Archive for June, 2014

Richard’s 10 Rules for Totally Great Copy

Friday, June 13th, 2014

I’m taking an editorial break from the list.

Damn. This one has been hard. This and the next post were supposed to be all about breaking rules. That communication is everything and how you say it or show it are just mental lubricant. Ways to slip ideas in-between your audience’s overwhelm, apathy and resistance.

Instead, this is a lament and a rant.

1. Lament

For years I’ve been collecting ads and other media that got my attention. Some because they were great concepts or well-executed ideas. Others just because they caught my eye: beautiful art direction, unexpected illustration, bright copy. Others simply because they took me by surprise.

There were two or three legal-sized folders with tearsheets, samples, clippings and other stuff. They were my inspiration files.

And—evidently—in a recent, frantic office purge those files got tossed. Last week I searched my office, went through all my files. My heart sank.

Because all those ads illustrated the point that great copy does something extremely important: It leaves the reader understanding.

So this copy will have to create understanding without some cherished visual aids.

2. Rant

Want the reader to understand your product? Make sure of it. Want them to understand your company? Your opportunity? Your vision? Your eco-friendly ways?

Then say it in no uncertain terms. Make sure they understand.

I was in a meeting at which someone said, “these silhouetted figures represent the underlying business issues that the customer is facing …” and I almost choked.

Had I not valued my job and professional relationships, I might have said, “A random image doesn’t represent anything,” then asked, “… and even it if did, what purpose does it serve?”

You can’t hope your prospects will read between the lines. You can’t imply it or suggest something. You have to say it. That doesn’t mean being overly earnest or artless. Of course, you can be creative about it. You should be. That’s the mental lubricant I mentioned earlier. As long as you’re making your point clearly.

Actually I found one little ad in my files—a job ad for a print business manager —that Weiden & Kennedy ran in 1991.

What does that have to do with understanding? Well, what do you understand from this ad? First and foremost, that there’s a job for a print business manager. But better still—and entirely implied but totally clear—that the people who ran it are highly confident, extremely smart, very creative and understand their audience.

If I were a print business manager, I’d have applied.

3. Conclusion

a. Don’t throw away meaningful files, even in the throes of impassioned office purging.

b. I’ll do a better job illustrating my argument about “great copy leaves the reader understanding” next week.