Most of the world counts to four in simple numeric order. One of the things we learn as toddlers is how many fingers to hold up to show how old we are. Playing the “this many” game is a fun way to entertain little kids, but it doesn’t last long once they begin to master language. After early childhood, the only time you’ll likely need to count “how many” fingers is if you’re being evaluated for a concussion or possibly following some episode of overindulgence. Yet, in trying to describe how the creative copywriter mind works, I think there’s a lesson that can be learned by simply counting on one hand. Here goes …
Start by counting to four, but not in a strict numeric sense. Think visually at first. What things come to mind that look like the numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4? Consider simple things like the Washington monument, twin sisters, a grounded extension cord plug, and The Beatles; put them side-by-side; and, presto! you’ve counted to four. Another example could take the form of a slot machine, gambling dice, a street corner shell game, and the old Connect Four table game (incidentally, my daughter’s favorite growing up). You get the idea, but what you may not realize is that copywriters go through this kind of mental exercise any time they are working up a creative concept — they’re looking for connections that are there but thinly veiled in some way — until, that is, they’re revealed to consumers through text, graphics and images.
That’s the fun part.
When it works and people not only see it, but “get it,” really good ideas generate a genuine human reaction — be it laughter, sadness, empathy, fulfillment — that is immediately tied to the product or service that’s being offered. Consumers internalize that emotion, then externalize it in their purchases. It’s one reason why brilliant advertising represents the greatest danger to inferior products, because the actual experience of the product won’t match what’s portrayed. The brand promise has to play out in actual practice.
Talented creative people make it look easy. Often, so easy that it gives others the impression that anybody can do it. Unlike the respect great athletes receive for making speed, agility, and power look so effortless, copywriters see little fanfare for what they bring to the page. Put others without the requisite training, skill, and experience in the same position and, chances are, most will draw blanks.
Don’t think the comparison fits? Give it a four-count.
Originally from Toledo, Ohio, Gerald Northup has written professionally in the fields of advertising, marketing, social media, and corporate communications since the early ’90s. For a look at his blog posts and social media articles, as well as TV, radio, print, and website samples from his online portfolio, visit gnorthup1979.wix.com/44words.
Jerry is also a talented guitarist, an avid tennis player, and a lifelong student of linguistics.
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