How the Creative Got Into Creative Copywriter

In most of my online micro-bios I describe myself as a ‘nearly-author’ among other things. The nearly tag is simply because I haven’t yet attempted to get anything published. Someone once said “don’t rush to get into print,” and I guess I’ve made that my mantra.

Today I started thinking about how my creative writing has affected my copywriting:

1. The work I prefer and generally get asked to write
I’ve been writing creatively for decades and only made the leap into copywriting around 6 years ago. My starting-point of literature and poetry has steered the direction of my copywriting career – without doubt.

From the beginning, I decided that I would stay clear of white papers, annual reports and the like because I wanted to remain as close to storytelling as I could get with a copywriter’s hat on. Thankfully, I’ve been lucky enough to mostly write creative copy for websites, slogans, brochures, sales scripts, etc and am now developing copy for some of the best advertising agencies in Scandinavia.

That isn’t to say that writing a financial report doesn’t require creativity; or that I’m more creative than a technical writer…of course not. I mean only to say that a project of that nature would bore me to tears – and to be honest, doesn’t play to my strengths as a writer who can persuade through imagery. “Horses for courses,” as they say.

2. Respect the words
I learnt, a long time before my first copy assignment, how much emotional power these little clumps of vowels and consonants actually wield. I realised that a word-choice could alter or set the rhythm, pace and emotion of the entire section it helped form. I’m sure every copywriter who’s worth their year’s income understands this too, but my way to that knowledge came through writing stories. Legendary direct response copywriter, Joe Sugarman (about as apt as a name gets) wrote:

“Every word has an emotion associated with it and tells a story.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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Use Your Prospect’s Backstory and Write Epic Copy

If you’re sitting down to write marketing material for your company, congratulations! You get to be Martin Scorsese for a day – you create a universe for your prospect to explore and respond to, with a final scene of the sun setting over your glistening call to action. Fade to black. Job done.

But just as every well developed protagonist has a backstory, your prospect also had a life before she read your headline. And exploring her journey to your copy will raise your chances of success.

Writing words that are relevant to the lives and experiences of our prospect instantly raises engagement. A customer profile or avatar is a good start. Researching and understanding our prospect’s demographic, motivations, fears, loathes and loves helps us write copy that tugs at their emotional triggers. Great…

But as effective as profiling is, it often fails to consider context; or to be more specific, the context within which our prospect arrives at our copy – the sales environment. It’s an important variable. Why?

Because the environment will always affect the way our message is received.

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A Beard Isn’t Just For Christmas?

The Other Me:

Proof that my beard predates this hipster fad.

Originally posted on Musings of a Serial Procrastinator:

Image via Wikipedia

So our big day is fast approaching. Within a matter of weeks I will be a happily married man. As you can probably imagine, every last detail is covered; Outfits bought, flowers chosen, first dance song selected. There is however one last detail that is troubling me…facial hair! To shave or not shave?

I’ve been sporting my jaw hair for about 6 months now, and am currently standing at a crossroads. You see there are times in every man’s life when you have to make decisions –decisions that define your manhood. One of those is the ‘do I keep my beard?’ decision. Think about it, we all know which way Sean Connery, Isaac Hayes, Abraham Lincoln and the short fat guy from ‘The Hangover’ went. And in so doing their beards have become their ‘thing.’ I mean can you imagine the KFC Colonel without his white cartoon goatee? No…

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Why Barbie is nothing like a Golly.

Sadomasicism isn’t really my thing. My love boat doesn’t float better on a mixed tide of pleasure and pain. That said, I’ve recently found myself doing some social media S&M; or in other words, reading the comments under race related posts on Facebook. Ever tried? It’s incredible how ignorant, vile and racist people can be from behind an approachable, smiley profile pic.

Recently Huffington Post UK posted a series of images, curated to produce a reaction – and a reaction they got. Some intern had been told to search the internet for politically incorrect Halloween costumes – a few of which they posted every day in the run up to the holiday. One of these costumes was of a golliwog. I clicked on the picture’s comments button expecting to read mass objection. Instead I found myself wondering whether I’d gone back thirty years. There were a few exceptions, but the strongest reoccurring theme could be paraphrased:

“Why is this offensive? It’s a doll of a black person. If I saw a Barbie costume I wouldn’t be offended. [black] People need to get a sense of humour.”

