Mike’s copywriting deserves a big kiss

Copywriting, like most skills, can be taught. There are some excellent programs out there providing the tools of the craft - notably that of Humber College, to which I am proud to be an advisor, whose students have won the Bessie Award for best undergraduate TV commercial eight times in the last nine years.

Copywriting, like most skills, can be taught. There are some excellent programs out there providing the tools of the craft – notably that of Humber College, to which I am proud to be an advisor, whose students have won the Bessie Award for best undergraduate TV commercial eight times in the last nine years.

And yet there is a whole lot of natural talent involved as well. As Duke Ellington put it, it don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that swing. No matter how many lessons I take, I will never address a golf ball with the grace of Tiger Woods, nor walk a stage with the dignity of Christopher Plummer.

The outstanding play and movie, Amadeus, was based entirely on this phenomenon. Salieri was driven mad because he was able to realize how inferior he was to Mozart; but most of us stand closer to the Austrian emperor, whose ear was such pure tin that he could only criticize by repeating, ‘Too many notes, Wolfgang, too many notes!’

These days, there seem to be quite a few copywriters testing their Mozart wings, which is always good. I’ve noticed quite a few sexy phrasings of late, radio spots and print ads and outdoor boards which walk the edge of good taste, trusting the skill of the writer to elicit an ‘Mmmmmm’ from the audience instead of an ‘Ewwwwww…’. But as with much of life, the ewwwwwwwws have it.

There is a new radio campaign which is supposedly talking about auto parts, but by the time the mixed-gender twosome gets through discussing ‘my husband’s dipstick’ and ‘my rear end’, I’m pretty sure they’re working on a double meaning or two. Working real hard, in fact. Just in case you might miss the jokes, they toss in a ‘Nice rack, ma’am’, so’s youse guys who warn’t really listening will perk right up.

I upgraded that campaign to a near-Salieri, though, when I saw a recent newspaper ad for tires. It has a woman smooching the camera, a logo for the manufacturer, and a headline. That’s all. The headline is, KISS MY ASPHALT.

That’s it.

Perhaps there is so much inherent wit in that line that the advertiser can forego any product benefit and pay for good newspaper space to insult his customers. Perhaps. I prefer to believe that the Emperor of Austria has been free-lancing.

But then, amazingly enough, I began to hear the notes of a sonata. Mike’s Hard Lemonade does damn good copywriting (‘an excellent source of vodka’), and by George, they’ve done it again.

They’ve used outdoor to introduce several new flavours, and when they got around to orange, they made beautiful music. As in so much excellent advertising, they took an old cliché and twisted it. The cliché is ‘sun-kissed oranges’, probably a familiar phrase even before Sunkist branded it. But Mike’s put it this way:

WHEN THE SUN KISSED THESE ORANGES, TONGUE WAS INVOLVED.

That’s a lovely melody, for two reasons:

It perfectly matches the brand personality. Mike’s is the advertising equivalent of Fonzie, the tough guy with the heart of gold on the old Happy Days sitcom. It quickly establishes that it’s the boss brand, that nobody pushes it around … and then it understates everything. It avoids the obvious nudge-nudge-wink-wink lines, because in its own unique way, it has class.

(They tell the story that Henry Winkler got the part of Fonzie by refusing to take direction in his audition. Told to run a comb through his ducktail haircut, he walked up to a mirror, stopped, and said, ‘No! It’s already perfect.’ Mike’s captures that tone.)

Try – just try – to write the Mike’s line any better. It’s a simple product claim, ‘oranges with that extra something’, made sexy. But in lesser hands, it might have come out as:

THE SUN DIDN’T JUST KISS THESE ORANGES, IT FRENCH KISSED THEM.

THE SUN SAW THESE ORANGES AND JUST HAD TO SUCK FACE.

THE SUN AND OUR ORANGES HAVE EXCHANGED FLUIDS.

Etc., etc., etc. I won’t go on … it’s probably not helpful to my career to spend time demonstrating how bad one can be.

Suffice it to say that Mike’s has some virtuosos in their employ. As the emperor might say, ‘Just the right notes, Mike, just the right notes.’

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 or by e-mail at burgwarp@aol.com.