A Copywriter’s Blog
Copywriter, not ©er Ben Levy 28, September

3 Jews walk into a bar.

Actually, it was significantly more than three, and they were sitting around a table, but “50 Jews gather in the synagogue’s conference hall for the annual Kosher Chinese food Eat and Greet” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Anyhow, 3 Jews were talking about what they do for a living. It all started because one said “I really wanted to go to that beer tasting event, but I worked 80 hours that week, so it wasn’t happening.” Which is the sort of thing that someone in advertising regularly says, and none of his advertising buddies think twice about it.

“Oh” said The Accountant, “what is it that you do that has you working 80 hours a week?”

“Ah- well, I’m an Advertising Copywriter,” says The Copywriter. And silently he adds: Please get it.

The Accountant gets a funny look on his face “Oh, so you deal with patents and things?”

The Copywriter sighs inwardly.

“No, no,” interrupts The Lawyer “he’s a copywriter. Y’know, like a writer.” The Copywriter nods vigorously while shoveling rice into his mouth.

“So you copyright ads? Like slogans?” asks The Accountant

“Yes.” Wow, that was easy to explain, thinks The Copywriter. They never get it that fast.

“So someone comes up with a slogan, and then you make sure it can’t be taken by someone else?”

The Copywriter fights a sudden urge to smack himself in the forehead. “No, I’m a writer. I write ads. TV commercials, websites, radio scripts, slogans- all that stuff.”

“Yeah,” says The Lawyer, “like Mad Men.”

The Accountant digests this, unlike the Chinese food. “But what are you copying?”

The conversation goes around and around in The Copywriter’s private, profession-themed rendition of “Who’s on First”. It isn’t the first time he’s had to explain this. He’s grateful for The Lawyer, who is helping. And for Mad Men, which has made such discussions significantly shorter. “I’m Don Draper” while at first a confusing statement, has in fact proven much easier to explain then “I’m an Advertising Copywriter”.

The funny thing about all this is that while he’s explaining it, The Copywriter is getting a little embarrassed. The fact is, advertising is one of the coolest jobs in the world, and he doesn’t want to rub it in The Lawyer or The Accountant’s face. There’s no shame in those professions- hell, The Copywriter’s grandfather was an accountant- but come on. This is Don Draper you’re talking to. Sort of.

And so even though he’s gotten everyone on the same page, and they understand that he “writes copy”, but doesn’t “copyright”, The Copywriter is keeping intentionally vague about what it is he does. He doesn’t want to brag. So when The Lawyer asks what brands The Copywriter works on, he half mumbles “couple of beverages” and tries to change the topic.

But it slowly dawns on him that The Lawyer and The Accountant feel sorry for him. They don’t fully understand what he does, but they know 80 hours a week sucks, and they imagine the job must suck. And The Copywriter decides “You know what? Fuck it. I’m talking to a lawyer and an accountant, and I can probably hit a doctor just by tossing a chopstick. I’m damn well going to brag a little about what I do.”

And that’s how The Copywriter ends up explaining that his job is about concepting. And writing. And yes sometimes he stays late. He also wears jeans to work, and takes part in nigh-holy foosball tournaments. And it’s true that Ad Guys tend to drink a lot- yes like Mad Men. And no, The Copywriter doesn’t sleep with a new co-worker each week, but he’s married so you’ll have to ask someone else what the inter-office intercourse numbers are like, he stays out of it. And yes, when he says “concepting” The Copywriter essentially means “sit around and think up awesome shit all day”. And then for good measure The Copywriter goes on to list half a dozen brands he’s worked on in the last year, sitting around and (trying) to think up awesome shit for, all of which are recognized by The Accountant and The Lawyer.

So 3 Jews sit at a table in the synagogue’s conference hall for the annual Kosher Chinese food Eat and Greet. There is silence for a moment, and then The Lawyer says “Wow. Your job sounds pretty cool.” And The Accountant says “Yeah. The only people who drink at my job are alcoholics.”

And The Copywriter feels a little bad, but also a little proud. Because The Lawyer and The Accountant clearly like their jobs, so they’ll be fine. And it’s about time someone knew how awesome it is to be a copywriter. As opposed to a ©er, which honestly sounds like just about the most boring job on the planet, and is not at all what The Copywriter does for a living.

The Copywriter wishes to apologize for writing this entire post in a whacked-out version of the third person, but this is the sort of thing that happens when he posts after reading half a book that has parts of itself written in a whacked-out third person. Plus he hasn’t eaten much today and it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Stop writing in 8-bit Ben Levy 29, March

There is a fantastic conversation going on right now over at James regarding story-telling in video games. For the uninitiated, James is a blog by one Tom Francis, aka Pentadact. Tom has penned perhaps the greatest game review in existence, and is high on my list of people I would murder and devour if it meant I could gain one one-hundredth of their writing ability.I heartily suggest anyone interested in writing or gaming go check it out.

The short version is, people would really like the stories in their games to start living up to the graphics. It’s just that no one knows how to do it.

It’s a conversation that’s plenty relevant to advertising. The conventional wisdom is that while no one reads anymore, story-telling is more important than ever. And particularly in the online space, it’s pretty undefined.

I think the problem is that games (and most sites) are a visual medium. Stick with me here.

In our society today, we essentially have two broad methods of story-telling: literary and visual. Books are just words on paper. While I’m thrilled with that format, I recognize I’m in the minority.

Then there’s the visual method. Video. TV. Movies. They relate a tale with color and sound. Generally, they’re held to be more immersive, more emotional for the viewer.

