FROM THE BLOG

The Al Pacino guide to great copy

I’ve always thought screen legend Al Pacino gives some great advice on creative. Here’s my take on some of his famous quotes.

I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse. Pacino as Michael Corleone in The Godfather

Copy on your ad or DM piece or in those 7 words on your banner isn’t window dressing for cute design or icing on a strategic cake.

It’s KPI-laced poetry, and it needs to be lively, friendly and informative if it’s to be acted upon. Forget pseudo-power phrases like “quality performance” and “excellence personified” and “exceeding your needs and expectations” and “a world of experience”. The news is in – every one of these expressions is cliched and flaccid (or as Paul Keating says, is “like being flogged with a warm lettuce leaf.”) Seriously, here in 2015, who really thinks this facile language helps sell stuff? We’ve all heard and read it so many times it’s laughable to expect a result from such banalities. This sort of writing pulls leaders back into the mediocre pack, cuts off spikes of interest and snatches brand defeat from the jaws of victory.

My advice: let’s forget such nonsense and talk to clients/customers as though they’re sitting opposite you in the best Italian cafe you’ve ever visited. The coffee’s superb, there’s lots of warm wood, there’s golden morning sunlight, you’re able to open up honestly and you’re feeling optimistic about the world. In short, you’re in a good place to start talking in a friendly, trustworthy and engaging way about things that matter to whoever’s sitting opposite. Now that’s the sort of copy that makes friends…and gets results.

Don’t get high on your own supply. Pacino as Tony Montana in Scarface

Don’t disappear up your own…well, avoid that place where the sun doesn’t shine.

When I was a Creative Director in Wellington, New Zealand, we ran all the demand generation for Westpac. Our senior marketing client Shelley was a superb motivator for both my agency at the time and Saatchis, the other rostered ad agency. She drummed into us the following simple philosophy: “NO CHEST BEATING!” She was right of course. Listening to a showoff at a party is boring. You soon move away to talk with someone more interesting. Besides – if you’re always shouting about how big your gear is, chances are people will think it’s tiny and you’re trying to compensate for it. Brands that constantly scream about how good they are soon find the message falling on deaf ears. It’s all about your customers and clients, not about you. What’s in it for them? How is your feature a benefit for them? How are you making their lives simpler? How are you really saving them money? How are you making their children safer? How is this release genuinely better than the last one?

It’s easy to fool the eye but it’s hard to fool the heart. Pacino as himself

Copy in marketing material, both offline and online, needs to be friendly. It needs emotional warmth, not just a clinical list of “features”.

This is the single most ignored tenet of great advertising. Some think lawyers and financial people need to be addressed in quite stiff, official ways. Nope. If a lawyer uses an iPad, he or she has bought friendly, engaging messaging. If an orthodontist flies Virgin Upper Class, he or she knows the thrill of copy that’s communication, speech that’s real talk, imagery that’s telling a story, not newly arrived from cliche-land. So, in summary – calling all brands: Be friendly. Be informative. Be honest. Be liked. Be successful.

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