At the Livingston Communication Tower (high over St. Paul), we take seriously the work of competent copywriters: daily we recite their work aloud by reading wrappers. We announce cereal boxes in the morning, utter ketchup bottle prose at lunch, cite bread wrapper statistics, candy wrapper come-ons, cookie and cracker packaging quips-really any word-filled container we get our hands on, we read. Aloud.
When you read something aloud, any pomposity, any lies, any grandiose visions are instantly exposed as the words hit the air. It works best to have a teenager read, but anyone who promises overweening feeling will do. The packaging must be read as if the copywriter really meant it to be said to real people in real conversations. For instance:
· “Bring home the simple wholesome goodness of Chex cereal and nourish your family with the crunchy taste of our oven-toasted grains. Feel good about starting your morning with a delicious low fat, healthy cereal that makes kids smile!” (Wheat Chex) Taste, smell, a clear conscience and good times with smiling kids—the copywriter promises it all for the consumer standing in the grocery aisle. Smart to start with “Bring home….”
· “Crispy flakes…crunchy oat clusters…a touch of honey…that’s why One Spoonful Is All It Takes!” (Honey Bunches of Oats). And yet one spoonful is not the recommended serving size.
And my favorite:
· “Now Better Tasting” (Fruity Pebbles). Clearly the copywriter was forced to write this, admitting to all the cereal has never tasted good. I like this for sheer audacity and how the copywriter lapsed into truth. He or she must have been responding to focus groups that said something like kids dig the colors but say the taste is still lousy.
The wisdom of wrappers is in the reading aloud and hearing between the lines with heart and mind. As a copywriter, I know that truth must be spoken. But to sell stuff, truth must be spoken in a “Bring home the…[product]” kind of way. It’s how the truth is told that becomes interesting. The truth can be told in a believable way—or not. And often it takes reading aloud to filter out the blarney.
One Caveat. Don’t bother reading shampoo or hair conditioning packaging: not only should you not have hair care products at the table, but the copy is pure, unregulated fabrication peppered with buzzwords. Copywriters who write shampoo bottles: how do you look yourselves in the mirror?