By David Branby
I am a copywriter; a wordsmith; a scribe. Working with words is how I survive. I craft, I sculpt, I make pictures with words (though I must admit, sometimes it’s just blurbs) with one goal in mind: To gently urge that reader of mine…
To take action (usually in the vicinity of a cash register); in short, to purchase, to procure, to buy my client’s wares or embrace their ideas, to know their stance or acknowledge their presence. I am a crafter of dreams and a deliverer of details. I am copywriter. I turn words into gold.
I am neither a poet nor a prophet, and yet I deftly weave both into my potent potion so the prospect (in this case, you!) can savor the sizzle and salivate for the steak.
My purpose is simple, my task is complex: Distill my client’s ninety-six copy points (so painstakingly writ) into three or four paragraphs that’re sure to make a hit; and give them a headline that’s snappy and fun; and deliver a benefit to the reader (just one) in a way that’s sexy and creative and POPS; so as he or she meanders through NEWSWEEK, she stops! And reads what I’ve written and writes down the name, and writes down the phone, fax, e-mail, and then…she hops in her Audi, her Bimmer, or Geo, heads for the mall and with nothing but brio, walks into the store and with hardly a thought, whips out her VISA just as she ought, and BUYS the one item I’ve told her about, just as the merchant says, “Wow! Now, we’re sold out!”
I am a copywriter. I turn words into gold.
Now, let me illustrate the power of words in my chosen profession, which is advertising. I’m going to write a part of a phrase, and I want you to chime in—to yourself, or out loud, depending on who’s around) if you know the rest of it. Let’s try a few:
Winston tastes good…(like a cigarette should.)
You’re in good hands…(with Allstate.)
M&M’s melt in your mouth…(not in your hand.)
Nothing beats a great pair of (Legg’s.)
And one of my favorites, which I wrote for The Public Restroom Company in 2011, “Building Better Places To Go.”
Now, some people may call these slogans, but in my line of work, they’re known as tag lines. And most companies should have a tag line, which is kind of like a mission statement for what a company does, and the way that they do it that makes them unique.
A powerful tag line melds all the marketing objectives into one cohesive thought, from positioning to brand image and personality. To put it more succinctly, in the words of legendary copy king Jim Jordan, “the heart and the power of advertising is…a few words so skillfully targeted, so clear in their positioning, so vivid in their articulation, and so memorable in their identification with a given brand…that they become people’s principal reason for buying the brand.”
In fact, we ad writers spend an inordinate amount of time trying to come up with the perfect tag line for a company – because once you find it, you can use it forever. To give you an example, the copywriter who came up with “Everything you always wanted in a beer. And less.” took a brand that nobody liked—Miller Lite—and sold $95 million worth a year to sports fans over the next decade and a half.
The point is, the tag line should always remind the consumer of the key benefit – what’s in it for them. For example, Silver Legacy originally used the tag line “Lucky For You” to market Sam Fairchild’s mythical silver mine in downtown Reno. When the agency I used to work for pitched that account, my partners and I came up with the tag line, “Share The Wealth,” because frankly, I’d rather be rich than lucky any day.
Another example of the copywriter’s art is the use of word play or puns to make a point. The best one I’ve ever seen was an ad for Oakley Sunglasses that showed a pair of the glasses with the headline “A Shade Under $35. The copy went on to explain that the glasses retailed for $34.95. I should note that word plays have fallen out of fashion among copywriters, particularly for headlines, but you’ll still see them in use for taglines. Sometimes, a great play on words can become the principal reason for buying the brand—and some become classics. Think “When it rains, it pours.” (1914) for Morton’s salt and “A diamond is forever.” (1947) for DeBeers, the diamond giant.
Now, as you may have noticed, I used a bit of rhyme in the beginning of this piece, because people tend to remember rhymes, and in fact, great literary masterpieces (such as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey) were passed down from generation to generation orally, and one of the reasons they survived was because they rhymed. And so it is with the great literary traditions of our time. Who can forget:
The best part of waking up is Folger’s in your cup?
Timex takes a licking and keeps on ticking?
For all you do, this Bud’s for you?
And so, gentle reader, if you’ll permit me one last time, I will leave you with a rhyme:
If advertising’s my passion, then words are my mistress; and lest this malady cause you much distress, let me assure you as sure as I’m here, the words that I craft for your reading come dear; a hundred an hour give or take a few syllables, a bit more for those who insist on the parable that “nothing well is written once”; and so for those insufferable dunces I raise my take to one-fifty an hour, and write so slowly our relations soon sour; until, that is, they take pen in hand, and decide for themselves (and this, to a man) that writing’s for fools and nitwits and pros, and so their notebooks they quickly close; they pick up the phone and ring me and plead, “How in the world do you ever write a lead?”
I am a copywriter. I turn words into gold.
David Branby originally wrote this piece for a Toastmasters speech assignment in 1995. It has been updated by the author, who still loves writing and public speaking about advertising, marketing, and web development in 2012.