All great stories end well, even when they end badly. Life is Beautiful or For Whom The Bell Tolls or Othello all finish on desperately sad notes, yes, but they finish with an emotional punch to the chest. The point is the climax, the moment after the narrative stops and the audience leans back to reflect on what they’ve just experienced (whether heartening or harrowing).
Copywriters can think of their own work in the same way. Obviously marketing is essentially a positive enterprise: don’t finish your brand story with weeping and gnashing of teeth. Even so, the best campaigns should start at the end, as you decide what your audience should feel about you—just at the moment they turn their heads and go on with their lives.
Here to hear
According to advertising legend Phil Dusenberry, you have three options. “I’m here” is the first. Think booming announcements and promises to disrupt a wheezing old industry. “I’m over here now” is second. That’s perfect if you want to pirouette your brand to a different corner of the market. “I’m back and better than ever” is the third. Choose this to relaunch an old product for a young audience, or simply remind loyal customers of all you can do.
Many of Dusenberry’s own campaigns are striking affirmations of this wisdom. When he started with Pepsi in 1984, Dusenberry’s “Choice of a New Generation” slogan was classic “I’m back and better than ever.” Similarly, his campaign with General Electric—fronted by the elegant “We bring good things to life”—was perfect “I’m here” fodder.
Your next question is: how do you get here, wherever that is? Look to our greatest storytellers and you’ll be swamped by possibilities. Tolstoy took his time, as Pierre and Kuragin waltzed their way to war across dozens of salons and hundreds of pages. Hilary Mantel is the opposite. She conjures whole worlds and full lives in a single, faultless line. Steinbeck is a bit of both, with slow beginnings then billows of frantic action.
Style be back
How you tackle your own copywriting story is a difficult question, and ultimately depends on the brand itself. Technical topics—legal services or educational advice—warrant a set of ebooks. On the other hand, you’ll want to leave dense material at home when marketing a new brand of shampoo. But whatever you decide, product and structure should go together like napping on a Sunday afternoon, immediately jostling your audience towards your brand.
Style is another point to consider. Once again, a glance at a bookshelf hints at your options. For her part, Elena Ferrante writes as people think, in a joyful scramble. Hemingway was her polar opposite. He spat out tiny phrases as if he was desperate to put down his typewriter and get back to the bar.
As a copywriter, what style you choose will probably shadow structure. Longer pieces should have a richer, more formal tone. Good examples here are ebooks from tech companies, notably Microsoft and HubSpot. Punchy webcopy, on the other hand, can afford to be slightly more relaxed. Think of Casper’s clever mind teasers, now plastered on every subway carriage in the land, or the dry humor of dating apps like Hinge.
That’s totally wit
That reference to humor is worth sticking with. As a thousand writers have discovered far too late, truly funny writing is fiendishly hard. That’s doubly true when you’re trying to market and amuse at the same time. Putting it another way, be very careful about inserting gags into your copy—even if you think you’re Bob Hope on the best night of his life. Without naming names, certain insurance companies feel especially at fault here.
So before powdering your prose with the funny stuff, it’s probably best to remember the words of one English humorist: “Wit ought to be a glorious treat, like caviar; never spread it about like marmalade.” That’s good advice even when your campaign really is funny—brands like Ikea and the Museum of English Rural Life only get away with jokes precisely because they’re so targeted.
This leads us back to the start of our journey, and the end. As with every fragment of a marketing campaign, humor is only useful if it changes how your readers leave you. So shadow Benigni and Hemingway and make your ending spectacular—just remember to start there and work your way backwards.
Want help crafting your own marketing story—from beginning to end? Get in touch and let our copywriting agency guide your campaign to a happy conclusion.