Advertising’s main weapon

The purpose of text in advertising is to detect the right strings in human perception which, if touched, would make one look at things from a slightly different perspective and make them attractive. I recall the anecdote about a beggar who had a cup in front of him for donations and a bit of cardboard, reading “Please help. I’m blind”. Passers-by did drop a coin into the cup now and then. But then an assiduous copywriter was walking by and offered the beggar his professional services instead of money. The beggar agreed, and the copywriter rewrote the text: “Spring has arrived, but I can’t see any of it”. The beggar’s income changed significantly.

We live in a subjective world, as we filter life’s events through a perception that is uniquely our own: which is why reality can be manipulated. There is a reason why one no longer writes “semi-prepared” on food packaging but rather “ready-to-cook”. Of course, one has to know how to use text: after all, if somebody doesn’t know how to use language, language will use him or her. Still, a poet’s touch or a sense of style is not the end-all in advertising. Lyrics don’t sell. That is why an advertising text requires a solid marketing dimension. This encompasses knowledge about how the human mind operates: how it perceives, interprets, structures and learns information.

An advertising professional, in essence, is a salesperson who sells to large masses of people. There is a reason why the greatest early successes in the advertising industry were geniuses like David Ogilvy, Claude C. Hopkins and others who launched their careers in direct mailing: in this discipline, the effect of the specific text on sales can be observed with absolute objectivity, it can be calculated to the hundredth of a percentage point. Knowledge about what works and what doesn’t, what speaks to a person and what catches their attention – or, for that matter, leaves them lukewarm – allows one to create a more effective weapon: better advertising copy.

Sure enough, advertising has never been the prerogative of agencies alone: after all, anyone who finds it important to persuade others, to maintain and to disseminate certain ideas makes advertising.

In his novel 14,99 euro, Frédéric Beigbeder rightly notes that the Bible consists of captivating advertising texts – “The last will be the first”, “Take thy bed and walk”, for example. Similarly, every totalitarian regime has produced texts to disseminate and indoctrinate the audience in the ideology they deem appropriate: “Glory be to the great October” (USSR), “Live free or die” (USA) are just a beginning – they reach their climax in the oeuvre of Dr Goebbels, who rephrased the Christian maxim “The truth will set you free” to create the notorious inscription above the gates of the Auschwitz camp, “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work liberates”)..

It is also important to add that text is not just words and letters: images can also be perceived and analysed as texts. Not infrequently, it is the picture that creates the context which, when supplemented with a couple of words, produces special power and meaning. But that is probably a story for another time.
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