A Copywriter’s Blog
Colbert mocks brand guidelines, earns my eternal love.

He’s not kidding, you know. That document is completely true. You can tell because only a brand manager would ever compose a memo that sounded like a buzzword-bingo cheat sheet.

Here then, is a bit of insight into what I do for a living. It’s my job (with the help of many, many people, usually smarter and cooler than I am) to take that, and make it something like this:

I’ve never worked on Old Spice, but I guarantee you they have the same sort of guidelines. They have brand managers and strategiests who say things like “Old Spice is not an exclusionary brand” and who want the ads to inform people that “Old Spice’s line of unique scents help teens 12-18 feel empowered and individual.” There are lines explaining that “the Old Spice product should never be shown doing something cool. Old Spice doesn’t do cool things, it gives the people the confidence to do cool things themselves”.

Is any of that actually written down somewhere at W+K? Who knows. But that’s the kind of language you get handed, and it’s your job as an Ad Man to – in the parlance of the business- “solve it.” And it is a problem that needs solving.

This may come as a shock, but I don’t actually have anything against brand managers, and certainly nothing against strategists, who are liable to say things like “The message we want to communicate is that Old Spice helps me feel empowered.” Yes, on paper it sounds ridiculous. Hell, it is ridiculous. But it’s also necessary in order to make great ads. I once had a legendary Creative Director tell me, “I know how good a campaign will be just by the strategy team assigned to it.” You get the right strategy, the ads practically make themselves.

And brand managers? Well, look at it this way- without brand guidelines, Apple’s website could be hot pink. Sure, it doesn’t match the aesthetic of the iBooks, iPods, and iPads, but who cares? In fact, forget all this iStuff- let’s call the next iBook a jBook. Cause, see, “j” is the next letter after “i”, and this is a newer version, so… Sound crazy? Some moron would try it, trust me.

And so you take this ridiculously corporate, soulless language, these documents full of “extreme” “unique” “inclusive” “shareable” and the like. And you try to make something human out of it. “Old Spice’s line of unique scents helps teens 12-18 feel empowered and individual?” Let’s tell people when they use it they Smell Like Power. In hindsight it sounds incredibly easy. In actual practice, when you’ve only got a couple of hours and a sheet of paper so pompous it can be thrown as-is into a Stephen Colbert skit, it’s a bit trickier.

So let’s all raise a glass of whatever you like, and drink it alongside no more than 16 wheat thins, which will perfectly compliment whichever beverage you’ve chosen. To the brand managers. To the strategists. And to my mother, who may or may not have any better idea of what I do for a living after reading this.

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