“My favorite part was when the carriage took Princess Kate and Princess William away.”
– my four year-old daughter
Odds are if you’re a woman over 30, you’ve probably dieted sometime in your life. If you’re a man over 40, you’ve probably at least thought about dieting. Right? And here’s what we all know: its sucks. Cutting calories is hard. Giving up sweet goodness is not fun. But the benefit – being healthy – is totally worth it in the end.
The same can be said of writing terse copy. Yes, waxing poetically is one of those things that writers love to do. Proving your point three times seems to make your argument so much stronger. But here’s the thing – people want you to cut to the chase. Tell the story. And then get the hell out. Especially when writing for the web. And those newer tools like twitter updates and google & facebook ads don’t even give you a word limit – it’s a character count! Much like cutting calories – it sucks. But here’s the thing – I’ve come to look at it as a challenge. It makes me write and then self-edit. And in the end, I realize that I can get to the meat of the story in a succinct and satisfying way (without the sides and dessert). Which makes readers happy – and the sacrifice totally worth it in the end.
So, apparently there’s some big wedding at the end of this week. The US media has gone ga-ga over William and Kate. Which of course means that the people of the US have also been soaking up as much royal goodness as they can the past month. Truth be told, I’m kind of ready for it to be over with so we can go about our business of real news. I mean, I have no idea what the Jersey Shore cast has been up to since the royals stepped into the spotlight! (Okay… bad example.) Any-who… all this talk made me think of one of Rick Silver’s famous sayings – the royal we. What does that even mean? So I figured you might be wondering the same thing yourself.
Apparently, the royal we is also known as the majestic plural. Sounds fancy, eh? Even fancier is the Latin from pluralis maiestatis/majestatis. Basically it boils down to royalty referring to themselves as more than one – even though there really is one of them. Confused? It’s called a nosism. And it is for using “we” to refer to oneself – typically when speaking as a leader of a nation.
Wikipedia refers to an instance where Queen Victoria once used it to say We are not amused. But upon a little more digging, I found that she seemed to be speaking for all the ladies of the court about a tasteless joke – which violates the use of the royal we because she actually was talking about a group of women, not just herself.
And that’s when I realized that every time Rick uses it – usually while waving his arms to include everyone in the room – is also in violation of the definition of nosism.
We think that’s just sad.
So… I recently read Chris Cleave’s Little Bee. It’s written from the point of view of two different women. I was shocked at just how good of a job he did at nailing not only one woman’s perspective, but two completely different women. It made me start thinking about advertising writing. Yes, it may be shorter and not so much about literary excellence, but it really is about the character. Good advertising almost gets it. Great advertising makes you think you’re watching or reading or hearing about a person.
Think about it – why does the most interesting man in the world really make you want to buy not only a Dos Equis but also sticker of him for your car? (Yes, it can be found at http://cgi.ebay.com/5-TMIMITW-The-Most-Interesting-Man-World-decal-/180656607568?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item2a0ff91150)
And why does the Green M&M get you all hot and bothered for some chocolate?
Because the writing is great. And clearly defined for the character who’s speaking for the product. Which means next time I’m writing an ad of any kind, I will challenge myself to make others guess if the ad was written by a woman or a man. Just like I did with Little Bee.
This note just in from the New York Times: “A truly random game of rock-paper-scissors would result in a statistical tie with each player winning, tying and losing one-third of the time. However, people are not truly random and thus can be studied and analyzed. While this computer won’t win all rounds, over time it can exploit a person’s tendencies and patterns to gain an advantage over its opponent.”
So… what does this have to do with writing? Everything! People are people. They can be studied, analyzed and taken advantage of. So do your research. Learn their behaviors. Then write for them. Intrigue them. Entice them. Just don’t treat them like a computer. Because I was about ready to snap this one’s rickety little right hand pinky finger off his hand for learning my ways and beating me at rock-paper-scissors.
Do you want to try? You can find the link (sent to me by Kim Jamieson) at: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/science/rock-paper-scissors.html
I can’t claim that lovely little saying. It came from my pal Morgan Copeland. But at the heart of the phrase is the thought that writing should be done correctly… or should it? In my game of ad copy, the right way to write is how someone speaks. Which basically means… It’s awesome! As one of those girls who grew up a rule follower, this is one of the ways I get to bend and sometimes break the rules in my worn and loved (meaning aged) AP style book. Periods aren’t always needed. uppercase isn’t mandatory. (Maybe e.e. cummings was really a copywriter!) But what is always and forever important is the ability to connect with the viewer. Because remember, you’re talking like a person. And unless you’re one of those people who like to hear the sound of your own voice, it usually takes two to carry on a conversation. So… through this blog I intend to take a look the writing that’s going on out there in the ad world. And probably ramble a little bit about more than writing too (hey, I can do that, right?). Hope you stay intrigued.