Monday, April 18, 2022

Good copywriting is difficult: You need to speak like people do.

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

I have a friend who is a director. She has incredible sensitivity in her shots, her moods are very touching visually, she can be poetic like nobody's business, and her writing is more wooden than anyone I have ever encountered. Every time I get a script I try to tell her that no, this is not how people talk. 

Actually, to write well (and all ego aside, I know I write well) is simply to parrot what other people say. And how does one trick them? Because people are not aware of what they say. Here is a very funny example. in the 70s Dureid Lahham was the ubiquitous comedian on the TV screens with his Ghawwar el Toshe persona. His catchphrase? "Yeb3atlak".

Yeb3atlak can be loosely translated into "may he send you" or more in extenso "May God send you a malicious fever". However, used fondly in the lexicon it translates into an affection. Obviously every other person in the Arab nations got stuck to "yeb3atlak". In a TV interview, Lahham was asked how we coined the phrase and he told the story of how his wife asked him the same question. To which to he replied to her... "From you! Don't you ever listen to how you speak on the telephone with your friends? "Yeb3atlik this" and "yeb3atlek that""... 

See? Lahham's wife was not even aware of what she was saying. And having the expression repeated in front of her surprised her that she was the original instigator. But this is good copy - when you fire back at people how they speak without them being aware they do so in such a manner.

Also, creative concepts come from personal experiences. Back when I used to teach I would always tell my students that there is nothing called "being introverted" in advertising (even if one is - I am by the way!) because only by sharing personal experiences do we get to unlock creative ideas.

Take this example, C. was exceptionally withdrawn in character and she was part of a group with two other girls doing an exercise in copywriting. She was even physically removed from the group. The brand was one selling carpets... and their idea was "warmth".... But they were having difficulty translating this into a meaningful text. So I go:

"C. do you have a boyfriend?"

Reluctantly she answers "yes"

"Did you two ever have a fight?" realizing I was driving somewhere she goes "yes....". 

"Did you make up afterwards?" 

"we did"

"And did you kiss?"

She did not answer. And remember, she was so withdrawn one had to pull the words from her mouth with pliers. What she said afterwards took us all aback... Because suddenly she blurted out:

"Like the cashmere sweater he gave you when you made up at the beach, like the tenderness of the hug your mother offered you when she saw you upset...." and on she went with the concept of warmth just because she had a boyfriend she had a fight with.... The two other girls were having problems keeping up with her flow as I was gesturing furiously for them to write everything down. 

So again, advertising is at its best when it just plainly reflects how people live on their daily lives.