Our 'Unconventional Wisdom Interview' Series continues with Part 2 of our chat with copywriter and anti-bollocks crusader Ryan Wallman.
By Jonathan Rivett on behalf of Creative Recruiters
If you haven’t already, you can read the first part of the interview – about Ryan’s thoughts on good, bad and the purpose of copywriting - click here.
In this section of the interview we asked him about good writers coming up with bad copy, business leaders and their use of language, as well as some of the worst writing truisms in the industry.
This interview comes under the banner of Unconventional Wisdom and you often make fun of the conventional wisdom (or new wisdom) of marketing and advertising. What are some of the worst examples of generally accepted knowledge in the copywriting and marketing fields?
The most obvious example I can think of is ‘brand love’ – this ridiculous notion that people have deep relationships with brands. It’s a widely held belief among marketers, with the worst manifestation of it being Kevin Roberts’ ‘Lovemarks’ model. It’s essentially baseless, and Byron Sharp has thoroughly discredited it in How Brands Grow.
At a more general level, there’s this breathless fascination with technology, to the exclusion of marketing fundamentals. I’m yet to be convinced that big data, programmatic advertising, virtual reality or whatever will change the essence of what we do.
It's easy to laugh at bad copy, but don't even the best copywriters, for one reason or another, come up with poorly written stuff occasionally? Do we need to be careful about how strident and prescriptive we are with our anti-weasel word rhetoric?
Oh hell, yes. There are plenty of reasons why copy doesn’t always end up the way it should. I don’t want to speak for all copywriters, but I’ve certainly written copy that I’m not proud of. Let’s just say I’m glad it’s not in the public domain.
And of course we all have lapses when it comes to jargon. More than once I’ve used the word ‘leverage’ in a meeting. I did feel an immediate compulsion to power-wash my mouth with industrial bleach, but that doesn’t change the fact that it happened.
So yes, we should be wary about throwing stones, but I do think we need to resist the lure of weasel words whenever possible.
You often lament the language skills of the world's most powerful people - CEOs especially. Some would say CEOs are there to lead, not write. Why do you think language skills are so important to people in power.
CEOs don’t need to be great writers, necessarily. But they should be decent communicators, for a couple of reasons. First, if they can’t communicate with their employees, how can they lead? And second, when you read the guff that some of these CEOs come out with, it truly makes you wonder about their intelligence. It’s not a great look, as they say.
And if you’re in any doubt as to whether this is a problem, I would point you to Lucy Kellaway’s article about a recent memo written by the Deloitte CEO.
You're a bit of a social media phenomenon, but you're very skeptical about the value of social media platforms to businesses. Does social media have its place or is it a complete waste of time in a company context?
Well, ‘phenomenon’ is a massive overstatement. But thanks.
Speaking of overstatement, though, that pretty much describes the way that a lot of marketers think about social media. There’s this whole industry of ‘gurus’ who tout the magic of social media, as if it’s been revolutionary for business. For the most part, it hasn’t.
Of course social media has its place for some businesses, but for many – perhaps most – it’s simply not very effective. As Mark Ritson says: social media is for people, not brands.
What's the best and worst piece of advice you've ever received?
The best advice was from my first creative director, who also happened to be a former veterinarian so we shared a clinical background. Whenever I was worried about something to do with a project, she would say: “Is anyone going to die because of this? No? Then don’t worry about it.”
The worst was from someone I spoke to when I was considering leaving medicine to go into writing. He said something like: “Don’t forget the status you have. Do you really think you’ll enjoy being thought of as a writer?” Fortunately, I ignored it.
Ryan Wallman goes by @dr_draper on Twitter.