I thought about posting a knee jerk reaction on the trail, but then, remembering I have a blog, decided to write a post instead. So it is to these ‘special’ people that I address this post:

By your apparent inability to understand my negativity toward the costume and doll, I’m guessing you probably don’t do too well on hypothetical instance and empathy. So to make this easier for you, I’m going to present hypothetical imagery that involves people of your skin colour, perhaps reducing your need for empathy, and hopefully allowing you a small insight into my sentiment.

So firstly, let me make one thing clear: A golliwog is nothing like a Barbie doll. Although Barbie has picked up a few negative connotations in recent decades, I don’t think I’ve ever heard her name widely used as a racist slur. And even now, with her negative press, a proportion (albeit an ever decreasing proportion) of the world’s population still aspire to look a little like Barbie. I haven’t come across any black men who hope one day to look like a golliwog.

So with that in mind, I think instead of Barbie, a more helpful comparison would be to imagine that Robert Mugabe created a doll of a white farmer clutching a suitcase and passport? Strong, but no, this doesn’t cut it, because although we have a doll which echoes back to a time of racist discrimination, we still don’t have the discriminator’s negative, stereotype based aesthetic. So let’s say Mugabe’s white farmer doll has the suitcase, passport and, in protest, is exposing his very small penis. Getting closer to why I hate the ‘wog’. We have the stereotypical body image, the racist discrimination, but we’re still not quite there, because some would say the original golliwog wasn’t designed to offend, but was merely a fictional character created for 19th century children’s literature. The same people would say it has been appropriated by racists, who have used its look and name as a slur against black people. So for the sake of argument, let’s say they’re right – although I’m not entirely sure I agree.

Okay, so let’s then assume our suitcase and passport clutching doll was created to commemorate the Poms’ mass emigration to Australia in the middle of the last century. Let’s also get rid of the small penis and exchange it for a snow white skin colour and blue lips to denote the contrast between the Aussie climate and that of England’s. And let’s say that in circa 2001 one of Mugabe’s trusted PAs happens upon the doll whilst searching online for halloween costumes. And said PA then brings the doll to the attention of Mr M, who orders a ship load and gives them out to his people. So imagining you’re a white Zimbabwean farmer and someone brings out one of these dolls in front of you or dresses up as one, would you think they’re insensitive, offensive or upsetting? To someone who easily forgets historic context and perhaps is a little two-dimensional in their thinking, it would appear to be just a doll of a very pale white skinned person clutching cases. ‘Get a sense of humour.’ they’d say.

Let’s now imagine that the lovely people in branding at the Sydney Harbour Doll Company decided to call our doll Giles. And you, the white ex-landowner, decades later was going about your business, and black people started referring to you as Giles or Gil. ‘Oi Gil!’ They’d shout as you walked across the road. Although I doubt the word ‘oi’ features heavily in Zimbabwean parlance. Would the name upset you?

This get’s close to how I feel about that jet black, wide eyed and thick lipped doll, you feel is somehow misunderstood. My Aussie doll is fantasy. The memory of being called a wog, however is very real to very many black people. A huge swathe of the golliwog’s popularity, converges a time in British history, when it wasn’t uncommon to see landlord signs that read, ‘No Irish, no dogs, no blacks’. This was when the doll was being used to market jam and sweets – when its ugliness pervaded black and white television screens in the guise of its not so distant cousin, the Minstrels. Back then racists had already made the connection and were already spreading their insidious joke. When I was child in eighties London, I could still see the little black doll on jam jars in supermarkets (my mother didn’t buy them). And wog was still one of the top racist slurs of choice. Even now in 2013 some three decades later, footballers in far flung parts of civilised Europe still hear the name spat at them from the terraces. But you can’t get why it might be offensive? Really?

