seek to turn an essential creative function into a mechanical process. That’s why, across the industry, voice and tone vary only by genre—despite detailed audience analysis and innumerable studies in generational identity.

Worse, each genre is endowed with a set repertoire of stock phrases. “Together, we can make a difference,” runs the concluding sentence of many a cause marketing blurb. “The kids will love it. Grown-ups, too,” drones the unctuous resort promotion. Shop-worn phrases like this pop up everywhere. Why? Because they bring with them the reassuring tick of the checkbox.

Presented with a string of commonplace observations (“Shopping for a new car can be confusing. With so many models to choose from…”) American consumers tune out. They’ve heard it before. In a 24/7 world drenched in media, message and marketing, that kind of talk couldn’t sell matches to an arsonist.

Stand for something real.
If you want to get a response, you’ve got to dig deeper, touch a nerve—and start a sympathetic vibration between the brand persona and the person you’re trying to reach. The first step is to actually establish that distinctive, brand persona. Only a fleshed-out personality can have a believable “voice,” can express empathy, motivate consumers to plan for their financial future, or captivate them long enough to sell them an overpriced vacation package.

Most of all, only a carefully crafted brand persona can speak directly to the heart, imagination and worldview of your audience, by embodying something identifiable, tangible and real. That can’t be done with a tagline or a logo alone. It can’t be done with a color wheel or a flash animation. A brand persona is a composite of language and image, something (or rather, someone) that emerges from the total environment we create for consumers.

And it all begins with a true, textured, layered and culturally relevant tone of voice. It’s the kind of thing your Copy Creatives are just itching to create for you, if only you’ll leave the tried and true behind and stand for something real. It’s not how much you say, but whether you make it memorable, meaningful and mesmerizing. Benefits? Schmenifits. No matter how many asterisked USPs you bullet out, your efforts are wasted without copy that creates a vivid, captivating experience for your audience.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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