I've never worked for Time-Warner, okay? So over the years, I've often had to write the journalism and the promotional copy to sell the journalism (and seminars and books).
The styles sure are different. In journalism, for instance, you don't say "FREE gift" unless you're trying to give your copy editor a coronary. Nor do you describe your sources as "eminent authorities" or "renowned experts." And as a journalist, when you're writing about an event that doesn't include lunch, you don't tell your readers, "Enjoy lunch on your own!"
But that's what you do in marketing prose. And the question is: Why?
The only theory I've been able to come up with—the only intellectual justification for writing such bullshit—is that Americans appreciate, nay demand, what my friend Hugh Iglarsh used to call, "the hint of the hustle."
The theory goes: In America, we want our salespeople to prove they want our business by doing a kind of shimmy-sham dance. We don't want them to lie to us and we don't want them to overdo it. We want just what Hugh says—just a hint of the hustle. We want to know the seller doesn't think he's too good to beg just a little for our business. And in America, this is how we beg.
Readers, do you agree with this theory of mine? Or is there another reason why marketing copy designed to sell products reads so differently from our journalism written to convey facts?
David – first of all, welcome back! We missed you last week!
I might have agreed with your theory 5-10 years ago when people actually spent time reading and thinking, but nowadays when the main use of brain cells for the majority of the public is to decide whether to watch “Entertainment Tonight” or “TMZ” not so much!
I don’t think a lot of the audiences that marketing copy is aimed at delve too deeply into what it really means, or why they approached “me” that way. Regrettably, I think a lot of these Gen Y egomaniacs (if you doubt me, go read this newsweek article from last week: http://www.newsweek.com/id/194640) just happily believe the nonsense that marketing people spout, especially if it panders to their belief of how “special” they are, or how “critical to your development” the whatever is.
Myself, I’m an old cynic and I go all the way to the other end of the spectrum and doubt, question and discount virtually anything that comes at me from a company I haven’t sought out myself, I always mute commercials when watching TV, and anytime I’m considering a product or service from a company I’ve never used for anything, the first thing I do is Google “XYZ company sucks” to see what’s out there.
Interesting theory. To add to Kristen’s comment, I wonder if it is in part, a generational thing.
Think about it – we grew up reading papers, magazines, etc., and laughing at the car advertisements on television. We learned to ask questions and do research on a product that interested us. Was it going to be the right product for us? Would it work like we expected (and were told)?
I’m not saying that it is all generational. I do wonder how much of our multi-tasking plays a part as well. “I’m doing a million things at once; the product looks like it could help me; order it online.” (Enter the ShamWow guy – gggrrrrrr.)
I think my parents and I did expect a bit of a “hustle” when dealing with certain sorts of marketers and salesmen; but both sides seemed to appreciate the game.
Now I wonder why people get so upset if you question them – the latest “CarFax” commercial is a good example.
David Murray says
Well, if this is a generational thing, that would be an important thing to know. I do think I’ve calmed the hyperbole in my own marketing copy over the years … but I bet I’d still have a hard time getting “gift” past a marketing pro without having him or her add “FREE.”
Chuck B says
I think marketers just like how the words sound together. They don’t care about all the other stuff. In their world, adjectives are important — the more the better.
I like Chuck B’s comment.
Eileen B. says
“They don’t care about all the other stuff.” I agree with Chuck.
David Murray says
I must admit having taken pleasure over the years in writing lines like, “Let Rob Friedman take you from zero to speechwriter in four hours.”
Or, “In this freewheeling luncheon session, you’ll hold your dessert fork in one hand and scribble notes with the other …..”
But I wonder if that sort of thing sounds, to the modern ear, like the arcane stylings of a 1900 carnival barker.
Tyler Hayes says
Interesting concept. Is this a valid psychological theory you read somewhere? Or just your own intuition? I could see it being valid & reliable, but I’ve never heard of any studies in this area.
David Murray says
My own intuition, Tyler. What could be more valid and reliable than that. “Think long, think wrong,” I always say ….