The article quoted writers saying things like this: "Our copywriting muscles have withered … The punchiest headline-writers need to be able to produce long copy as well, and I fear that a whole generation has lost the ability to do that."
The only surprising thing about this piece was its tone of sudden alarm. Apart from the article’s references to social media and blogging, everything about it would have made perfect sense 15 years ago. That, if memory serves, was a few One Shows after good agencies started exhorting their creative teams to think visually – and only visually.
But who has been demanding all-visual advertising, apart from awards show judges? Certainly not consumers. They still want reasons to believe, as any tabloid weight-loss ad will demonstrate.
I think the problem, as usual, is within us as ad people. I detect that we’ve grown increasingly more sensitive – and not in a good way – about our duty to sell stuff. Consider: Over the years, the good and honest word “features” has gradually been replaced by “functional benefits,” a term with a slightly pejorative and dismissive air about it. Today, we tell our clients, products are not often sufficiently differentiated in objective terms to justify feature-based stories. Thus, our point of differentiation must be emotional in nature, as if emotional and rational appeals were mutually exclusive.
Emotion-based appeals and visual advertising were practically made for each other. A few weeks ago, Scotland’s tourism board released some brilliant photography that quickly went viral:
Of course, the images screamed Scotland, but in a new and refreshing way, with nary a bagpiper or Highland dancer in sight. Soon after, a making-of video appeared on YouTube:
The genius of this campaign was in its understanding of what makes the Internet tick: millions of people speaking dozens of languages, united mainly by a shared love of cute animals.
But if success today depends on understanding what makes the Internet tick – and I think we can all agree that it does – then we need good writers and good writing more than ever. Once you take away online chat, dating sites, kitten videos and porn, the Internet pretty much boils down to a global repository of electronic sales brochures. Somebody has to write all those words.
And if we’re talking about video content, we quickly see that the lack of obvious writing is part of what makes the Scottish pony idea so remarkable. Clients today have an endless appetite for online videos, but the budgets are a fraction of what gets spent on a TV production. Which means that any brilliance will probably have to be found in the writing. Here’s a wonderful demonstration of this point in a recent spot for Norway’s national lottery:
No special effects. No sync sound. Just two good actors and a killer script.
And that reminds me of last year’s triumphant online spot for the Dollar Shave Club:
Yes, it’s ancient by Internet standards, but it deserves a revisit for the simple reason that the client, Mike Dubin, was both the writer and the star of the spot, which was shot by a director buddy on a budget of $4,500. The spot also deserves a revisit because it does not hide or downplay the rational support points of the Dollar Shave Club. Rather, it celebrates them and makes them interesting through really good writing.
Did I mention that the client wrote the spot himself? Usually, that’s terrible news. Yes, Dubin is an unsual client in that he has a background in sketch comedy but, as he points out, “I’m also passionate about business. Nowadays the line between art and commercial is very blurry, especially on the web. This is a great opportunity to create art that can actually boost a business.”
Art that can actually boost a business. That’s as concise a definition of good advertising as I have ever heard. And I’m pretty sure it can’t be done by pictures alone. Especially not today.