Sunday, June 6, 2010

Hallelujah, the Copywriting Matters

Recently, a few higher ed marketing communications friends and I passed around another list of words we're sick of -- breakthrough, innovation, excellence, global, real-world.

So it was with a pang of pity that I noticed a university ad in this week's New York Times Magazine in which the copy was composed almost entirely of these words.

What I didn't say when the list of overused words went around is that sometimes I wonder if we school communicators have dipped into the excellence-global-innovation well so many times that not only have we drained these words of meaning but we've emptied our thesaurus canteens as well. I also didn't say that sometimes I wonder if design has become the only way to make a message really sing.

So I was delighted to turn to the back cover of the same issue of the Times magazine and see the ad for Mount Sinai. Like the university ad, it's about breakthrough research. Indeed, both ads use the word breakthrough -- one of the ones that made it onto our trite words list.

Yet the Mount Sinai ad is powerful, persuasive, emotional. Why? For a dozen reasons that all have to do with the way it is written. Here are just a few: an intriguing hook related to something bigger than the subject of the ad (the three characters walk into a bar canon of jokes), some celebrity sizzle (the comedian mentioned is a Saturday Night Live writer and performer), a compelling story (the ad makes us care about the stakes -- the guy's life is on the line but he's not wiling to sacrifice his voice and career -- what would we do?), and a satisfying payoff (Mount Sinai docs invent a solution and save the day).

So the next time you/I despair that our word well has run dry, let's remember it's not about the words. It's about the writing.

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