Good Copywriting

No medium is inherently trashy—not even reality TV. Here's why it's always possible to do things right, and why it matters.

What reality tv and marketing copy similarity

Attacking reality TV is nothing new. If I didn’t already detest the format, a friend I admire gives me regular fodder. As the cast member on a show I won’t name, he is consistently directed to act less amazing than he is. With each sting comes a tiny death.

As a copywriter, I take these falsehoods personally. As with copy, TV can be a medium for showcasing what’s original, fresh, clever, and true. Worthy TV is easy to find (thank goodness), but most reality TV chooses to be a juggernaut: bleak, formulaic, and murderous to mind and spirit.

Yesterday, I glimpsed a new way. At 4pm this afternoon, True Life’s I’m Getting A Second Chance premieres on MTV. I’ve been excited about this show, since my dear friend and client Elena Rubin is in it. Last night’s sneak peek blew me away.

The show focuses on Samr “Rocky” Tayeh. At 18, he weighed nearly 600 pounds. Now in his 20s, surgery has eliminated the excess weight and skin (something you don’t think about, do you?). As of last summer, he still treated food like a fat person. So they brought in life coach Laurie Gerber to reinvent his outlook.

I’m Getting A Second Chance is a made-for-TV documentary. Gone are toxic fights and ADD-inducing jump cuts. These are replaced by 1) a laser focus on Rocky, 2) a narrative arc that’s real, and 3) a positive message. It took months to film and nearly a year to make, and like everything that requires effort, it’s far more worthwhile to watch. I cried with the onscreen Rocky, as the offscreen Rocky sat 3’ to my left. I celebrated, too—and came away different.

If you know me or follow this blog, you know I like to pit good copy against bad copy (get it?). Similarly, talented producer Josh Haygood breaks through an abused medium to land on resonant turf…then rise above it. Good reality TV works harder to find the truth and bring it to light. Bad reality TV processes junk food—and leaves you wanting more of what’s bad for you.

The moral? Doing it right is worth everything. Do you agree? Please share with us your rants or raves on reality TV and the art of copywriting.

Jean Tang

Jean Tang

A champion of high-end content, Jean is a living tribute to copywriting for humans. In 2012, at a TEDx talk, she declared her now widely viewed “War Against Bland.” The visionary founder of MarketSmiths, Jean leads her growing team to captivate, inspire, and motivate readers. She has helped thousands of global clients generate revenue from words (up to 12,000% ROI), and transformed the writing of hundreds of seminar attendees at the SXSW Interactive Festival (2014 and 2015), SXSW V2V (2014), the Small Business Summit (2014, NYC), and other venues.

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