One thing that both methods have in common is that they’re a linear way to relate a story. There’s a beginning, middle, and end. Even if you Tarantino it, the story is told from start to finish in one way only, and the viewer/listener is along for the ride.

But in games, that’s not true. The user has a measure of control over the events, and that comes at the expense of narrative. The simplest example I can think of is Street Fighter. The game had a simple story: I play a fighter, I beat up other fighters. At the end, I beat the final boss and win. Hooray.

If it were a movie, every ounce of that story would be told with drama and perfection. Each time I beat the boss, it would be with a massive uppercut delivered in slow motion. And in fact, in Street Fighter, your final hit is automatically slowed down to add emphasis. Perfect interactive story-telling?

Not always. I remember playing through a whole game, getting to the boss, and beating him with a vicious sweep. A sweep. I kicked the guy in the shin, in slow motion, and that’s how I won the day. It felt weak. A movie would never finish that way.

So let’s try something else. How about, when I do enough damage, the fight ends and I watch a cutscene where my fighter delivers that cinema-perfect slow uppercut we were talking about? Looks great, but now I’m annoyed as a gamer because I didn’t do that. The game did. The final moment, and I feel like I was robbed of my victory. Like I wasn’t good enough to do it myself.

This is an intentionally simple example, but hopefully you begin to see the issues involved. Players control the game, but don’t control the story. Which means the story can’t be perfect, since the people writing it don’t know exactly how it will play out- even something as simple as a kick can ruin a scene.

Because games are a visual medium, we expect them to deliver a story like one we get at the movies. After all, they look sort of like movies.They’re even written in that same, linear fashion. But I think that’s where we’re going wrong.

There is a third method of story-telling. One that isn’t used much at all anymore. But I think it’s where we’ll find the answer. Oral.

I love to hear myself talk, so I do it a lot. And one thing I’l say about it is this- I do it consciously. The act of verbally relating a story involves audience participation. You want to make sure they give a damn about what you’re saying. If they laugh at one part, you add more detail to enhance the hilarity. If they express disbelief, you go out of your way to make it even more unbelievable (even while you swear the whole thing is true). It’s telling a story with audience participation, changing small details so that your listener appreciates the bigger picture even more. You give up some measure of narrative control but do so in order to enhance the overall tale being told.

I think figuring out that balance online and in-game will be the key. I’ve got another very specific reason why I think I’m right, and another 800 words to write on the topic. But I’ll save that for next post, along with a shocking admission that at least several people who read this blog don’t know about.

There is a new Facebook application out. It’s called Burn Alter Ego and you should download it.

Remember the early days of Facebook? You would meet a person, they’d be your friend. You’d stalk them by trolling through their entire history of wall postings and – oh hey! There’s Jim. I didn’t know this friend knew Jim. I haven’t talked to Jim in ages. I should make Jim my friend.

That was an awesome feeling. You were part of an extended network of people all “six degrees of separation” style. But after a while- normally once you leave college- it stops working that way. You make one friend here or there. Maybe two at a time. And you don’t know those other people they’re friends with. And just asking random people to befriend you on Facebook is plain creepy. Really quickly, your network growth slows to a crawl.

This Burn app, it starts your network growing again. You can choose to “go out” for the night and meet strangers. Essentially, you’re randomly paired with another Facebook user who has the app. Once that happens, they appear on your Burn network. You can then poke them or ask them to be your friend or go out with them again tomorrow (non-randomly this time). But now you two have a connection- you’ve both “gone out” with each other through the app. Now you have a reason to be friends.

“Ben”, you’re saying “this is retarded. I didn’t ‘go out’ with anyone. This guy and I both pressed buttons, and then we got some story, and a goofy picture of our avatars together.”

You’re right, anonymous blog voice. That’s all you did. And all you know about each other is what your avatars and rooms look like. And that both of you didn’t really go out with each other to a club that didn’t exist where you didn’t get drunk and have a great time. But you know what? Sometimes that’s all it takes.

Two days ago, someone named Martina went out with me. I have no earthly idea who Martina is. We never met before. We only virtually went out once, but I am intensely curious about her. I really hope she becomes my friend.

If that’s not enough reason to download this app, here are a few more: it’s one of the first flash-based apps ever. It’s gorgeous. It’s immersive. And I wrote the copy for it. Download it now.

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Elephant and World leave citing “irreconcilable differences”

TV LAND- It’s not surprising that Animal Planet, a network that’s been around for over a decade, decided it was time to update it’s logo. What is surprising are the circumstances surrounding that change.
Previously, spokescreatures for the station said they wanted to try a new logo that would show how “fresh and exciting” the new line-up would be. However, anonymous insiders have now told us the true reason for the change: Animal Planet is an alcoholic.
“In the beginning, it was a new logo. Hell, it was a brand new network.” said Kristen Lynman, the Elephant’s spokeswoman, “Animal Planet used to be all about the work. But lately it seems like it’s been nothing but parties.”
According to anonymous sources, “Animal Planet” has been drinking for years. It finally reached the point where Elephant and Earth weren’t willing to deal with it anymore. Rather than risk a scandal, the network decided to just unveil a new “streamlined” logo.
“I think most people will see through it pretty quick,” said one network executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “I mean, look at him there. Look at the ‘M’. If you ask me, Elephant and Earth were the backbone of this station.”
While there has been no official response from the network at this time, it seems pretty obvious that the logo has seen better days.
“Look at the ‘M’,” repeated our source, “This….this is like the Britney Spears of typography.”