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Scott McKay is a Toronto writer, creative director, brand response specialist, relatively patient manager, half-baked photographer and forcibly retired playwright.

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    "They had their cynical code worked out. The public are swine; advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill-bucket."

          – George Orwell

     

     

     

     

     

    "Advertising – a judicious mix of flattery and threats."

          – Northrop Frye

     

     

     

     

     

    "Chess is as an elaborate a waste of time as has ever been devised outside an advertising agency."

          – Raymond Chandler

     

    Entries in body copy (2)

    Monday
    Jul182011

    ignore what I said – read the damn body copy

    Far too long ago I wrote about the fact that no one reads body copy in advertising. And I still think it's excellent advice for us working ad weasels to remember as we toil away in our underground sugar caves of persuasion. If you can suck someone in your target audience down to paragraph seven, you're doing a pretty damned good job.

    That said, it doesn't happen. As our old friend Howard Gossage said, "People don't read ads. They read what interests them. And sometimes, it's an ad." Something that, with that quote now being more relevant than the day it was uttered, far too many of us continue to forget.

    So, people don't read body copy. But you know what?

    They should.

    Okay, I don't mean marketing body copy. (Although, if you do, I'd really appreciate it.) I'm talking about news and information.

    This spring has brought an abundance of events that required understanding: Fukushima, our recent federal election, and our city's current budget crisis, the Vancouver riots... Most TV and radio news turned it all into mere headlines. Harper wins! Ignatieff's a stiff! Ford builds subways! City's labour costs 4X too high! Then they move on to another brief, meaningless headline, or celebrity news – gosh, too bad about JLo and Marc Anthony! – and they never get actually get to what's interesting about the story: the why. And as much as I love Twitter, it has probably exacerbated this trend – instant knowledge, instant reaction. (Ever notice that, when a name or topic is trending, the bulk of the tweets about it are of the "OMG, why is this trending?" variety?)

    Increasingly I feel that it's our duty as citizens of this city, this country and this planet to go deeper than the headline or the tweet. It's our duty to read the body copy, to click on the link and read the article, to seek out the complexities and try to understand them. Body copy is where the facts are, where the nuance is. When you understand that any event has multiple causes and can be seen many different ways, you may be confused, but you're also getting closer to how things really are. By relying on headlines, you're just being fed someone else's version of the story.

    Is this unrealistic? Elitist? Just plain goofy? Of course it's all of the above. But continued attention to the facts buried in the body copy is how the Guardian kept the phone hacking scandal alive in the U.K., and why one of the world's most powerful men is now acting a little like King Lear.

    Without that understanding, it's hard to run a democracy.

    Tuesday
    Jan252011

    your body copy is irrelevant

    There are people who think that you can communicate things in the body copy.

    I've had some of them as clients, and some of them as co-workers.

    They'll say things like, "Change the second line in paragraph six to reflect our key message of inclusiveness," or "I put your priority point about social responsibility over here on the top of page two," and not see the problem. They have a very pretty hierarchy of priorities and messaging in their heads, or maybe sitting on the badly written brief in front of them, not realizing that your consumer is being bombarded by thousands of messages every day and that if and only if you hit them with a message that's relevant and memorable and different and singular, they might just remember it.

    A message. Singular. One.

    If you're good. And thoughtful. And you plan. And everyone on your team does all this too. And you're incredibly lucky.

    This is why writing good briefs means collapsing the message into something as compact as possible. Focus everything on one message, a selling idea or USP or whatever, and your work stands a fighting chance of working. If your message is about inclusiveness, then that's what the ad/DM/email/event/thing is about. If it's about social responsibility, then your brief is focused on that and discards everything else.

    Write a brief which doesn't compress the messaging, and you get a long list of bullet points that will need to be wedged into your work. Yes, that will be memorable indeed...

    And that's true for clients, for account people and creatives. Everyone needs to understand it – more than that, they need to feel it in their bones. They need to think like the consumers they are in their ordinary life, when they're not being paid to pretend that somehow their brand is different. Because no brand – not Apple, not Nike, not Ferrari, not Google – is different.

    No one gives a shit about body copy. No one remembers it. You're lucky if people even skim it, let alone focus enough to read it.

    Your main message is your headline, or your subject line, or your OE teaser and Johnson box. Whatever triggers their engagement is what they'll remember. If anything. I know this because I've seen too many focus groups, too many clients – hell, too many agency people – who couldn't actually absorb secondary messages when they were in the actual business of reading those messages and understanding them.

    You have to accept the fact that the body copy is just support, continuing the selling process to its hopeful conclusion. Yes, it should be brilliant. Yes, it should sell. Yes, you need to spend hours on it. And yes, somewhere in the back of your soul you should never forget that no one will read it.

    For all the greatness of the original VW "Think small" ad, do you think anyone remembers its body copy?

    Me neither. And I love writing body copy.