Fine writing blurs the line between marketing and art

Fine writing blurs the line between marketing and art

Susan Treacy, the D&AD 2017 Writing for Advertising jury president, explains what she is looking for at next year's awards.

How we write has changed, but good writing hasn’t. Right?

Our world now writes in texts, and listens to conversational podcasts like Serial, with Sarah Koenig waffling, "I don’t know…I just don’t know". Then there are Twitch influencers, Medium bloggers, and YouTubers' stream-of-consciousness ramblings as they go about their video games, beauty hacks, and the next goofy stunt.

In the past decade, authentic has become the default voice. What would have been considered a well-crafted headline a decade ago is now tagged with the shame of inauthenticity - too "addy" - when compared with the unedited welter of the internet.

Where does carefully crafted, artful writing fit into a world of real-time authenticity?

I have to believe that word choice, cadence, style, and exacting dialogue can still play an important role in brand building. Precise diction can build brand affinity, and can also help us sway our culture. God forbid crafted writing becomes a lost art, gone the way of cursive handwriting. 

Unfortunately, young writers more and more frequently haven't tussled with enough words and don’t have a strong command of grammar, punctuation, and editing fundamentals.

Why not? Like everyone else, creatives are spending more and more time on their phones. Attention spans have shrunk. It has become harder and harder for even dedicated writers to sit and actually read an entire book, much less books, the occasional audio book on the commute notwithstanding. We read, but we too opt for blogs, posts, and hastily wrought fake news.

Yet, I believe there is still a craving for powerful writing in all this tumult. For many great writers in advertising today, craft is exhibited mostly through brand voice. Brand voice with a consistency of tone and point of view across channels, and choiceful dialogue that helps people know exactly whom an ad is for before any branding has been introduced.

These writers don’t just say the right thing, they say it in an ownable way. Not easy. Mastering brand voice requires the same perceptiveness and consistency found in writers' rooms on 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, and Portlandia.

Brand voice with a consistency of tone and point of view across channels, and choiceful dialogue that helps people know exactly whom an ad is for before any branding has been introduced.

An oddly emerging opportunity for breakthrough writing is simply naming the handle. When the Pencil winners are announced, the name of the idea is the ultimate exercise in editing and word choice. Field Trip to Mars. Last Rembrandt. Like a Girl. Finding the exact right name early on is a sign that you have a strong, focused idea, and the name becomes the north star of the idea.

Writers looking for inspiration should seek out creative brands that bring with them a target that appreciates crafted writing - evidenced by 500 Years of Stories for Tate Britain from Grey London, Everything in Black and White for Leica Gallery from F/Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi. The writing on these clients is at an entire other level, blurring the line between marketing and art.

My excitement about judging the 2017 Writing for Advertising category comes from a deeply held belief that no matter the media, no matter the era, writing matters. The right words can inspire, can make people crack up or choke up. Most importantly, they can change people’s minds.

Susan Treacy is the executive creative director at FCB Global and the D&AD 2017 Professional Awards Writing for Advertising jury president.