A performance art, not a buzzword

Imagine this scene: you’re climbing the steps to a stage, the red velour curtains are pulled away, the moon-like spotlight finds you and you shuffle to the very precipice of the stage. Your knees are knocking and your fingers are sweating as you begin to read a speech you’ve written to a theatre of listeners. Each one with eyes prepped to look away and yawn exaggeratedly.

This is what copywriting really is. A performance.

The problem is that lots of people have forgotten it’s a performance. The immediacy of seeing writing online, a world already saturated by similar content, means your one fragment is like trying to find a needle in over 100 fields filled with haystacks.

What if I told you there would be 3,000 readers for that piece of work? Imagine performing your writing to an amphitheatre of 3,000 ambivalent listeners, much more interested in the person who’s coming up after you. Nervous yet? Want to change that clunky rhetorical question? Doubting your closing line?

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If you remember it’s a performance, then you know how to engage that 3,000-strong audience. Through storytelling.

I’ve seen a lot of bad copywriting and whilst it can be bad for a number of disappointing reasons, the lacklustre ones all have the same inept problem: no story. The Nielson Norman Group website claims a reader spends “little less than a minute” on online content. They only have “time to read a quarter of the text”. Seeming as people are still reading 400-page books, you can’t blame an audience for not reading properly. If they’re not reading your work, it’s because you haven’t made them want to read it.

Storytelling isn’t just a buzzword, it’s a literary practice. From Aristotle’s ‘Seven Golden Rules of Storytelling’ to ‘The Seven Basic Plots’ by Christopher Booker, it’s an art – a skill to master.

“Creativity is genius having fun.” Einstein said it best. Use the genius of Aristotle, Booker and others to be creative.

Every piece of writing uses it and storytellers are masters of this genius: Shakespeare, Stephen Spielberg and J. K. Rowling. Pick some of the most memorable adverts there have been on TV and you’ll see they also practise this genius – the John Lewis Christmas adverts are a sparkling example.

So in our copywriting, we always think of the stage, of the listeners distracted by the set design and by how tall we want to stand when we give our speech.

Because we want our one-woman (or one-man) show to catch the audience’s attention and not let it go.


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