AD NAUSEAM: a copywriter's life

Pimped again

Posted in Uncategorized by CopyBlogger on the March 24th, 2010

IN FEBRUARY 2010 my position at Deluxe Corporation was eliminated, forcing me back into the job market after nearly five years. Then last week I got a call reminding me why I hate so many of the headhunters who troll the waters in this line of work.

The young lady on the line introduced herself as an employee of a “creative talent boutique” that I had dealt with long ago. She said there was a copywriting position in Burlington, Vermont. Would I be willing to relocate?

No, but I certainly was available for other jobs. So she asked if we could go over my resume, and I said fine.

“It says here you worked for … O-G … One?”

“Uh, that’s OgilvyOne Worldwide. It’s part of Ogilvy & Mather. They do direct marketing and interactive for IBM, which is what I worked on.”

“Okay. Are you still working there?”

“No, I haven’t worked there since 2005. Since then I’ve worked at Deluxe Corporation, which just eliminated my job.”

“Oh. That’s not an agency, is it? Because our client in Vermont wants someone who comes directly from an agency background.”

“No, I’m afraid it’s not.”

Well, it went like that for a bit longer. We parted with promises to keep in touch. And then I officially felt unemployed.

All the old frustrations bubbled up: past meetings with recruiters who didn’t listen to what I wanted, absurd portfolio reviews by entry-level boobs with nothing to say, and arranged interviews with creative directors who were obviously not in the market for what I was offering.

Most of all, that classic complaint: Why does this person have a job when I don’t?

Maybe you can chalk it up to oversensitivity–a jobless man’s need to be respected. But lord, I hate the idea that some of these people should be gatekeepers to positions I spent years preparing for. Is advertising such a flimsy profession that it is unworthy of trained, knowledgeable support?

Don’t answer that.

The French writer Balzac once said, “Writing is like prostitution–first done for love, next for a few friends, then eventually for money.” I’m okay with that, but after all these years in the business you’d think I’d rate a better class of pimp.

34 favorite quotes about advertising

Posted in Uncategorized by CopyBlogger on the March 15th, 2010

MOST GOOD COPYWRITERS are very strange people who have only reached copywriting after eliminating every other means of making a living through writing. Once a man becomes resigned to making a good living by writing a few words at a time and writing them over and over again in various combinations, he is likely to think of himself as a professional copywriter.
–Howard Gossage

It is far easier to write 10 passably effective sonnets than one effective advertisement.
–Aldous Huxley

Advertising may be described as the science of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it.
–Stephen Leacock*

Advertising is a valuable economic factor because it is the cheapest way of selling goods, particularly if the goods are worthless.
–Sinclair Lewis*

Few people at the beginning of the twentieth century needed an adman to tell them what they wanted.
–John Kenneth Galbraith*

When you start a country club, get a few admen for members. You need somebody who gets all the jokes.

Let advertisers spend the same amount of money improving their product that they do on advertising and they wouldn’t need to advertise it.
–Will Rogers*

Nothing’s so apt to undermine your confidence in a product as knowing that the commercial selling it has been approved by the company that makes it.
–Franklin P. Jones*

It used to be that people needed products to survive. Now products need people to survive.
–Nicholas Johnson*

Advertising is the art of making whole lies out of half truths.
–Edgar A. Shoaff*

Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.
–Mark Twain*

Advertising is the greatest art form of the twentieth century.
–Marshall McLuhan*

In good times, people want to advertise; in bad times, they have to.
–Bruce Barton*

Advertising agency: eighty-five percent confusion and fifteen percent commission.
–Fred Allen*

The longest word in the English language is the one following “And now, a word from our sponsor.”
–Hal Eaton*

Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing, but nobody else does.
–Stuart Henderson Britt*

You can tell the ideals of a nation by its advertisements.
–Norman Douglas*

Advertisements contain the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper.
–Thomas Jefferson*

Advertising, of course, has been part of the mainstream of American civilization, although you might not know it if you read the most respectable surveys of American history. It has been one of the enticements to the settlement of this New World, it has been a producer of the peopling of the United States, and in its modern form, in its worldwide reach, it has been one of our most characteristic products.
–Daniel Boorstin

Advertisements are now so numerous that they are very negligently perused, and it is therefore become necessary to gain attention by magnificence of promises, and by eloquences sometimes sublime and sometimes pathetic. Promise–large promise–is the soul of advertising.
–Samuel Johnson*

Advertise, or the sheriff may do it for you.
–P.T. Barnum (attributed)*

Advertising promotes that divine discontent which makes people strive to improve their economic status.
–Ralph Butler*

A good thing sells itself; a bad thing advertises itself for sale.
–East African saying*

Radio gave birth to impertinent advertising. Never before the advent of radio did advertising have such a golden opportunity to make an ass out of itself.
–William J. Cameron

