Monday, February 1, 2010

Truth in Advertising

We hear stories about the low points in people's lives, during which they learned what was important and then began living. My low point was in my "agency years." (Before and after my agency years were, and are, my corporate years.) I had moved away from my home town of Louisville to leave public relations and take a copy writing position in Bloomington Indiana, where I knew no one. No matter; as the only copy writer in a new, small agency, I filled my life with work, and most of the social life was shared with others in the agency. Our work was very effective for our top, Brooklyn client, we continued working long hours, I began drinking myself to sleep at night, gaining many pounds from late night binging, and altogether spiraling downward to the point of chest pains, paranoia and depression over the course of a year (at the ripe age of 30).

Yet, something else was happening that year. I was seeing how much we struggled and faught, argued and whined in the process of creating our campaigns. What word, phrase or image was right in speaking to the target audience. That was it; deciding who was right, and who was wrong, every day, all day. So, partially out of dedication to our clients, and perhaps mostly to substantiate our ideas, we began thoroughly researching our trade (advertising and direct marketing just at the advent of Websites) and our audience (Brooklyn Medicare beneficiaries). We studied gerontology, Brooklyn, David Ogilvy, telemarketing, Website development and new direct marketers ... anything that would give us an edge in gaing stronger market response to our campaigns. Within a year, our Brooklyn client gained majority market share, and we had our heads full of being good and right.

It all came together in an amazing convergence of different influences, which I can only credit as being the hand of God reaching down and pulling me up by my collar. We came out of a long dark winter, the Olympics were on, my brother sent me his copy of All the King's Men, I wandered back into church, and I suddenly began thinking about my undergraduate learnings on the topic universal truth. The world united around the common celebration of human achievement, I was captivated by Robert Penn Warren's ability to write from a universal human perspective, the Gospel reached out to me with the message of loving each other, and nothing was ever more clear in my life ... that we're put on earth to connect with, and appreciate, as much of humanity as we can. That's when I began looking at marketing from the perspective of universal "truth" being synonymous with universal experience. (It's also when I found my way back to the gym, got in shape, and began smiling again.) Therefore, the agency life was the bottom and top for me, in my personal and professional development. I'll never forget it.

So what. Profit, that's what. (Where did you think I was going? I'm a direct marketer.)  From that point on, I realized what I was attempting to do, with every campaign, with every headline and every call to action. I had to think about the life experience of that target audience, think about their experience with my client/product, and state the truth about the product -- shared experience/belief/attributes -- to the audience. But further, I had to tell this truth in a way that makes a promise to be kept, in order to fulfill my own need to connect with the audience and know that I'm part of something they will appreciate. And, funny thing, I have found that indeed the high road is the profitable road. Genuine tone, and realistic writing from a personal perspective, gets the results ... and the money. Love the audience. Try putting the fine print in the headline. You'll see --  truth works in advertising because advertising at its best is the practice of creating truth ... a mutually appreciated experience.

Well, that's long for a first blog entry, but it brings me to another topic  -- length of copy: Less is not more. Less is less, more is more, but you have to know when enough is enough. Maybe next time.

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