Rock n’ Roll and the art of advertising copy

Every ad is a poem. Every ad is a song.

Every little thing I write, however short or long.

Apologies for the bad rhyme scheme. My point is, having written both song lyrics and ad copy, I can tell you firsthand that the two have an awful lot in common. Think of the best songs you know. Most likely you’ll notice these things about them: they tell us a story, they keep it brief, and they try to make us feel something in the process.  Good copy has a rhythm, a sense of flow, and a distinct point of view. The Beatles would have made incredible admen… scratch that, the Beatles were incredible admen. Their copywriting was selling Nikes long after the band said their goodbyes.

It’s no secret that big corporations like to use popular music to sell their products and services. Advertising and music are an easy marriage because they share many of the same characteristics. What’s a great tagline if not advertising’s answer to a musical “hook.” Just as we waited for Springsteen to hit that iconic phrase “Baby we were born to ruuuuuun” so too did we wait to see what words would lead us into “Just do it” or “Think different.” And just as a good song leaves enough ambiguity to let the listener apply it to his or her own life, a good ad always leaves room for the audience to complete the thought.

Bubblegum pop songs are often criticized for being too catchy and trite. Compare this to any ad you’ve seen that tries to be too clever or too literal. Both insult the audience’s intelligence and both are soon forgotten. On the flipside, there’s always a danger of being too intellectual. Nobody wants to sit through self-indulgent prattle. Some of the best work on both sides of the coin are all about simplicity. “All you need is love.” “This land was made for you and me.” “Just do it.” “A diamond is forever.” These are basic ideas expressed simply and eloquently.

Advertising takes plenty of heat for littering the cultural landscape, and perhaps much of that heat is justified. Lord knows the percentage of good work to bad out there does not lean in our favor. But I believe advertising can be a beautiful form of communication. It challenges us as practitioners to be efficient storytellers, and if done correctly, gives us all the tools needed to stir an audience’s emotions. Just as a three-minute song has the ability to transport us somewhere else, a great ad can do the same. And with any luck it will have clients and consumers thinking in harmony.

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