Monday, May 2, 2016

The Lost Art of Storytelling

Know the difference between a 44 year old copywriter and a 24 year old copywriter?

About 30 seconds.

Allow me to rant, because if I don't get this out of my system my intestines will start a mutiny, half the house will come uninhabitable and my wife, generally of pleasant disposition, will hound me about the placement of my running and hiking shoes in every room but the closet.

As it has been pointed out to me in many private emails and direct messages, I go to great lengths (and possibly take too much pleasure) in pointing out the vocational flaws of my younger colleagues.

I'd love to stop.
Really, I would.
But this one particular pet peeve happens with such regularity, I dare say it's like clockwork.

I'll be summoned to a creative check in. For you laymen, that's when copywriters and art directors are called upon to genuflect before their superiors -- the Planners and the Account Executives -- and present the work they have developed, you know, since the last creative check in, 5 hours ago.

It is a fascinating study in agency dynamics, where one can witness career jockeying, pointless posturing and the full range of modern day office backstabbing techniques. It's also where I get to see the next generation of creatives present their hastily-assembled ideas.

And when I say "ideas", of course I mean their regurgitated drivel that manages to click off every box, tonal instruction, support point and mandatory found on the planning brief.

This is where the inexperience shows. Because the reading of a typical 30 second TV script can often last 7-8 minutes.

You know you're in trouble when you hear the rustling of the paper and the young copywriter takes a breather, a sip of water from his or her  plastic water module, and turns to Page Two of the script.

Here's a hint young people. A TV script for a 30 second spot is like a resume, even an over-enhanced resume. It all needs to fit on one page.

Similarly, a 15 second spot should not include more than three "Cut To's". Too many scenes equals too many reasons to Skip Ad or change the channel.

I'm well aware of how this comes off. So let me just say that I, and my many various art director partners, have stepped in the same piles of shit. Our spots were too wordy. Too complicated. And too labored. It's all part of learning the craft.

It's what you do when clients keep adding messages to the messaging.

The 10 lbs. -- now 11 lbs. -- must fit in the 5 lbs. bag.

I get it.

It's hard to navigate all the various agendas.

It's not easy to say No. And it's even more difficult not to be labeled, "difficult."

Perhaps that's why so many 24 year old staff copywriters become mercenary 44 year old freelance copywriters.


Bob said...

My response all too often: "Okay, it's nice that you've written the case study video already, now please present the actual script."

Even more irritating is the 15-minute set-up for a print ad.

Anonymous said...

I think the bigger issue with copywriters now is too many agencies turn them into glorified secretaries.

I've watched too many times when a copywriter comes up with a deck, then it's rewritten by the Creative Director, then again by the Account Team, then again by the Client.

I can't blame copywriters for being bitter, as the one thing they are the most talented at is denied them. Everyone seems to think they can write better copy...when more often than not, they can't.

Don't feel alone though, as many art directors are constantly turned into "Photoshop Technicians", where they're more there to run the program, but not to actually create. Their ideas are usually first rejected by the Creative Director, who then gets him/her to redesign according to their strict direction. Then the Account Team will scribble all over a printout of the design, basically redesigning it again. Then the client "doesn't get it" or "doesn't like it", and thus the monotony continues.

I find it amazing in this new "open space collaborative creative" world of work, that actual creatives are seemingly given little to no say on the work they are hired and paid to do.