“The obvious is that which is never seen until someone expresses it simply.”
Imagine a fourteen-year-old girl, in the mid-seventies. Standing in front of a store window. Looking through it for hours, into a showroom of Italian luxury goods. Mesmerized. But she isn’t awed by bell bottom pants, sharp collar shirts or even giant sunglasses. Not even close.
This girl, this store, this street, the whole city, are in austere Eastern Europe. There aren’t many cars going by, nor many pedestrians. Commercial signs around are all but absent. It’s a lone showroom of Western wantonness, akin to a miracle. So what is the girl admiring, if not clothes? Imagine! Bright, white, sparkling luxury lavatories. And their elegant taps. One elegant tap in particular.
An out-of-this-world object. Long spout, massive metal, seamless design. But it’s not the tap that captivates the girl. What she pays homage to, every day, as she stops there on her way from school, spellbound, is the slogan, printed next to the tap. “Brilliant precision”, it says, presumably of the tap. Or perhaps of the factory. Or of the Italian industry as a whole. It’s left to the reader to infer.
The girl feels, she believes, she knows: it’s the power of expression that draws her to visit daily. She would not look twice at taps or sinks, no matter how elegant, if not for those two words. Whoever wrote them saw a mundane object all of us can see, then put two words together that made it divine. It’s not at all the object we covet. It’s the brilliant precision that we crave.
A copywriter, grasps the girl, seeks brilliant precision for a living. How does one know it when one finds it, she wonders. How does anyone know?
* * *
Imagine an adolescent girl about to get a degree in writing. A friend from film school had introduced her to a creative director of a new agency. No, her school doesn’t teach copywriting. Writing is writing, right? Meet the guy, meet the client, meet the deadline. Simple. In theory.
In practice, everything is at stake at once. The new agency is wooed by the world’s best one; it just must shine. The client is the biggest national bank; it needs to dazzle by definition. The job is a milestone – a first. The banks must always appear to give in order to get, so the demand for first-ever mortgage loans must soar from the start. Ultimately, for the girl, it is a foot in the door to the coolest of careers. All in all, no pressure.
Advertising is a novel industry there. Any copywriter is a novice by default. But this girl isn’t. She’s calibrated for writing copy and has learned from the best – straight from the tap.
The campaign is taking shape. The chosen theme is the city’s traditional red-tile roofs. So pretty to look at, from a distance. Pointed, slippery, hot, from up close. And this girl couldn’t be much closer.
Still a student, she shares a one-bedroom apartment, on the last floor of a down-town building, with her supportive, divorced mother. Both of them could use more privacy. But then, privacy is not a pursuit in Socialism. Naturally. As naturally as those rooftops are red. (That’s how they’re made, you know – mould lots of clay uniformly and then bake it into submission.) The real real estate market is still decades away. (And only if it opens with a bang). Again, no pressure.
Of course, a silly row with her mother explodes, over some silly detail, as rows tend to. After much yelling and crying, the girl storms out in frustration, onto the small balcony. She pans the full semi-circle above. There’s nothing in sight but the red roof tiles she hears of at every meeting all day. She’s trapped, a captive; the curse of the convenience and her fear of the unknown are colluding. She looks at the red rooftops, slowly, as if she sees them for the first time.
“Somewhere in this city, there is a roof for me…”, she says to herself, firmly. And thus she learns the second – painful – lesson of copywriting – a writer must feel what the audience feels, to be able to express it.
The campaign with that hopeful cry as its slogan goes on to win national advertising awards that year. It is since featured in books and documentaries, as a watershed project for both advertising and banking industries in the region.
Little does the girl know then that, actually, there isn’t a roof for her, anywhere in that city. (But that’s another story.)
* * *
Imagine, a decade or so later, a woman in her thirties, residing in her third continent by then. This one, in contrast, awash in cars and commercial signage (minus the pedestrians). She’s in the right place – a minuscule ad agency. But the timing’s not right, it seems. It figures. Immigrant doctors await many years before earning the right to practice in the new world. Why would a foreign-born copywriter pass through a fast lane?
Out of the blue, her boss assigns her a writing challenge. A double spread in a casual wear catalogue needs a mid-length headline. Nothing earth-shattering. Two men’s golf shirts on the left-hand-side and two women’s golf shirts opposite them should share that headline. Play up the contrasts, he says. Yin & yang, classic & casual, business & leisure, masculine & feminine; work & play. Bottom line: money & sex. Within reason, he hastens to stress. Deadline: the following morning.
Oh, great! Peace of cake. Nothing to it. Nothing but a long commute back & forth, bedtime stories, late-night reading for a study-at-home investment course, and later still, some marital bliss – just getting into character (minus the money part).
Her boss isn’t sleeping either, it’s safe to assume. He’s delayed a job by a whole day just to test her language ability. Let her prove it, if she can. Brave man.
So let us recall what she knows so far (beyond Aristotle). Brilliant precision. Feel what they feel. It’s not the object, it’s the longing. You can either construct, or destruct – be it lands or language.
And so, there’s her solution, in plain sight (minus one letter). Never underestimate home study!
“Stocks, bonds and mutual fun” ultimately doesn’t cut it as the headline of choice, as it’s not quite “within reason” in the prim mid-nineties. But it’s still priceless as a lesson: the obvious is never seen…
* * *
Imagine a woman in her forties, member of a professional writers’ society, now back in her home town (and renting!) Sure, call it pursuit of happiness, if that’s what you’re into.
She creates a copywriting course, online, live. Ten or twelve lessons, short formats, long formats, the works. Names it “Crystal-clear Copywriting”, devises price plans, solicits guest lecturers (“long time no see!”), compiles a mailing list.
All that this school of slogans and stuff now needs is – a slogan. The phrase has double duty: to sell a course on writing (via good old unconscious longing) and to demo that the trainers do know what they’ll be teaching.
Blame it on karma or character, but she’s always introducing something. (Foolish woman, this is years before content becomes king – nobody wants to write yet!) So, feeling what they feel (before they feel it) she knows the market will prove shy. Synchronous learning, group chats, cloud storage – it all sounds ultramodern. What she needs is a retro approach.
“It will be as it was written.” (“Biće vam kako vam je pisano.”) sounds in its native Serbian as if THE burning bush had proclaimed it. But more importantly, it harbours the last key lesson of slogan writing.
It is good if a phrase carries convergent meanings. In this case, the ominous prophecy sends shivers into all audiences. But the context – all the talk about writing – turns that fright into a business reminder that whole ventures will depend on the quality of writing. In every case, a double meaning – if it’s relevant – engages our curious minds and keeps the message fresh.
So, can we now draw a conclusion, together? (As you are in this story too; you have been from the beginning.)
* * *
Imagine a woman in her fifties, under her own roof, in her home town, tending her own unwieldy garden (oh, that’s a whole other story!) and writing daily. She’s solved so many challenges over the years, usually through writing, that she deserves to just enjoy it. So let’s play her game.
Imagine you wanted to devise a slogan for beBee. One phrase to say it all – affinity networking, both work & play, great group spirit, unlimited potential, glorious growth. What would express it best?
Remember what we said? It always, always applies.
- Brilliant precision;
- Feel what they feel before they feel it, before they know it, so you can appeal to how they feel;
- It’s not the object, it’s the longing;
- You can either construct, or de(con)struct;
- “The obvious is never seen, until someone expresses it simply.”;
- It’s good to have a double meaning.
All of you.
And that there is our slogan.
All of you
Thanks for joining the journey.
This text was also published on beBee.