We’ve all heard the phrase, “reading between the lines.” It’s the implications in a contract, the subtext of a scene, the unspoken emotions in a conversation. The words, in fact, may be only the tip of the iceberg, the bit we can latch onto as a point of reference in a larger landscape.
So it is with copywriting.
I was reminded of this not long ago as I was wrote a sales video for a computer program. This program could boost a business’s productivity by simplifying a lot of burdensome, time-consuming tasks. I was sitting in a development meeting with the client, and we were talking about the verbiage we needed to include in describing all the wonderful things this program does, phrases that would make the viewer really sit up and take notice and say, “That’s exactly what I want.” So I’m scribbling down this superlative and that superlative and blah blah when I suddenly remembered…
This is VIDEO.
We don’t need to beat the viewers over the head with a hot and heavy voiceover. We need to see smiling faces. We need to see the businessman leaning back in his chair, his formerly messy desk all nice and clean, nodding to himself over a cup of Earl Grey as he watches this miraculous program do all the stuff that was causing him agony. (Needless to say, we need to show the agony first.) Show, don’t tell. Storytelling 101. I’m supposed to know this stuff. Duh.
But it can be easy to forget that writing is, to a great extent, the art of knowing what to leave out. Marketing writers, for instance, almost never create in a vacuum. We have to leave generous amounts of elbow room for graphic artists, videographers, web designers, or other creative partners to leap into action and do what they do best — make a visual impact.
And even then, we’re not done creating white space — because the reader/viewer/listener contributes too. Words, sounds and images start the job; the audience’s imagination finishes it. What would a radio play be without the listeners building all that virtual scenery, visualizing all those heroes, villains, and supporting casts of thousands inside their heads?
Keeps the production budget down too.