The late Bob Munden was undoubtedly the fastest gun slinger who ever lived. He could draw, shoot, and re-holster his gun in 0.02 seconds. That’s faster than you can blink. He could shoot twice so quickly people would hear and see only one shot. He could shoot coins out of the sky. Split cards in half edgewise. That’s just the start of what he could do.
Lots of people know how to shoot. Know alllll about it. What did Bob have that they didn’t have?
But you’d never have known it just to look at him. Skill is an invisible thing. Look at two people standing side by side, one with skill, the other without. You can’t really tell by looking who has skill. If you didn’t know what Bob Munden looked like, you would have probably never picked him out of a crowd as someone with an almost superhuman level of skill.
Similarly, copywriting is not merely about knowing how to write ads. It is also about skill and attaining that skill — a different thing. Natural talent can help. Knowledge is a necessity. But skill is what takes you down the road and gets the job done at the level of “spectacular.”
Bob Munden’s spectacular level of skill was firing a bullet like a laser beam. At 200 yards, he could shoot a snub-nose revolver with the accuracy of a sniper. Bob’s skill was so high, he shot from the hip, instinctively. He simply “knew” where the bullet would go. That’s skill.
Now what is the skill of an advertising creative?
I can tell you. Because I know.
I can look over a sea of facts, a thousand different items, and pull out the one fact around which everything else revolves. And then from that, I can create a strategy that solves the entire mess. And I can do it at any level: small company, large company, state government, federal agency, defense department, international — it doesn’t matter. The principles and the skill required to apply those principles are the same regardless of scale.
I can tell you exactly “what” it will take (meaning which single concept to communicate) in order to persuade a given group of people to want a seemingly unrelated product; I can find the common ground that will connect them. And I can establish what concept will be most likely to cause them to want to connect. When there seems to be an entire sea of problems surrounding a product or a company, I can tell you which problem is the key to unlocking all the other problems. I can produce and hand over to you the one single key to insert in which exact single lock, which will cause all the other locks to magically open. I can forge one silver bullet that slays the worst marketing nightmare. That’s what creative strategy is for. That is it’s use.
Bob Munden can shoot. I can also shoot. He shoots targets. I shoot problems, and hopefully take them down with one shot.
Creative strategy is about the discovery and manipulation of ideas. The only way to change behavior is to change the ideas behind that behavior. “That’s psychology” someone might say. Well, maybe so. But it’s done every day in every corner of the world. What does a teacher do except change a person’s set of ideas? What does religion do except change ideas?
Everyone on earth is involved in the manipulation of ideas somehow. Creative strategy just takes a bit more sophisticated course by adding some art to the science, and science to the art.
Constructing with ideas
Ideas are the nails, screws and two-by-fours of the copywriter. And just as a carpenter has every kind of woodworking tool, so the copywriter has an enormous tool box of ways to think about ideas.
For any given problem in copywriting, I can rattle off a dozen methods of approaching that problem to find a resolution. If one tool doesn’t work another one will. It’s inevitable since there is no such thing as a problem that cannot be solved.
Everything, really, starts with an idea. Behind everything we have. Behind everything we do. Behind everything we want and everything we argue about, are ideas.
Creation is not a single act. It is a process. But if the right ideas are not all in place, the process may hang up. In reality, there are always conflicting ideas. That’s why it often requires strategy to resolve complex marketing problems.
The world of ideas behind our material world is just as amazing and fascinating, and what a place to explore!
A copywriter is a specialist in coming up with the right ideas to solve specific problems, usually used to resolve problems related to a business. But don't assume that is its only application. That would be a gross underestimation of the power of creative strategy.
Traditionally, copywriters were the ones who came up with the creative strategy. Everything starts with the concept. The toughest thing to learn is not writing. It is how to come with the idea. That is what takes the skill.
In an ad, you aren't selling the product. You are selling the benefit. Once you click into that, you're 2/3rds there on understanding what advertising and marketing are all about. That's it; in that those five words: "you are selling the benefit." Selecting what benefit to discuss is a key component of creative strategy.
Of course there's a lot more to it than that. For example, we are all used to seeing certain things. We notice the unusual. When you see a person running a red light, you notice. But if we lived in a country where everyone ran red lights, it would be unusual to see someone stop.
So in advertising, we are trying to get someone to notice something different in a sea of similar things called ads. So we have to do something different — always, always, always — something different that makes a relevant point. Different, but never non sequitur.
For many years, McDonalds ads sold family. You can get your first job there. Work there after you're retired. Bring your kids there. Family is what people value. So family is the connection that makes McDonalds relevant.
Nike ads don't sell shoes. They sell the benefit of inspiration. “You get these shoes, you are going to be inspired to run.” They say that because inspiration is what people actually want. So inspiration is the connection that makes Nike shoes relevant.
In creative strategy, the question we ask is what one point are we going to make to the target public to get them to accomplish the objective, i.e., buy one, come in for a test drive, try a sample, test it for 30 days, request more info, take action, whatever.
Have a problem? Perhaps creative strategy is just what you are missing.