A Copywriter’s Blog
Superpowers vs Supercontrol Ben Levy 28, February

If you think about it, most superpowers aren’t that impressive. I mean aside from them being, y’know, superpowers. It’s the level of control heroes and villains have over their powers that really makes them amazing.

By way of example, the following story:

At one point while The (future) Wife and I were dating, she was lying with her head on my chest. “I can hear your heartbeat,” she told me. “That’s good,” I replied. And then I closed my eyes and waited.

And The (future) Wife sat bolt upright “It’s gone!”

I was laughing pretty hard, so it took me a few seconds to explain where it went: I can slow my heartbeat.

It’s a minor trick I learned from Wing Chun. I don’t do the breathing exercises on a daily basis anymore, but I can still freak the doctors out when they go to take my blood pressure. At the time this took place, I was practicing Kung Fu about 5 days a week, so I could cut my heart rate in half, or even by two thirds. To The (future) Wife, who had been listening to my resting heart rate, it probably sounded like I’d just died. Hilarious.

You can see why I get invited to so many parties.

Now, I’m not suggesting that when I finish this blog post I patrol the rooftops of New York as “Heart-Murmur Man”. But I am suggesting that what’s more impressive than a superpower is supercontrol.

Take, for example, Cyclops. In case you live under a rock or something, he’s the dude who shoots lazers out of his eyes. (Note to comic nerds: I’m generalizing, step away from the keyboard, eat some Cheetos, and calm the hell down.) Right. Where was I? Oh, lazer-eye guy. Ok, so here’s the thing, and I want you to bear with me for a second: shooting lazers from your eyes is not all that great.

Technically speaking, all that does is give you the ability to carve a giant swath of destruction. Effectively, this is like me handing you a bazooka with infinite ammo. Ever unlocked those in video games? They’re entertaining for about 5 minutes, before the utter impracticality makes you swap it for something more intimate. Like a car to run people over with.

So what’s really impressive about Cyclops, is his (somewhat bullshit, if you ask me) ability to change his laz-o-vision from bazooka destruction to sniper rifle precision and back again. Shit, he even stuns people with his “deadly” optic blasts in some comics (hilarious). Sure he has an ability, but what’s truly amazing is that he’s mastered every conceivable point on that power’s spectrum. It’s the same for virtually any comic character.

The Flash runs really fast. He also seems to be able to think as fast as his feet move, and stop and corner on a dime. The edge of one. Doing Mach 4. Running fast? Neat trick. Impossibly precise control at sonic boom speeds? Now we’ve got a superhero.

Limits are put on super hero powers, but not on their control of those powers. Which is interesting, because you rarely see that sort of thing in real life. Every once in a while, a member of our species attains extremely precise control over their muscles. And you wind up with someone like Bruce Lee.

Or, say, my yoga instructor. Who earlier this evening managed to not only hold a pose that defied most of what I’d learned about human anatomy in four years of university-level figure drawing courses, but then delicately unfolded from it like some kind of humanoid blossom.

Superpowers? No. Supercontrol? Yes.

So clearly, what’s really impressive is supercontrol. I mean, lazer eye beams are only useful if you regularly fight terrorists, or can’t be bothered to look for a bottle opener. But precise muscle control? I can think of about a billion uses for that.

And half of them rhyme with Llama Bootra.

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How to Report the News Ben Levy 26, February

Just in case you didn’t know how.

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Do you like the ones you love? Ben Levy 21, February

This is one of those posts that someone is going to read, think it refers to them, and the resulting fall-out will last slightly longer than Chernobyl. In other words, it’s gonna be a good one. (No, various family members who think this is about you, it’s not about you. So you can stop worrying.)

It’s about family in general. Family is a weird thing. You get to pick one person-ONE PERSON- to be in your family. Your husband/wife. And in some cultures, you don’t even get to choose that. Some witchdoctor/matchmaker/leftover tea leaves do it for you. But generally in this enlightened age, you get to choose one person.

And that’s it.

Everything else? No choice. Crazy Uncles. Lecherous Grandpas. Insane Cousins. Painfully attractive step-sisters. You just get them. Even your own kids aren’t chosen. More “made”. Sure, you can influence them. But if after 20 years they don’t turn out how you wanted, you don’t get to go “You know what? This isn’t working out. I’m just gonna find some new kids that like more of the same stuff I do.”

The worst used-car deal ever struck probably had better terms than this. Even Satan would feel guilty about offering such a contract. But here it is. And we have to love them. They’re family.

Love them. Not like them. What an odd thing. The people we didn’t chose. Might be completely different from. And would possibly jump out a window to avoid.

I think my family is pretty normal. Oh, certain parts routinely insult other parts in ways that never get resolved, and never will be. But no one’s ever been exiled. No one’s ever taken a swing at someone else. Except for that one serious fight my brother and I had. But shit, we’re brothers. It’s amazing that only happened once. Which is my point, really.

How does this work? Why does it work? Who says it does?

