My interrupted copywriting career

The most appealing copy I've seen in a long time is very short and simple. It says: Buy less.

Obviously, that's not all it says. It goes on to elaborate and in fact encourages you to buy. It wants you to buy 2 expensive outfits designed and sold by Some Like it Cool rather than 4 cheapies by Some Like it Hot.

Whatever the customer and the clever copywriter intended, the effect on me was quite the reverse. I absorbed and retained only the first two words, which were music to my ears and soothed my soul: Buy less.

(Actually, a more accurate translation of the Hebrew would be "buy sparingly". But in my mind it came to mean "buy less.")

My house is full of stuff, my wardrobe full of clothes I don't wear. I don't want to want more. I don't want to buy more. I want to want less. I would like to make do. But it's so difficult, with temptations all around. Mind you, it's easier not to buy when you live on a quiet, residential side street with no shops than when you live right smack in the center of expensive Tel Aviv, as I did in my late twenties to late thirties.

In my late twenties I fell in love with copywriting. Inventing witty slogans seemed to me a great way to make a living in a "fun" way. One of the very few places offering a course in advertising and PR at the time was ORT Adult Education. I signed up and took a two-semester course consisting of evening classes once a week. I was good at it and enjoyed it. Upon completing the course, I somehow made contact with three advertising agencies and one PR company and was given the odd copywriting assignment.

I honestly don't remember what I wrote. The only "copy" that sticks in my mind to this very day is a radio jingle, exhorting people to take their dirty coats and carpets to the dry cleaning chain Somewhere Over the Rainbow, because they have a special offer! Quick, go there today, while the offer lasts!

Being introduced as "The Copywriter" and sitting in the recording studio while the actor/singer belted out "my jingle" with the immortal words "Rush to the Rainbow", was heady stuff…

Disillusionment sank in pretty fast… I do not intend – I said haughtily to myself and to anyone who would listen – to spend my time and my talent persuading people to use Toothpaste Bright rather than Toothpaste White! And so I ditched copywriting for a couple of decades, feeling rather virtuous.

These thoughts came to me the other day, as I was breaking my head trying to find an intriguing sentence for the Subject line of a marketing email; one which would make the company's CEO actually read the email rather than press Delete.

The marketing letter is intended for a U.K. audience, and in my attempt to get into a British frame of mind, I pulled out half a dozen Monty Python Flying Circus videos; several P.G. Wodehouse novels which by now also bring to mind Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster and Stephen Fry as Jeeves; and for a dash of racing terminology I threw my mind back to several enjoyable Dick Francis thrillers. All that was missing was a good source for cricket and golf related idioms.

Several hours later, I still had no brainwave for the promotional letter; but I sure had a jolly good time with those videos!


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