When a copywriter should step back

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A copywriter thinking

A very fine copywriter in deep contemplation

It may seem odd that in just my second post for the Ink Well I should write about copywriters having no business getting involved in certain marketing activities. But that’s exactly what I’m about to do.

In most instances I think a writer is an essential member of any marketing or communications group whose objective is to persuade, disarm or enlighten. If they – the copywriters – are not wielding influence, they should at least be wielding a pen with vigorous intent.

At least.

There’s a stereotype that comes from television, I think. It portrays copywriters as quick-off-the-mark shouters of clever but shallow puns and alliterative headlines. I’m sure there are those people out there, but most of the copywriters I know are writers because they don’t like shouting. Shouting, or quickly coming up with answers to complex questions. That’s not to say all good writers are quiet introverts, but most good writers are empathetic observers.

They’re the people you should turn to once your group’s raucous conversation has come to a natural conclusion or an awkward standoff. The ones you can be confident will offer a truly incisive opinion, as well as the ink (when it comes to that).

Indeed, apart from technical skills, a good copywriter will always know when to stand back.

And this, believe it or not, brings me to Mike’s Golf Shop in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Mike is a small businessman, a golf enthusiast (who plays off three), a guitar virtuoso, a political commentator, a dabbler in nuclear engineering and a videographer par excellence.

How do I know this? Because Mike said so.

This video, which features Mike flogging his own shop, has well over half a million YouTube views. Watch it and you’ll see why:

It’s unscripted, unvarnished and unapologetically… uh… pointed.

It’s also outrageously ambitious. Mike doesn’t just buy clubs; he “buys golf”. He doesn’t explicitly say it, but you have to assume you can go into his shop and sell him principles, ethics, rules, brambles and other heavy rough vegetation, governing bodies, golfers and “quiet” signs. Nobody’s doing that anywhere else in the world.

You can tell that Mike has picked up a camera, walked out of the front of his shop, pressed Record and just blurted out one of the best ads in the history of commerce. In one take. Then probably gone and hit 67 at Brown Acres Public Golf Course.

Later, in an interview with PGA.com, Mike said “there’s a tremendous amount of marketing theory behind [the video] too”.

No there isn’t, Mike. Why did you say that? Why be ashamed of your distinctly un-theoretical genius?

But the telling quote is the one that came immediately before that unnecessary attempt to portray himself as a learned marketer:

“Let’s put it this way. The shrinks tell me I’m “extraordinarily demonstrative.” I’m one of those guys who gets on a stage and loves it. Can’t get enough of it. I don’t mind doing what no man can do… or will do. That’s what it boils down to.”

That’s more like it.

This was just Mike at his raw and sonorous best. A spruiker, an entrepreneur, a capitalist at the very top of his game.

No wardrobe expert told him the Tennessee Vols hat was a good idea. No art director advised him on the amazing sunburst effect at the start that made it appear as if Mike was descending from heaven. And no copywriter suggested the very subtle (I’m not sure if you noticed it) use of repetition.

And when they did… well. See for yourself:

Stilted, uncompelling and brazenly manipulative.

Oh Mike. What have they done to you?

This isn’t Mike; it’s a grotesque marketing mosaic that has turned our loveable champion into an unrelatable robot. And, as one of the YouTube commenters has noted, he appears to be reading from right to left (on, I might add, what must be one of the world’s largest teleprompters), so some nincompoop has written his script in Hebrew or Arabic or Urdu. No wonder the usually eloquent Tennessean sounds so wooden.

And don’t get me started on the hat.

Mike didn’t need a stylist. Or a director. Or a writer.

If he’d called me I would have said “Mike, I’d love to work with you, you all American hero, but the only copywriting you need is spelled C-O-P-Y-R-I-G-H-T because that stuff is pure commercial gold.”

I’d do it reluctantly but I’d do it. Because all copywriters are good at standing back.

And sometimes they need to stand right back.

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