I have some members of my family that I genuinely like. Not just love. Like. These are people that for whatever reason I really click with. I might have become friends with them if I’d met them on the street, or taken a few classes with them in school, or something. Granted, since 95% of my family are doctors, I would never, ever have met them in school (I majored in art), found them on the street (they sleep when they don’t work) or had them as a coworker (see point one). You get the idea. I am routinely, totally amazed that I have family members that I genuinely like. I think it’s a very rare thing.

And understand- these other family members? They’re ok. They are, truly. There’s really nothing wrong with them. It’s just that, if I ran into them in class/street/school, I would have spoken to them once or twice and I’m sure we both would have agreed that we just didn’t have much in common. End of story. No harm done.

The point to this long-winded free-association familial babble is this: Family is a loose collection of varying levels of relations. There is an excellent chance they don’t like you and perhaps you don’t like them. And so if they screw up, or do something that none of your “friends” would do, the “wrong” is ten times greater. When in fact, you should give them a proportionate amount of leeway. We don’t choose our family. Each of us is attempting to figure out how best to relate to these weird people we would never talk to under ordinary conditions, but who we nevertheless love. And that’s why every year we have to set the Thanksgiving turkey back on the table where it won’t be thrown at anybody’s head, and remind ourselves that we love one another.

Because even if we don’t like each other, we don’t have any other choice.

Plus, that would be a waste of really good turkey.

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So You Want To Be A Copywriter Ben Levy 19, February

I used to obliterate (vocab word!) the curve in my high school English classes. Lesson after lesson, I destroyed any hope of my classmates receiving a few extra points on their tests. With one exception.

(Cue crack of thunder)


English is a bastard, idiot, drunken language, and I want it on the record that I have always felt this way about it, and still do today. Below is an approximation of my well-practiced high school English rant:

“Most languages have laws. Rules and guidelines that are generally followed to make the whole thing consistent and coherent. English, on the other hand, was crafted exclusively out of exceptions. I believe the creators went around making up silly one-case scenarios just to fuck with people. Eventually, they made so many that the exceptions started to overlap. Any two exceptions that matched were just considered a law of the English language. That’s why we have about three pages of English grammar laws, and 80 pages of exceptions.”

Why do I bring this up now? Oh, no reason, really. It’s just that this lady is from Mirriam-Webster, AND SHE PRETTY MUCH SAYS I WAS RIGHT ALL ALONG.

Suck it, Mrs. Wallen.

Oh, and if you think that’s all in the past thanks to spellcheck, think again:

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Hallmark is Trying to Kill Me Ben Levy 14, February

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. I explained last year how I feel about this holiday. Short version: not a fan.

But sellers of chocolate and some dead Christian dude demand that on February 14th I make certain overtures to The Wife. So a few days ago I went to get a card.

There were aisles of these things. Rows upon rows of pink, red, reddish-pink, and pinkish-red. And they all, without exception, sucked.

I don’t mean they were bad. No, no. Bad would be an improvement. I mean they flat-out reeked. There must have been about 200 cards there. But really, there were only three:

“Funny” Cards
Front of card: [Sexual Innuendo]
Inside of card: [HAHA, I bet you thought I was talking about sex, but really I meant something completely non-sexual. It's funny because you were wrong!]

Front of card: “This valentine’s day, I thought we could try a new position”
Inside of card: Couple watching TV while sitting upside down on the couch. (This is real. It exists. This one hurt so bad when I saw it that it seared itself into my brain and I’ve been having ‘Nam-like flashbacks ever since.)

“Heartfelt” Cards
Front of card: [Some mush so diabetes-inducingly sweet it would embarrass the writer of a Harlequin Romance novel.]
Inside of card: [Blank. Fucking blank. Because clearly after the profession of love and emotion you just read, no further words are necessary. You get to pay full price for half a card.]

Front of card: My soulmate, this Valentine’s Day we will share chocolate strawberries and bubbling champagne, but what really sustains me is your endless love.
Inside of card: (What you need more? Read the front again, that shit was amazing!)

Rhyming Cards
Front of card: [A rhyme. Not a good one.]
Inside of card: [Happy Valentine's Day!]

Front of card: “Nothing says ‘love’ like a card that rhymes/ Dear Hallmark, please fucking get with the times.”
Inside of card: “Wasn’t that rhyme awesome?! Happy Valentine’s Day!”

And there you have it. That was it. That was the entire 200 card “selection”.

Listen. Hallmark. I know I’m a writer. I know that makes me extra critical. And I know that makes it a little unfair of me to say I could do better in my sleep. (And by “sleep” I mean “while experiencing a medically-induced coma”.) But presumably you employ writers of your own. Ones who specialize in this “craft”. I mean, for the love of shit, you practically MADE UP this holiday. Can’t you do any better than “SEXUAL INNUENDO- JUST KIDDING! LOL!”?

You know, I actually looked through those the most. And here’s why- I was secretly hoping to find the one card that said “Hey Baby, this Valentine’s Day, let’s get busy”. Then on the inside: “No, seriously- it’s Valentine’s Day, you pretty much have to have sex with me. Start stripping.”

