Ideas First. Words Follow.

Ideas possess a peculiar magic. That said, how does the magic work? The best explanation I know comes from Jean Baudrillard, and can be found in his book “Seduction” (p. 107):

“This obliquity of seduction is not duplicity. Where a linear movement knocks against the wall of consciousness and acquires only meager gains, seduction has the obliquity of a dream element or stroke of wit, and as such traverses the psychic universe and its different levels in a single diagonal, to touch, at the far end, the unknown blind spot, the secret that lies sealed, the enigma that constitutes the girl [or boy], even to herself.”

In business, as in the affairs of the heart, “linear movement” hits the most unforgiving bricks of consciousness. Which is why when asked to sell Revlon’s Ultima brand of lipstick, I dismissed the expected usual suspects: sexy, seductive, desirable, provocative, passionate, alluring, ravishing, ad nauseam. These words while lovely in themselves, don’t rise out of yearning, or the tingling of anticipation, or the sweat of desire. The writer who uses them feels nothing, is dead at heart; he or she writes clutching a Thesaurus.

“I never speak above a whisper” are the words of a powerful woman. A woman who would never part her lips in vain. A woman who laughs at the litany of cliches thrown at her.

Lips are not mentioned in this work. Nor lipstick described. Nor color praised. “I never speak above a whisper” casts a spell. It seduces. Say “whisper” and one sees lips, soft and moist, feels lips, becomes obsessed with them—lips a breath away, lips brushing one’s ear. Lips more powerful than a fist. Lips inviting as cleavage.

In the work below, created for the financial services firm, Rothstein Kass—which was acquired by KPMG—the same approach to language was employed. No promises made. No teasing. No claims that could be contested. My client knew their clients were feeling less and less in control. Knew they were in pain.

Most consultants make noise to conceal the absence of ideas or failures of imagination. Rothstein Kass eliminated noise with an authoritative tone, and with a firm hand set right what needed to be set right. They told the prospect: Start again. Start naked and ignorant. Listen. Once you give yourself to us, we’ll heal the hurt.

To sound credible I wrote short, hard definitive sentences. The words were aggressive overwhelming. They seduced.

No writer, however clever, entirely trusts words. He or she has been betrayed by words. Worse, is that all of us have been betrayed, and betrayed again and again by empty words. I learned never to promise, never to mislead, but to allow the right words to catch the eye just as a glimpse of flesh, a flash of a smile, a sigh, invites surrender.

Good work always tells the truth, because people in their heart want to be told the truth. Businesses like people don’t want to be played the fool.

I learned never to promise, never to mislead, but to allow the right words to catch the eye just as a glimpse of flesh, a flash of a smile, a sigh, invites surrender.

(Revlon work created at Arnell/Bickford with Peter Arnell, Fayette Hickox, Lucy Sisman. Brochure for Rothstein Kass, with Alexander Design. Polk for Ted Chin, with Designers/Art Directors William Kochi and Robert Bollinger. llan Rubin Photographer.)