Cooper Stevenson – 8th May 2011
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
W. C. Stevenson
I’ve found an Elysian field on the outskirts of Ad-Land—a weird sort of paradise—propheted by a shock-haired, fancy-pantsed man named Marc. I go to school in a church hall—Methodist, I think—9:00 a.m. sharp every morning, unless I’ve slept in. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I wake up early so that I can catch the pixies laid sprawl-legged and pupil-dilated on a grassy knoll opposite one of the many happy-go-lucky all-night clubs that use Vauxhall as their sippy-skippy ground. If I’m lucky, I might spot one of these pixilated pixies in nothing but their underwear, doubled over on their knees, dry-heaving for all the wrong-schlong reasons. I get no sick pleasure from this, rest assured. It makes me thank God or someone like him that I have my sanctuary, a Methodist church to hide in every morning—9:00 a.m. sharp, unless I’ve slept in.
We are known as “creatives,” an adjective someone somewhere along the line took the liberty of pluralizing and turning into a noun. This masturbatory self-anointment is wholly unsurprising when all of Ad-Land seems hell-bent on bastardizing the last remnants of grammar and syntax left in this world[i]. Advertising is supposed to speak to the person it is selling to, but does it need to flounce grammar altogether? Consider the latest Oxford Landing Estates posters found in London’s hair-balled digestive tract: “Nice one sunshine.” They included a full-stop at the end, would a comma, denoting that ‘sunshine’ is the subject of the clause, mean the reader’s attention will drop the second they encounter it? I don’t recall anyone reading a tube poster then taking a terrified leap in front of a train screaming “Oh-fuck! Syntax!”
I was accepted into the School of Communication Arts 2.0 based on a few turns of phrases Marc found enjoyable. I thought I’d be able to hurl myself wholly at copywriting, turning phrase after wondrous phrase, driving consumers by the droves towards the shelves I so cleverly convinced them to cavort to. I was wrong.
My first attempt at long copy was for the D&AD long copy competition, promoting the new edition of D&AD’s best-selling publication: The Copy Book. I wrote just under 2,000 words. My idea was simple: the story was to be put into a booklet and strewn in various targeted locations where advertising professionals and students would be able to pick it up and read at their leisure. I was never able to submit it. The formatting guidelines would not allow a text-only submission. It had to be a PDF, formatted exactly how it was to be published, and art-directed to the hilt. Well, I didn’t have an art-director. Nor did I know how to format a book. And on deadline day, March 4, my 23rd birthday, I spent thirteen hours attempting to weasel my way around these guidelines, to no avail. I, a copywriter, submitted copy, but D&AD were having none of it. And herein lies my problem.
The only place for long copy is the Big Issue and tube posters. Even then, venturing past 150 words is like sodomizing a vestal virgin with a sprit-pole. I won’t bore you with the well-worn adage that advertising is more visual these days. That is a load of bollocks. Pummel me with countless scientific studies that prove brands are linked to consumers on a cognitive and emotional basis, I’ll still come back swinging. Advertising has made advertising more visual. “But People don’t read any more,” you say. Really? People on the Underground are not busy avoiding eye-contact by licking their balls or counting bacteria. They read—newspapers, books, Kindles, news apps—so why has reading been ruled out as a form of communication? Granted, the invention of MMS and websites like Twitter have turned the latest generation of LOLers into a seething mass of atavistic rubes, suckling at the desiccating teat of loathsome, hyperbolic acronyms—ROFL this, LMFAO that—but this gives us no right to perpetuate that rapid devolution. The assumption that the masses are asses is not always wrong, but it doesn’t mean you have to treat them as such. There is no room for semi-colons in a headline. The Dude can abide by that. The war on the vernacular will not be won on the fields of Ad-Land. This I can accept. My gripe lies elsewhere. Perhaps I am being a tad dramatic. Perhaps I am only saying this because I am proud of my well-hung grammar skillz. But perhaps there is something else going on, something far more sinister: perhaps modern copywriters don’t know how to write.
Today, copy is merely headlines, palatable information, a catchy phrase, a witticism. We have forgotten that words can compel and captivate, emote and engage. When was the last time a book’s final chapter turned you into a snivelling idiot with a quivering lip? Last week, for me. Words are just that, but when strung together thoughtfully, carefully, they can singe even the fakest of a Sloan-Ranger’s eyelashes. The art of harnessing our language has been lost on advertising, and copywriters need no longer wield a literary lasso. Fuck that, I say.
I like to think of myself as the Patrick Bateman of copywriters. Miss a comma and I will stab you just to play with your blood. A dangling participle? I will cut off your chonson, Lewbowski, then piss on your rug. I call dancing gays ‘pixies’. I use metaphors like ‘Elysian fields.’ I make up hyphenated words like ‘sippy-skippy’. One of my synonyms for ‘drunk’ is ‘pixilated’. I read books; I consume them. D.F. Wallace’s Infinite Jest, for me, is like pissing with the seat down. I get in a cab and say things like, ‘The Library, and step on it.’ My name is William Cooper Stevenson. I am here to write copy, and I will—9:00 a.m. sharp every morning, unless I sleep in.