The brain is capable of making surreal links between people, places, and things. It’s why we have talking airplanes in movies, tuxedo-clad camels in ads, and big mouth bass as wall ornaments. Personification is just one technique that gives flight to seemingly incongruent concepts, but that’s only a small part of the full arsenal.
If you can see what it is, don’t say what it is. Pictures don’t need words to explain what they are, but they require creative text to be anything more than drone strikes. Say the image is of a dog in a new truck ad. Avoid a literal headline that says the word “dog” in it, like, “Your dog loves it. You will, too.” Try to find some connection that’s unexpected like, “You’ll want to get your paw prints all over it, too.”
The English language is not infinite, but it allows for nearly limitless combinations in pictures, places, and ideas. Arm yourself as extensively as you can by knowing a little bit about everything and taking an active interest in amassing various stockpiles of knowledge. You’ll need them when the copy bullets start flying.
- Extemporaneous thinking. This is where the general communications, journalism, or English majors really do have an advantage in life, because, due to the nature of their studies, they would have been exposed to more of it. It could be the snippet of sonnet, a dash of Darwinism, or a flash of Freud — everything you study can come to life in copy, as long as you don’t overanalyze it. Free association gives wing to creative freedom.
- Don’t limit yourself to what you know 100%. Sometimes what you think you know can lead to really great conceptual ideas. For example, you don’t need to know the exact details about any particular Pharaoh to write clever copy about, say, the upcoming Egyptian art exhibit. Research it as you go. You might remember more than you thought. If not, you’ll at least benefit by learning something new.
- Make stuff up. Eventually, if you’re going to create anything new, you’ve got to put everything aside and have a mental dialogue with yourself. At this stage, you have to act as your own editor. Don’t judge too harshly, though, and don’t let the facts get in the way…at first. You can count on others to do that for you.
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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