What playwrights can teach about strong ad copy

Playwrights listen to the way people talk. The best of them turn this spoken music into something more than the merely authentic. They use it to convey a higher truth (even if the play simply makes us laugh; or maybe especially if it does). So what about ad copy — be it online, on a printed page or whatever?

Must jarring authenticity go out the window as the “polish” of professionalism is applied to an ad? This week, Roy Williams made an eloquent case for sparing some of the polish that can water down an ad and sap its power.

Williams even makes reference to a wonderful statement in the first chapter of a book of his — a book I’d recommend to anyone who is looking for a fresh perspective on advertising and marketing. Right there on Page 12 of The Wizard of Ads are these “Nine Secret Words”:

The risk of insult is the price of clarity.

Think of this the next time you review a proposed ad that is a little too jarring for your comfort. It could be bad, or unwise. This is always possible. BUT, it might instead be the most effective marketing investment you make this year.

Advertising legend David Oglivy once wrote that the ideal copywriter is “half killer and half poet.” I don’t know any professional killers, but I do have my favorite poets. Most of them, from what I’ve read about them, would be about as welcome in “polite company” as a paid assassin. Or a brilliant playwright, for that matter.

Could it be that this untamed, feral quality in art is something you should be looking for in commerce — in your next online ad, perhaps?