Monsanto brochure The Perfect Piece of Copy

I never thought I would ever find it. I thought it was something almost mythical, like the Lost City of Atlantis or the ghost ship Flying Dutchman or the Holy Grail....

I never thought I would ever find it. I thought it was something almost mythical, like the Lost City of Atlantis or the ghost ship Flying Dutchman or the Holy Grail.

And then not too long ago, I saw it. I found The Perfect Piece of Copy. Really. No kidding. I did.

Like most treasures, it was found in a very obscure place – obscure, at least, to us incredibly hip Toronto-centric ad practitioners. It was a leaflet, on nice, friendly, heavy uncoated stock. It promoted the corporate identity of the Monsanto company, and it was directed to an audience not many of us know much about: farmers.

The cover of the leaflet had these words:

May the heavens shower you with ample rain.

May the sun bestow upon you a warm bounty of sunshine.

May your soil be richly endowed.

May weeds, insects and other pests keep a respectful distance.

May you raise a healthy and abundant crop.

May the price for your harvest be ample and fair.

May the days you and your family spend on the farm be among the fairest, most satisfying and rewarding on earth…

Please consider what those 74 words accomplish.

1. They are very aspirational in tone, and until people stop waking up wanting today to be better than yesterday, aspirational is a damn good way to go.

2. They are clearly written by someone who understands the needs and wants of his audience. Not enough copy is.

3. They have a wonderful, almost poetic rhythm to them. The sound of words is so very, very important to good writing, even on the printed page. (I suddenly have a vision of a grand mentor of mine, Barbara Demaray, laughingly describing her own efforts to explain to a junior Procter & Gamble brand manager the softness of m’s and l’s as opposed to the hardness of p’s and k’s.)

4. The words are serious, but they do not take themselves seriously. There are lovely little surprises like ‘keep a respectful distance’, incongruously addressed to weeds and pests.

5. Unlike so much corporate copy, it is totally free of artery-clogging words like ‘We Care.’

There is so much right with those 74 words, but there also seems to be something slightly wrong. The sentiments feel a little lofty, a little unrealistic, for an audience whose real life is worry about crop prices and weather reports.

But look. The copy ends with dot-dot-dot. There’s gonna be more. We open the leaflet, and get the payoff:

Until This Day Comes, You’re Going To Need Some Friends By Your Side.

Bang. Got me. Perfect.

With that punchline, this copy – to my eyes, anyway – flawlessly walks the crucial advertising line between fairyland unreality and edgy cynicism.

There has always been fairyland unreality in advertising, and it’s still out there today. Exhibit A is a current radio commercial for Hewlett Packard, in which everybody is so goddamn nice it makes the Ward Cleaver family look like the Charles Manson group. The new computer gets Susie As in school, it lets young Brian download no-doubt-wholesome music and sign his e-mails ‘Love’, it – well, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker, long before it was over, Constant Listener fwowed up.

But on the other hand, today’s airwaves are overflowing with smart-ass stuff, cynical downers that may produce an uneasy chuckle, but don’t have anything to do with why people buy things, i.e., to look better, smell better, feel better, etc.

The Monsanto copy recognizes both reality and aspiration, and does it eloquently. It says, in better words than these: ‘Life ain’t perfect, but we understand the struggle, and we’re here to help you with it.’ Pardon the philosophical moment, but that’s what I think the world is all about.

The 74 words and the finely-crafted punchline were written by a man named Jerry Colman, who tragically won’t do it again, because he went and died this summer, far too young.

Jerry left behind a lot of friends and a lot of wisdom and a lot of kind mentorship.

He also left The Perfect Piece of Copy.

John Burghardt’s checkered resume includes the presidency of a national agency, several films for the Shah’s government in Iran, collaboration with Jim Henson to create the Cookie Monster, and a Cannes Gold Lion. The letterhead of his thriving business now reads ‘STRATEGIC PLANNING • CREATIVE THINKING’. He can be reached by phone at (416) 693-5072, by fax at (416) 693-5100 or by e-mail at burgwarp@aol.com