Our guest writer Bill Feingold thinks legendary sportscaster Vin Scully could teach us all a lesson in quality copywriting. Here’s why!
I’m 54. Vin Scully, who retired last year, was announcing Dodgers games when my father was 11. Yes, the Brooklyn Dodgers. In terms of how influential his words were and how prolific his career, he reminds me of the likes of Shakespeare and Dickens. They were not only the best writers of their times, they were also the best entertainers.
You don’t do something as long as Vin Scully did without doing it well. Richard Sandomir of The New York Times calls him “the greatest baseball announcer ever.” Scully also excelled covering football, but his words took him far beyond sports. Some considered his the most recognizable voice in Southern California for over half a century. After all, as people came to the area too fast for freeways to process, millions of hours of traffic (and by extension, car radio listening) arose. With nearly half the Dodgers’ games played in Eastern time zones, Scully’s voice soothed Angeleno rush-hour nerves, his words affecting locals’ thoughts and manners.
A wordsmith like Vin Scully can teach us all a lesson in crafting quality copy and content that captures readers’ imaginations and stands the test of time. Over his 67-year career, let’s look at three crucial copywriting skills that Scully managed to master:
- Creating a richly detailed atmosphere
- Letting the reader do the writing
- Picking the right handful of words
Creating a richly detailed atmosphere
On September 9, 1965, Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers became only the eighth pitcher in major league history to throw a perfect game. The crowd went wild. And for fans listening at home or in their cars, Vin Scully was on hand to capture the excitement perfectly.
“On the scoreboard in right field it is 9:46 p.m. in the City of the Angels, Los Angeles, California. And a crowd of 29,139 just sitting in to see the only pitcher in baseball history to hurl four no-hit, no-run games,” Scully said, after calling the game’s final pitch. “He has done it four straight years, and now he caps it: On his fourth no-hitter he made it a perfect game. And Sandy Koufax, whose name will always remind you of strikeouts, did it with a flurry. He struck out the last six consecutive batters. So when he wrote his name in capital letters in the record books, that ‘K’ stands out even more than the O-U-F-A-X.”
What a picture! The precise time on the physical scoreboard. Paying homage to the origin of the city’s name to enrich the sense of Koufax’s heavenly feat. The crowd size, making every person in attendance part of the story. And to top it all off, an instantly memorable connection between the player’s name and his achievement, with baseball fans everywhere understanding at once that the letter “K” represents a strike in the game’s scoring code.
Following Scully’s lead can help you grab your audience’s attention and leave them thinking about your writing for days. Seize on the distinctive, and weave an element of storytelling to invoke the senses and stick in the mind.
Letting the reader do the writing
It’s true what they say: less is often more. Consider Scully’s call when the San Francisco 49ers made the most famous play in franchise history, The Catch:
“Montana … looking … looking … throwing in the end zone … Clark caught it! Dwight Clark! [Crowd noise … 29 seconds] It’s a madhouse at Candlestick.”
In sportscasting, the history of the moment can dictate what’s said. Take the Sandy Koufax example: the man had already pitched three no-hitters, an impressive feat. The fourth, a perfect game, needed more color to unleash its majesty. But the San Francisco 49ers had never been to a Super Bowl. Their fans told the story with their roaring cheers, and Scully let them tell it.
Great copywriters know when to spell things out and when to let the material speak for itself. Website copy, for example, might be rich and detailed on some pages and lighter on others, especially if there are lots of images or infographics. The last thing you want is to exhaust your reader with unnecessary words.
Picking the right handful of words
For our last example, let’s return to the Dodgers, decades after the Koufax call. Kirk Gibson, barely able to walk, won the first game of the 1988 World Series with a pinch-hit home run. And Scully knew just what to say.
“High fly ball into right field. She is… gone. [Crowd noise] In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”
Similar to his commentary on the 49ers Super Bowl victory, Scully didn’t use much, allowing the crowd to do much of the work. But using only a few choice words, he still managed to turn one of Sherlock Holmes’ most famous assertions upside down: that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. By saying something that could not be true, Scully tapped into the mentality of sports fans everywhere: hope against hope, even in the face of seemingly impossible odds.
Opportunities to turn readers’ expectations on their head should probably be used sparingly, but when used right, they can be incredibly powerful. Speaking to a deeply-felt truth your reader holds is even better.
You don’t need to throw a perfect game or win the Super Bowl to convert potential customers into lifelong fans of your brand. Want your copy to hold readers the way Vin Scully’s words held sports fans for 67 years? Contact MarketSmiths today!