05 Feb

Copywriting: method acting in your head

After two years of having it sat on my shelf, gathering dust, I finally picked up my copy (a present, originally) of Batman: The Dark Knight.

I’d been meaning to watch it for quite some time, but it just became a case of ‘tomorrow night …. tomorrow night …. tomorrow night’.
What I was really interested in, was watching the performance of the late Heath Ledger as lunatic villain, The Joker.

I’d heard all about the intensity with which he threw himself into the role, how he stayed in character throughout filming – even off set – how he spent a month in a hotel room, alone, perfecting the character; voice, mannerisms, laugh, thoughts.
I wanted to see just how much of this was true and whether it came across in the film: was there any point at which there was a clearly discernible line between actor and character, or was I convinced that Heath Ledger wholeheartedly believed himself to be The Joker for the whole two and a half hours?
His performance didn’t disappoint. He was magnificent – gloriously insane, with no conscience or notion of human suffering. I was rooting for him to get his comeuppance (if you haven’t seen it I won’t spoil it for you).

Sadly, he’s no longer with us, but there are other actors who are simply phenomenal in putting themselves into character for roles so diverse as to be almost incomparable.

It’s difficult to get your head round the fact that the same man who played the pacifist, Ghandi (Ben Kingsley) also played the sociopath, Don Logan, in the film Sexy Beast.

What of Christian Bale? He managed play (another sociopath) the brash, arrogant, muscle-bound businessman, Patrick Bateman, in American Pyscho. Then, just four years later, he played the neurotic, introverted, painfully thin insomniac, Trevor Reznik , in The Machinist.

The master of method acting – of utterly throwing himself into the role of any character, no matter how different to those previously played – is Daniel Day-Lewis.
Just watch; A Room With a View, My Left Foot, The Last of the Mohicans, In the Name of the Father, The Boxer, Gangs of New York, There Will Be Blood. You’ll see what I mean.
In My Left Foot he plays an Irishman (he is of Irish descent, but doesn’t naturally speak with an Irish accent) with Cerebal Palsy. It’s incredible to watch.

And so to copywriting…

Whilst I can’t quite put it on par with the acting of those above, copywriting – by and large – simply involves assuming a role that is different than your usual character.
This week, I have worked on client briefs covering veterinary practice, weddings, the collecting of prestige cars.
For this, I’ve had to put myself in the mindset of a pet owner (in an isolated, rural area), a bride-to-be, and fairly well-to-do gentleman with a keen interest in cars (I have no interest in cars).
To do this I’ve researched relevant articles/sites these people would read, looked through comments on certain online forums, contacted those I know who might fall/have fallen into any of the categories mentioned.

At various points – in my head – I’ve been a bride-to-be, prestige car collector, and a rural pet owner. I’ve looked at my clients’ existing copy as if I am one of these people (dependent on which brief I’m working on), considered what does and doesn’t work, and re-written it accordingly.
Only in this way can I be sure of nailing the intended target audience and getting the tone of  voice spot on.

It’s such a simple thing, but sometimes – as a client – when you’re so close to the subject material at hand it’s difficult to see it in the way your intended audience would.
Sometimes copy/content is already fantastically written in its own right – so it’s hard to find fault with it – but just wide of the mark in terms of exactly who it should be speaking to.

In fact, I’d say if more and more clients start doing that one simple thing – viewing their copy as if they’re a prospective customer, rather than the owner of the business – many a copywriter (myself included) will find themselves twiddling their thumbs.

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