Mad Men is a great show.
In it, there’s a scene every copywriter should see.
Here’s the setup:
It’s 1963 in New York City.
Pepsi just hired Sterling Cooper, a Madison Avenue ad agency, to produce a commercial for Patio, its new diet drink—except the executives at Pepsi already know what they want to see…
They want the commercial to look like the title sequence from Bye Bye Birdie: they want one continuous shot of "an Ann-Margret type" singing against a blue background. They want a frame-by-frame reproduction.
After the meeting, Peggy Olson, a copywriter on the Pepsi account, is complaining about what "they want" to Don Draper, her boss, the creative director at Sterling Cooper.
She’s frustrated that the plan leaves little room for creative work but she can’t say that, so she tries a different angle …
“No one seems to care that it speaks to men,” she says, “and not women, the people who drink diet drinks.”
“Peggy, I know you understand how this works: men want her; women want to be her," says Don, referring to Ann-Margret.
“Even if that’s true …”
“It is, ” Don interjects. “I’m sorry if that makes you uncomfortable.”
“Well, you know, if we were making a movie or a play, we’d be embarrassed to do this,” says Peggy. “It’s phony.”
Then Don says something kinda profound ...
You’re not an artist, Peggy,” says Don. “You solve problems.”
As a copywriter:
But if it doesn't help the work, why give into the temptation?
“Leave some tools in your toolbox,” says Don, closing the scene.
Copywriters are problem solvers.
Problem: prospect will only buy X when he feels Y.
Solution: write a message that reliably makes prospects feel Y.
This is a copywriter’s true work: identifying words that create the shortest path to an emotion, a feeling.
But sometimes that path is so short that it gives the copywriter pause.
It makes the copywriter think, It can’t be this simple?
It makes her think, I need to add something fresh and original, some pizzazz!
Fight that urge.
You did your job. Well done! Now leave some tools in your toolbox, as Don Draper puts it.
The bad news is that it's hard to do. It's hard to leave good ideas on the table.
The good news is that if you focus on solving the problem, you'll often still create art, as a by-product, in the process.