That card would have been fucking awesome. I know it’s not for everyone. But you have an audience of millions. Stretch a little. You can’t tell me your writers go home satisfied and hand these things to their wives and girlfriends. Who the hell wants to hand their loved-one a poem that sounds like it was written by a 2nd grader? “Oh my sweet/ you’re so neat/have some candy hearts to eat.” The only benefit is it makes whatever you do next seem fucking amazing: “Oh honey, a ball of dryer lint? You shouldn’t have! This is so much better than the card you just gave me!”

Fuck you, Hallmark. Fuck you and the vomit-inducing cliches you rode in on. I tried to end the pain by slitting my wrists with your crappy cards, but after 20 minutes I had nothing to show for it besides an arm covered in red and pink glitter. So next year, do me a favor:

Either stop writing shit lines, or invest in heavier card stock.

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Just watch.

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Obligatory Super Bowl Ad Post Ben Levy 7, February

I had a whole post ready to go so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it after watching the ads during the super bowl. And then I realized: I clearly have to post about the ads that ran during the super bowl. Oh well. Here we go:

Things I do not want to see in next year’s Super Bowl:

Talking babies. (E*Trade)
It was cute at first. It was. But we have YouTube now. And you are essentially a YouTube meme that has run it’s course. Stop now and I won’t have to make fun of you as badly as the others on this list.

Clydesdale (Budweiser)
You’re done. It’s been a good run, but I think you’ve run this campaign into the ground. It’s gone lame. Stop beating it. Your ads hurt more than these cliches.)

I hate you. I have always hated you. You have never given me a single reason to not hate you. I will continue to use you for hosting. Please understand that this is IN SPITE of your shitty, misogynistic, ads. May the people responsible be caught by angry feminists during their time of the month.

More of this please:

I seem to be one of the few people on the planet who was aware of this campaign before tonight. It wasn’t new, but it was great. And one of the few ads with great writing (more on that later).

Your commercials are utterly retarded. Completely stupid. Infinitely infantile. And I laughed at almost all of them. Don’t ever change.

At least a few of your spots were UGC (User Generated Content, for those of you who aren’t in the biz). That’s a powerful thing, because it meant that once you picked it, it was done. Your corporate office couldn’t come in later and alter a line, add a scene, re-shoot the whole thing. What you pick is what you get, and I think that makes your Super Bowl spots better than a lot of the others. That doesn’t mean you should chuck your entire ad staff and just have consumers produce your ads. It does mean you should let your ad agencies create an entertaining spot and then get the hell out of the way so they can do their job.

The Dorito Gym Ninja was possibly my favorite this year. Because it was just fun. I think most of the Super Bowl spots are suffering from taking themselves too seriously. Any spot where someone gets a snack chip shuriken to the neck is clearly above such problems.

In Closing
Overall, this year’s offering was pretty crappy. Particularly from a copy standpoint. A few spots had good writing- Dodge Charger, Emerald Nuts/Pop Secret- but this is the Super Bowl. They should have had great writing. And much, much better tag lines.

Listen corporate overlords: it is not enough for your Super Bowl spot to be in the Super Bowl. Things are harder now. The stakes have been raised. You’re competing with YouTube. Just because you spent a hojillion dollars and sacrificed three virgins to a two-headed goat in order to get your media buy does not mean it’s automatically a great ad. It also has to NOT SUCK. The Doritos Ninja was like a 30-second comedy bit. The Google spot was essentially a tiny movie. They weren’t just ads. They were entertainment. That’s what you all need to be.

What I want for next year is less suck. More sense. Better writing. Get on it.

Friday Feature: Kick-Ass Ben Levy 5, February

Kick-Ass is a comic book written by Mark Millar. If you don’t already know why that is awesome, I could explain it to you. Or, I could show you the red band trailer for the Kick-Ass movie. Which appears to follow the comic so faithfully that their own lawyers reflexively tried to sue themselves for copyright infringement.

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This was originally intended for a micro-story contest, under 250 words. The theme was “troubled superheroes”. Then I read further and discovered they didn’t want “caped crusader” style heroics. So instead, I’ll post it here.

When Adam (aka ATOM ADAM) woke up that morning, the first thing he did was reach for the glass of water on the bedside table, and take his pills.

Setting the glass back on the nightstand, it shattered into a million splinters. It took him three tries to put on a pair of pants without tearing them in half.

Once outside, he caught a glimpse of Kevin (aka KING KEVIN). “Hey!” he called out “Hey KING KEVIN! Over here!”

KING KEVIN turned, and charged across the street at a dead run.

ATOM ADAM went straight at him.

The two closed the gap in nanoseconds. As they ran, their feet cracked the pavement. The pressure burst fire hydrants and flipped manhole covers for blocks. The speed of their passing created shockwaves that hurled squirrels from trees and trees from the ground. KING KEVIN raised a mighty hand, and ATOM ADAM met it with his own. The resulting thunderclap collapsed an entire block of sky scrapers.

“You know” said ATOM ADAM (aka Adam) as he lowered his hand from the high-five “the trouble with these superman vitamins everybody has now is that we don’t have a superworld to go along with it.”

KING KEVIN sighed heavily. Which flung a nearby high rise apartment complex 50 feet in the air.

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