Advertising is not about selling. It’s about singing.
Confession: I can’t sing a note.
I am totally tone deaf.
One of my most traumatic childhood experiences involved being the only 6th grader not picked for Glee Club. Since I was the solo child (and not the soloist), Cantiague Elementary School’s very own version of Will Schuester reluctantly added me to the group sing of The Happy Wanderer at the last minute. However, he specifically told me I was to only mouth the words. Valerdi Valdera.
Yes, my singing is that bad.
But, my lack of vocal ability has never silenced me in either the car, shower or at a Karaoke. I sing out loud and very proud. And as my husband Andy tells everyone, “Robin knows the words to just about every song from the 60s on.” Give me a few opening bars and you can bet that I’ll be belting it out.
My love of lyrics no doubt paved the way for my career as an advertising copywriter.
I believe that a great piece of copy should be clear, concise, informative, relevant, authentic and above all, human. Every how-to copywriting cheat sheet will tell you that.
But while a sound idea is critical to successful writing, the secret to making your message memorable is all about how it sounds. It’s musicality.
As Truman Capote said: “To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the music the words make.”
The catchier the tune — or the words — the more it sticks in your audience’s subconscious. The cadence of a song helps us to remember it, as well as the melody and the images the words provoke. It’s actually called an “earworm” a.k.a. stuck tune syndrome.
Same is true for copywriting.
Copy written with a beat, rhythm, repetition or rhyme increases its memorability and aids with its recall. One study found rhyming messages more likable, accurate and insightful. Think “Plop. Plop. Fizz. Fizz. Oh, what a relief it is.” For Alka Seltzer. “Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce / special orders don’t upset us.” For Burger King. Or “Nationwide is on your side.”
Internal rhymes are another device used in metered writing. Here the rhyming takes place within the phrase — not just at the end of the line. One of the Beatles best: “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad. Take a sad song and make it better.” Or cosmetically: “Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe its Maybelline.”
My personal signature style often uses alliteration — the repetition of a letter in a series of words. Here’s one for Origins Underwear for Lashes: “When lashes need a little lift to enhance their shape and size, our under-wonder floats on like fluid lingerie beneath mascara to add an invisible layer of lushness.”
Like songs, copy also can lean into word associations, analogies and metaphors that don’t tell you a set of facts, but paint a picture, open the imagination, help your audience feel something emotionally. It’s all about the storytelling.
So next time you write an ad — or for that matter — a presentation, speech, blog or social media post, make a song out of it.
· Consider the structure and pace of your phrasing. Punctuate longer descriptions with short staccato moments to create tension or excitement. Use longer sentences to slow things down. Just don’t string too many of them together or you’ll be looking at a lullaby.
· Use the sound of words to give your sentences a sense of musicality. Zap. Snap. Bounce. Bang. Boom.
· Think verse (lyrics that take us deeper into the feelings or situation), bridge (a peak moment or turning point in a song), chorus (the hook that sums up the message) and refrain (repeated lines at the end of each verse that reinforce the message).
· Forget the high school grammar. You’re not writing a thesis.
Another perk. Studies show that song produces positive effects on the body and brain. It activates both the right and left brain at the same time to maximize learning and improve memory. Music also releases dopamine (the happy chemical) and reduces stress to hit the perfect high note with your audience.
We live in a highly visual world. And some say — words don’t matter. I disagree. Take a lyrical approach to writing. And just watch how your words sing.