Friday, August 14, 2009

An Ode to the MadMen (and Women) Who Write Copy

On Sunday night, the wildly popular Mad Men will return for season three. Today seems the right moment to praise the copywriting genius that has launched many famous careers.

Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, two copywriters who first worked together in the early 40s at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in New York, created the Amos ‘n Andy radio show, the 246-episode TV series, Leave It To Beaver, and the less saccharine TV series, The Munsters.

Writer/director John Hughes—who was responsible for such movie legends as “The Breakfast Club” and “Home Alone”—got his start as a copywriter, too. In a tribute written upon his recent passing, Variety reported that, early on, Hughes was an advertising copywriter in Chicago, who started selling jokes to such performers as Rodney Dangerfield and Joan Rivers. Hughes later got a job at National Lampoon magazine, during which time he wrote his first screenplay.

Perhaps Herschell Gordon Lewis is the most famous of all copywriters gone to film. Tagged “the Godfather of Gore,” Lewis created the “splatter film” sub-genre. Direct marketers know him as the author of Direct Mail Copy That Sells and two dozen other books on direct marketing.

Wikipedia, which has an entire section on “famous copywriters,” notes that, “Many creative artists spent some of their career as copywriters before becoming famous for other things.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22, whipped up a book title that has become part of American lexicon. After the war, Heller worked as a copywriter for a small ad agency and wrote at night. Suspense novelist Mary Higgins Clark worked at the same agency as Heller, though Wikipedia bills her only as a “secretary and copy editor” (after all, this was the early 50s).

If you want to understand why copywriters are masters of word and persuasion, go to Herschell Gordon Lewis’ web page devoted to “intellectual stimulation.” Here you’ll find an analysis of copy that only a maven can appreciate. Lewis writes, "What is the difference between "The competition for attention is brutal" and "Competition for attention is brutal." Dropping the article adds power. "The competition for attention is brutal" is less dynamic than "Competition for attention is brutal." Why would you prefer "I invite you to attend the seminar. It’s just for the morning" over "I invite you to attend the seminar. It is just for half a day"? "Half a day" seems longer than "morning."

Brilliant, isn't it? But Maddening.

-- scrubbed by Marketing Brillo

No comments: