Copywriting is harder than writing, much.

April 26, 2011

By Michael Mark, CEO/Creative Director @ NYCA

I love ideas. Not all ideas. Truth is I am a proud snob about the extremely rare ones that have the power to grow businesses. I pander to those. I’m brutal on the thousands of weak ones I toss away with as much regret as swatting a mosquito.

Ideas kidnapped me away from an intended career of writing poems, plays, TV shows and novels. I found writing prose beautiful, empowering, challenging.

Copywriting is an entirely other and more demanding enterprise.

At the essence of advertising is the idea. The advertising idea, as I think of it, is that intensely concentrated energy form destined to change behavior. It’s not easy to make a person cry or laugh with small black characters crawling on a screen but to get people to spend their money on a product when they set out to buy a different product — well, that takes some deep voodoo science.

Twenty-seven years into it, the hunt and cultivation of that kind of idea keeps me up nights ruminating, conjuring, Maaloxing, celebrating, praying; alive. The voice in a novel is a powerful current running through it. In advertising there are many voices, accents, dialects, languages to harmonize into a distinct chorus; more like a play, in my mind, with stage hands, actors, set designers, producers, musicians — and you must include the voice of the audience, not just listening but inviting them to coauthor, to get the mix just right. Of course, with these many variables, you realize, it is never ever right. This is also true of any writing. Copywriting is just more cumbersome, the odds are more stacked against you. That’s why there are more good novelists than copywriters.

Often, in advertising, you are working on a brand that already existed before you started tapping away to get to its core so there’s history you’re beholden to, invisible relationships that you will need to understand, nurture. Like marrying someone with step-kids.

In copywriting, your main medium is not words. You are working with preconceptions, competitive positions, visuals, the clock, evolving positions, sacred cows, relationships, ghosts haunting the brand from the past. And as high as you raise the volume on your headset to tune out the voices of the world into a powerful harnessed energy-force, you are on a team — a loud, then murmuring, un-unified, insistent, collective with (too often) different agendas. You are involved in a dialogue not just with your audience, but with your planner, your clients, your partner, your medium, your client’s customers, your competition, your own ego. These, more than words, are what the copywriter must work with. And when so many livelihoods are involved, all of a sudden clever just doesn’t seem so important, does it?

Also, unlike in a novel or a play, if you are a good copywriter you never write the ending. There’s no “Curtain gingerly lowers, catches on a piece of light, then darkness,” no “The End.” No “Fade Out.” If you are a good copywriter, you write for the action to continue and you wait for your next cue and you re-stimulate. The brand must go on. Like your kids, it should outlive you.

Manny Ramirez Strikes Out as a Hero

April 11, 2011

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @NYCA

This past Friday, April 8, 2011 Manny Ramirez suddenly retired due to allegations that he was using illegal, game-enhancing drugs for the third time in his career. We first ran this blog in May of 2009. We figure another look at values and integrity was worth a second read, even for Manny fans.


Full disclosure: I never liked Manny Ramirez. Not when he was a hero of the Red Sox Nation. Not now as a Dodger.  Not because he was good at playing baseball because I do have an appreciation for his machine-oiled swing and his carefree clutch play. But Manny being Manny was two too many Mannys for me.

Manny Ramirez

So that takes me to a news show the other day reporting that Manny Ramirez’s Dodger jerseys are being bought at a record pace since the news broke of his steroid violation. He’s been suspended for 50 games but sales on Manny mania is up.

Tell me, why would anyone want Manny Ramirez’s name on their back – even more now than before – after he was cited for illegal drug use?

Full disclosure number two: I feel the same way about A-Rod. And anyone else who cheats in or out of a Yankee uniform.

I have no issues with success and the riches and fame earned from it if one gets famous for doing decent things, for winning fair. You don’t have to be a working class guy to be a hero. Talent and fame aren’t enough to make you a person to look up to. You can be admired for your physical beauty and social powers but to become a hero, character should count more than homers.

So here’s to the heart-pounding excitement of playing by the rules.

To the miles after miles of straight and narrow.

To delivered-as-promised accountability.

To doing the right thing. Even when no one is watching. And when they are.

Here’s to the guy who holds his trash to toss it in the garbage can and picks it up and tries again when he misses a fall-away jumper. With no stadium, no cheers, no two fingers to the lips and up to the heavens when it goes in.

Here’s to celebrating ordinary goodness at a time when celebrity is so prized and so attainable.

Here’s to aspiring to be that kind of everyday hero.

Hallmark ought to make a day for it.

Everyday Hero Day.

When you care enough to send the very best to those who care enough to always do their best.

Goodness doesn’t need a posse.  If a good act is executed and no one sees it each of us is made better.

It’s easy to see a ball smashed in the ninth inning fly over the wall to win the game. Should you miss it, they will replay it on the jumbo screen, on the sports shows, on the local news, in the paper, online, in the blogs, fan sites.

You think we can tell goodness without a batting average? Without a stage or if it didn’t step out of a limo in a $1,000 suit?

This requires more action on the spectator’s part.

We have a responsibility to see, point out and to judge who we each want to put on the pedestal. If anyone.

My heroes’ names might not be in lights above all others. Some are, though.

She may not be able to sing or dance or run at record speed.

He may not have the mind to understand advanced strategy.

And, then again, they may have all of that. They may be famous for their talent and a nobody for their deeds.

They may be famous for their goodness. Like I said, being famous for doing the right thing is a good thing. It inspires more good stuff since fame is such an aspiration.

Give me the common good guy.

I will be proud to wear his jersey.

I will wait outside his workplace for his autograph.

I will point him out to my kids.

And put his poster over our bed (especially if my wife thinks he’s sexy).

You do the right thing under the intense pressure of an ordinary day or in the dark when the spotlight is off then you’ll have my respect and my thanks.

Now it may not be worth millions so I will also send you a hero card.