Ideas First. Words Follow.

As I wrote in Kiss & Sell: Writing for Advertising (Revised & Rekissed) AVA. 2006.—”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, in order 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.

Yes, I learned in business, as in affairs of the heart, how hard the “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 words: sexy, seductive, desirable, provocative, passionate, alluring, ravishing, ad nauseam.

Words, like these, 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 women who would never part her lips in vain. A woman who laughs at the litany of cliches thrown at her.

No, 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, for the financial services firm Rothstein Kass, the same discipline is applied. No promises made, no teasing, no specifics claimed, which can be resisted. Spells are cast to break down resistance. My client knew his prospects were feeling less and less in control. Knew they were in pain. What the financial news and other consultants offered was noise. With a simple idea: “the Information Age is Filled with Misinformation,” my client shut out the noise and silenced the noise makers. How are these words below like the single line in the work above? They tell the truth. Everyone bows to the truth.

With an authoritative tone and firm hand, this idea and the words that dressed it shut out the noise. They told the prospect: Start again. Start naked and ignorant. Listen. Once you give yourself to me, I’ll heal the hurt. Yes, short definitive sentences are aggressive, but they’re also irresistible. They seduce.

No writer, however clever, 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. Every brand promise shows the crackles of Chinese Guan and Ge ware, but possess none of their charm. (Advertising offers cracks not crackles, and its adhesives always fail.)

I learned never to promise, never to define, but to wait, to allow 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.)