Majoring in public relations was the first time I realized not everything is what it seems. Our professor would ask us to write a press release about some subject, leaving a lot of the information up to us.
“What about quotes?” we’d ask. “Make them up,” she’d respond.
Make them up? I would think. Isn’t that…lying? No, actually, it’s not lying at all. Because in order for a press release go out, all quotes have to be approved by whichever person is being quoted to have said them.
Of course, this all makes sense when you think about it. Why put the responsibility of a powerful quote on a business executive who knows nothing about the art of storytelling when you can have someone who is skilled in the craft write it? It’s a no-brainer.
Although I originally thought PR was the job for me, I quickly realized after my first internship that I craved something more creative, unstructured, and challenging (for me).
Fast-forward a couple of years and I’m now a copywriter at an ad agency in Dallas. And while PR writing and copywriting are both in the realm of marketing, they’re are pretty different from one another.
However, one thing remains true for both areas of storytelling: you’re constantly looking for new, creative ways to persuade people into buying whatever you’re trying to sell.
Here are 3 ways working in advertising has made me a smarter consumer:
I Go Deep into the Details
Instead of taking a commercial for what it is, I think about the thought process behind each decision.
The main character is a hispanic woman, is that because the company is trying to seem more diverse to its audience, or is it simply because their primary demographic is hispanic?
And her use of text speak (i.e. lol, omg, TBH), is that because the brand wants to come off as hip and modern to attract more millennials, or is it simply trying to bridge the gap between its young and older audiences?
Every detail counts, and rarely anything is done “just because.”
I Analyze Every Intention
Every ad—whether it be on TV, in your email inbox, or on your social media feed—has an objective.
As a copywriter, I am constantly tasked with turning this objective into a compelling message that entices the customer (aka you) to take some sort of action.
That’s why, every time I’m watching a TV commercial, reading an affiliate article online, or even getting to know a company through its website, I ask myself, “What are they trying to communicate? What is the goal of this copy?” Because more often than not, the reason is hidden underneath the conversational language and eye-catching design.
I Question Everything
You can learn a lot about a brand by paying attention to what you might think of as seemingly small details. From ingredients and packaging materials to sponsorships and apologies, every business shows their true colors…one way or another.
For example, I’ve been on a health kick lately, which has led me to pay way more attention to the food I’m putting into my body. And let me tell you, not everything that’s classified as “healthy,” is necessarily the best thing to consume.
A lot of seemingly healthy foods are actually filled with tons of artificial ingredients that do more harm than good when you compare them to foods that may contain more fat, but way less artificial additives.
And what about online shopping? Pollution has been a hot-button topic for quite some time, and yet, many companies have had yet to make a stand against their packaging materials’ adverse effects on the environment. Simple things like replacing styrofoam with newspaper tells me, as a consumer, that a company cares about the future of this planet.
Lastly, partnerships and apologies. I was surprised to find out one day that a media publication that I trusted was associated with a group that worked with ISIS; there’s no way I’m going to get my information from a publication that supports terrorist objectives.
Next, we have apologies. When I say apologies, I’m referring to any time a business has had a PR crisis and attempts to amend the situation.
The way companies handle PR nightmares tells you a lot about their character. If the incident caused thousands of people to lose their lives, the business better be doing more than issuing an “official” apology to the affected families.
While I haven’t worked in advertising very long, I can honestly say that I don’t view marketing efforts the same way any more. Advertising is a powerful industry that has, in many ways, shaped our thoughts, beliefs and economy.
You don’t have to work in advertising to read between the lines. Once you stop viewing yourself as a “consumer” and more as an “observer,” you’ll find that there’s a lot more hidden beneath the surface than you previously recognized.