Who is the consumer? Show me a consumer.
–General Hugh Johnson

Every time I get mixed up with my advertising problems I feel the ground sink away from me, and I am floated away into the imponderable ether, where I can’t clutch at even a straw for support.
–Anonymous client, 1908

Advertising is a lying art. It depends on suggestions that aren’t wholly true. And you can’t expect art to deal in half truths. Business can’t expect art to tell lies for it.
–Thomas Hart Benton

See the man.
He does advertising work.
He is called an “ad-man.”
See his funny tight suit.
See his funny haircut.
Hear his funny stomach churn.
Churn, churn, churn.
The ad-man has a funny ulcer.
Most ad-men have funny ulcers.
But then, some ad-men are lucky.
They do not have funny ulcers.
They have funny high blood pressure.
–Mad magazine, 1957

To create good selling copy, advertisement writers must be bubbling over with enthusiasm. A day’s work with the glow of magic fire is worth a week of galley slave plugging. Real copy “artists” are self-hypnotists.
–Judicious Advertising magazine, 1912

One of the real reasons for being in the advertising business is that you have to be alive if you are any good at it.
–Hugh Baillie

To be a really good copywriter requires a passion for converting the other fellow, even if it is something you don’t believe yourself.
–Helen Woodward

Soup can produce emotion. You can write as emotionally about ham as about Christianity.
–Edith Lewis

Some people, perhaps most people, think words are not really important, but I am a word man and I attach the very highest importance to words.
–E.B. White

The words don’t matter, friend. It’s feeling that counts. The great thing is feeling. You got to put passion into it. You got to make that hog believe you got something that hog wants.
–Kansas hog-calling champion, 1929

*Taken from And I Quote: The Definitive Collection of Quotes, Sayings, and Jokes for the Contemporary Speechmaker, by Ashton Applewhite, et al. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992).

Telling facts

Posted in Uncategorized by CopyBlogger on the March 9th, 2010

WHAT I KNOW about writing really began in 1981, when a nearsighted professor ushered a class of Freshman Comp students into a burial crypt.

Ron Dorr entered our classroom, gave out the syllabus, blinked as he took off his glasses. Then without preamble he delivered a first-person account of an encrypted skeleton being reverently pulverized with a sledgehammer, so it could be boxed and buried as small as possible in an overcrowded Colombian graveyard. Meanwhile the family, and a young English teacher, looked on.

Dorr’s first words to us described the cracking of hip bones; after 20 minutes we were sitting in stunned silence, and he smiled.

“Good afternoon,” he finally said. “This is MC111, ‘Community & Identity in America,’ in case you’ve been looking suspiciously at your class schedule. As the first of three required writing classes here at James Madison College, we will be working this quarter with a text called “Telling Writing” by Ken Macrorie. Please refer to the quote at the top of your syllabus.”

And the quote read:

“Telling” facts are facts that reveal a great deal, that carry great weight and produce a marked effect. A good writer has his eyes and ears open to spot these facts when they present themselves, and to present them to the reader unadorned: with little commentary, superlatives or flashy effects, without beating the reader over the head and saying, “Look at this! Wow! Isn’t this something!”

The skilled writer knows that readers are intelligent, that the delight of understatement, irony, surprise is as great if not greater than the pleasure of a gag” line or hyperbole … The trick, though, is to find the telling fact and to tell it with language that is compelling.

“As your first assignment,” said Professor Dorr, “you will write a telling introduction about yourself and present it to the class. I have just provided an example. Rather than the typical academic biography, which would drone on about my research into death and dying in various cultures, I’ve chosen instead to introduce myself to you with telling facts–the kind we all too often tend to smooth over as we become older and less singular.”

Looking back on it now, I see that the professor was a great copywriter. Facts followed assertions, identity usurped ambiguity, examples were meaty enough to trickle blood. I was to survive three years of classes with Ronald Dorr, learning to write telling facts under the merciless lash of his red pen.

Eventually I graduated–with an excellent education, albeit no marketable skills. But I loved to write, and I knew how to type. So after school I took my oddball resume into the editorial world. That was 1985.

Bad as the economy is in 2010, it wasn’t much better then for an uncertain liberal arts major. I became a reporter, an editor, a copywriter at any small shoestring place that would have me. Each time I learned a little more–usually by the seat of my pants–as I tried to find a place that could help me perfect my line of work.

Telling facts.

Nearly 30 years after that first class (my God!), telling facts is still what excites me about this strange business of writing for money. It is fun to devour facts, then present them with equal doses of clarity and creativity. There is a point of view, plenty of good hard thinking, and the challenges evolve every day.

To use my old professor’s favorite word, it is a singular business.

If that is your business, there is only one fact to tell. Like some help?