When I was in the 11th grade, I had to write a short story for English class.
I decided to write about a trip I had recently taken to Stillman's Gym in Manhattan.
I was interested in photography at the time and Stillman's Gym on West 57th St. was the place in New York where prize fighters trained. I figured I could take some interesting photos there. Maybe some action shots. Maybe some portraits.
Anyway, the day I went to Stillman's the weather was gloomy and the gym was depressing, so I ended my short story, like this . . .
"I walked down the stairs, slung my Rolleiflex over my shoulder, and walked out into the cold December rain."
When Mr. Brown, my English teacher, handed the paper back to me after grading it, he turned to the last page, pointed to the final sentence, and said "Don't ever, EVER, walk out into the rain again!"
What he meant, of course, is that a good writer doesn't take the easy way out and use clichés like the awful one I cranked out at the end of my story. As you can see, I remembered his words and as a writer, have tried to live by them.
CUT TO . . .
A few days ago I was watching a commercial for Jacuzzi walk-in bath tubs and at the end of the spot the announcer said:
"So call right now for a free demonstration. You'll be glad you did."
There it was again. The end of a short story (this time about walk-in bath tubs) that settled for a tired, worn-out, cliché. "You'll be glad you did."
What the copywriter of that commercial didn't want to do was think and keep working right until the last word was written.
As a copywriter, sometimes you have to really struggle to create a strong ending. It doesn't always come easy. For example, some years ago, I wrote a direct mail package for the Atlanta Golf Classic and struggled with the ending.
I kept writing about the great golf that the reader would see at the Classic, but I just didn't feel that I was connecting. I hadn't found the "hot button" that would work well at the end of the letter.
Then it dawned on me that the Atlanta Golf Classic was offering corporate attendees a lot more than golf. They were giving companies the chance to build relationships with valued clients by inviting them out for the day. This was a chance for executives to kick back and get away from the office, have a few drinks, and make some deals.
This human dimension, not merely the golf, is what had to be punched up in the letter's ending. The light bulb lit up (talk about clichés!) and I knew I was on to something. The ending wrote itself:
"On a personal note, let me add that the BellSouth Atlanta
Classic is a truly magnificent sporting event that I know you,
your clients, and your customers will enjoy tremendously.
If you want to have a fabulous time, while you create or
strengthen important business relationships, I urge you
to pick up tickets while they're still available.
The dogwood will be in bloom. The weather will be beautiful.
These are the days you always said you owed yourself!
Warmest regards, etc."
How much better than copping out with, "To order your tickets
call 1-800-224-8976. You'll be glad you did."
Next time you work with a copywriter, make sure he or she is really thinking right through to the bitter end. If they're not meeting your expectations, give me a call.
Then tell them to walk out into the cold November rain.