Personally speaking (and that’s all I can do – is speak for me) it isn’t so much its look, after all I don’t look in the mirror and see anything remotely resembling it. It isn’t even what the doll was used to achieve. I don’t get upset by monkeys or bananas or any other imagery that was appropriated to put us down. What troubles me is what it represents – not a time of name calling, but a time when the opinion of a black person had no currency. A time when no one bothered to check how we felt. A time when a white man could ‘black-up’, paint thick lips on his face, sing on stage mimicking a black singer and no one batted an eyelid. It was completely acceptable. That’s why I loathe the golliwog, wog, golly or whatever else you affectionately wish to call it.

If you wrote the kind of comments that this post is a reaction to, you will have probably stopped reading ages ago – writing me off as another black guy, without a sense of humour. But maybe, just maybe one of you might have kept reading and perhaps might now get it. And if you’ve read all the way to this line and still feel there’s nothing wrong with the doll or a full size halloween costume for sale in 2013 on Amazon, then there isn’t much more I can do.

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Courtesy of the lovely people at Amazon.

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Does too much of the outside, kill how we see inside?

Memory is elastic. It’s been proven that our recollections aren’t finite recordings and snapshots from the past, but storylines that we edit subconsciously. With enough time, our minds can turn a negative occurrence into a not so bitter aftertaste. Our brain can even erase the whole thing entirely. Studies have shown people creating complete fabrication, in reaction to the introduction of influencers. I’m given a fake photograph showing me fishing with my father, and my brain creates its backstory.

Regardless of the decisions of our inner editor, the vast majority of us don’t even realise the tape has hit the cutting room floor. We believe. After all the ‘memory’ is our own, so why wouldn’t we?

I believe a good creative writer has to be able to connect with the reader’s inner editor. Giving them just enough information to lead them along the plot’s pathway, but also enough space to allow their imaginations to fill the gaps. Because the more creative flesh we’re allowed to apply to a story’s skeleton, the more invested we become in it. The story in fact becomes our own. And so we believe.

A friend of mine has created a Facebook page for his son, pretty much from birth. He fills it with tagged statuses, notes, pictures and videos. I think its an admirable and sweet paternal effort, but I worry about what this notion’s inevitable progression will produce.

Google Glass is already out there, albeit for now on the slightly ‘too-far’ out there periphery. The purpose for which it was created however seems to have already seeded. Its purpose? Record everything, because nothing should be missed, everything should be shared and because, well…we can. But if in half a century’s time or so it’s common and acceptable to record everything – every last moment from cradle to grave, then surely won’t we lose those gaps – those grey areas that train our creativity? Won’t our innate ability to tell stories slowly become myth?

I don’t know. Perhaps I’ve watched too much sci-fi recently. Perhaps the power of storytelling is too embedded in our psyches to ever die. As a lover of stories and a teller too, I hope so.

Read a chapter excerpt from my debut here

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Google Glass. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

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Stepping Back From The Keyhole

Originally posted on Musings of a Serial Procrastinator:

I had the weirdest experience last week on the way home from work, no not breaking down again. This was less common than running out of fuel. This is so strange I’m not entirely sure whether I should post this, in fact this is probably the only time I’m hoping I DON’T get pressed!

I was driving and thinking as I do, when I had an epiphany (or delusion, you decide.) that my body was merely a frame and that I exist within the frame and not within the world outside it. My body exists within the world outside, but I exist only within my body. And that everything I call life is merely experienced via interactions with this frame. Does that make any sense? I for maybe a part of a second kind of went inside myself and felt a surge of panic ladened claustrophobia. I was trying to…

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How Did It Come To This?!!

Originally posted on Musings of a Serial Procrastinator:

I’m not sure how it happened. I am riddled with disgust and self-loathing. I’ve compromised my standards; the standards my parents inculcated in me, as a young black boy growing up in the ghetto that is Upper Sydenham. It hurts me to write this, but I Sean J. Rankine have become…(deep breath)

one of those guys at the gym, who make noises when pushing weights.

I hate myself! Thankfully, I haven’t yet become the guy who gets up between each set of ten, walks over to the mirror and inspects the girth of the muscle group he is working. I don’t as yet walk as though I have had melons surgically implanted within each armpit. I don’t yet conclude all exercises with loud, and slightly camp “Wooooo!”

I do, however now conclude the last few lifts of the hardest sets with a low, but still audible hiss, which sometimes…

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