Monthly Archives: March 2011

Copywriter, emphasis on the writer

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night. And sometimes, before I’m able to stop it, my mind starts racing, thinking those 3 A.M. types of thoughts that are rarely conducive to falling back asleep. Last night was one of those nights.

When I woke initially, I was thinking about my car. It’s currently is running horribly and the check engine light keeps turning on and off. I probably need a new one, but due to recent financial obligations (damn you taxes!), it’s not really the best time for me to make a sizable new purchase.

To get my mind off of this stressful situation, I started thinking about other things. First it was the painful loss my Jayhawks suffered in the Elite Eight on Sunday – that was hardly a better topic. Moving on, I at last settled on my portfolio and work (perhaps still not the greatest topic).

If you’re a writer or creative professional, you can probably relate to my situation: I sometimes suffer from portfolio envy and fear of creative inadequacy. It’s not that I doubt my abilities as a writer (in fact, I’m borderline arrogant about them), but rather, I feel like I haven’t worked on a lot of projects that allow me to really shine.

I have lots of friends who either are or were copywriters for ad agencies. When I look through their portfolios or their Websites on some great site like Prezi or Behance, I feel like they have these really cool, visually appealing pieces that are trendy and stylish. Then I look at my own portfolio, it’s full of brochures, email campaigns, banner ads, and journalism. To be perfectly honest, it’s not nearly so flashy.

Now sometimes this thought gets me down. But last night, perhaps in some subconscious effort to stop dwelling on the negative, I looked at this situation from a new angle.  What I saw was this: while my friends had the title of copywriter, they generally weren’t writing very much copy.  They’re not writers so much as they are conceptualizers.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not running anyone down. Conceptualizing is an incredibly important skill, especially for ad agencies. They need highly creative people who can come up with ideas for campaigns, then convey their visions to designers, and the client, and then eventually the consumer. But let’s be honest – there’s surprisingly little writing involved.

So what? Well, I realize that while my portfolio isn’t nearly as flashy or as attention-grabbing as some of my colleagues, it’s a different skill set I’ve demonstrated. I’m a copywriter, but one who actually writes copy.  And while I may still at times suffer from portfolio envy, it’s the knowledge that I’m a writer who actually writes, that will console me.

Sending the wrong message?

(First of all, let me apologize for the terrible quality of the photo below. Not long ago I traded in my antique mobile for a new one, one of the perks of which was supposed to be a better camera. And well, while my new phone may have lots of bells and whistles, it still takes terrible photos. Maybe it’s user error….)

Last weekend I was in Chicago and, as I was flying Southwest, I flew  out of Midway.  While I was waiting for my flight and having a sandwich in the food court, I couldn’t help but notice this advertisement:

The grainy text reads: “Chicago (Midway) to New York (Newark)”

In the bottom right corner it says “non-stop”

What I found particularly amusing about this piece is the fact that it displays an empty baggage cart (train?). To me this sends the not-so-subliminal message, we’ll get you to New York without stopping, but your bags aren’t going to be there.

And while I like the visual, I can’t help but wonder why no one else, either at the agency (possibly GDS&M from Austin, I really don’t know), or at Southwest caught this.

Tweet at Your Own Peril

In the course of my daily meanderings in cyberspace, I came across this article from MediaBistro. Apparently NBA referee Bill Spooner is suing AP reporter Jon Krawczynski over a tweet from the January 24 game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Houston Rockets.

The backstory:

In the second quarter,  Spooner called a sketchy foul on the Wolves’ Anthony Tolliver, which upset coach Kurt Rambis, who asked Spooner how he was going to get those points back.

Krawczynski then tweeted “Ref Bill Spooner told Rambis he’d “get it back” after a bad call. Then he made an even worse call on Rockets. That’s NBA officiating folks.”

The Fallout:

The NBA investigated the call and decided the matter was closed. Spooner, however, decided to file suit, asking for $75,000 for “defamation per se to his professional and business reputation, a declaratory judgment that the Twitter publication constitutes defamation and an injunction requiring the removal of defamatory statements from the Defendants’ Internet postings.”

My take:

As a former journalist, this is absurd to me. Journalists, especially those who write opinion pieces, have the right, nay, the duty, to say any damn thing they want (within limits established by their publication’s editorial board).  If Spooner’s lawsuit, by some freak occurrence is upheld, it will strike a major blow against journalistic freedom and integrity in this country. I know Twitter isn’t exactly the same thing as an op-ed piece, but at the same time, freedom of speech and the press is a fundamental part of this country. Taking it away because someone is offended (by an accurate observation at that) would be a travesty. I hope the judge throws this out, but I guess we’ll see

I hate you, but you’re so effective

Do you know Flo? Of course you do, she’s that horribly annoying, over-the-top bubbly woman from the Progressive commercials.

This is her:

I hate her. I mean I really, really, really despise her. Played by actor and comedian Stephanie Courtney (who’s not funny in her own right, I’ve seen her stand-up), she’s horrible and annoying. In fact, most of the time when I see a Progressive commercial in which she’s starring, I decide that it’s a good time to get a glass of water or let the dog outside.

But you know what? As much as I hate her, she is effective. I mean, after all, I know what product she’s hawking don’t I? What’s more, I know that they let you choose your own price and have discounts for multiple policies. That means, as much as I would love to see Flo disappear from our cultural landscape, as much as I despise her, she’s part of a successful campaign.

It’s funny how that works. When I was a kid growing up in St. Louis, I remember watching television with my grandma. There was a local Chevrolet dealer, Don Brown Chevrolet (see? I still remember the name) that had similarly excruciating commercials.  And every one of them started with the dealership’s namesake at the beginning of the commercial saying “Hi, I’m Don Brown”, to which my grandmother, being the cantankerous lady that she is would respond, “Hi, you’re stupid”. Annoying, obnoxious, but effective.

Why does this work?  I’m no psychologist, but it seems to me that this type of advertising is effective because we love to hate things. There’s nothing Americans love more than something to get the blood boiling, get us all riled up, and make us feel superior. And ad makers are smart people – they know this. Thus, rather than give us a ton of classy, cool, and/or funny spots, they sprinkle our television viewing in with a few ads like Flo or pretty much anything from Taco Bell

So the next time you’re watching television or listening to the radio and your senses are assaulted with one of those commercials we all hate, don’t get mad. Just remember, that’s what the goal is – to irritate you so much that you can’t forget the product or service. It’s a devious trick, but one that works really well.