In the first week of ad school, the class was told to write bios about ourselves.
I don’t have my draft on me anymore but it was something like, “Hi! Thanks for checking me out. My name is Jonathan Chan-Choong, a poet and copywriter working to make tomorrow a better place…” Yadda yadda yadda.
My prof instantly stopped me and asked, “Are you trying to be a copywriter or a poet?”
Well, that was like asking me if I prefer 200 grit toilet paper or using a bidet that sprays pepper sauce on my poop-shoot.
The objective at the time was to craft a copywriter bio – so I said copywriter. But in the real-world, I am neither one or the other. I am wholly and fully me, JCC.
And that means I am a poet and a copywriter. Same way as I am a brother and a son.
But it goes deeper than that. My work transcends just one discipline as each practice informs the other. An underlying theme behind all my work is based on a quote I recite as often as a shoeshiners use cloths;
“I write because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention…”George Orwell, Why I write
And there will always be lies and facts in this world. The Orwell foundation published the evocative essay online for all to read. And with good reason. I urge every creative to dive into this and read it a couple times.
Whether I’m writing for myself, or for brands, I’m trying to tap into the human truth that binds us all.
Poetry in essence taps into the deep emotions that we all feel – newfound love, the pain of loss, the joy of achievement, the bewilderment of journey.
Copywriting hones in on the real deep reasons people are purchasing products, often tying it back to emotion.
For example, I’m sitting in a car dealership right now getting my seasonal oil change. As I look around, everyone wants a vehicle that takes them from A to B.
But the questions they ask themselves are:
But where am I going?
How do I want the drive to feel?
How immersive is the driving experience?
What do I want others to feel when they see my car?
Those are the real reasons behind a person’s purchasing decision.
With a 1001 choices out there, the emotion behind someone’s buying behaviour is the prevailing factor. So helping someone, on an emotional level, connect with a product and find what makes them happy, is why I chose to become a copywriter.
I write to fill the void that only (insert brand/product/experience) can fulfill – helping people live fuller lives.
I write poetry to articulate the deep expressions of nature, life, and human condition – helping people feel fuller lives.
That’s truly the reason why I can’t separate the two.
Poetry Helps Me Take Risks in Copywriting
With poetry, I want to break the rules. I never did care about the constructs set out before me.
Some people call it rap. Some people, spoken word. I don’t really care what you call it, my poetry is a raw expression of emotion dictated on paper or stage.
Feel something. That’s the only thing I’m looking to achieve. Often, that means trying new stuff – stuff that doesn’t fit within the confines of a 1700s poetic format. But I don’t care because I am a product of this timeline and era.
Shakespeare didn’t know what would happen here. Frost didn’t know about global warming. Even Ginsberg, as true as his work rings today, still lived in a different time.
With this, I can take risks in my poetry that I may not want to apply to copywriting. But then again, sometimes there are perfect use cases that have been cross-applied.
Innovation only happens when you try. I respect my clients, so I try the risky stuff on my own time, cherrypicking the right elements.
Poetry has made me a better copywriter. It helps me look at what’s effective, helping me dissect my work and understand viability. Then I use my poetic decisions to help my clients better convey their message to their customers.
Staying Genuine in Two Worlds
Staying stuck in the world of poetry, it’s easy to get lost in your mind. Many of the greatest artists go through depressive states; they’re always in their heads.
We learn to feel from the deepest depths of who we are, confronting the uncomfortable day-in, day-out.
Poetry is dynamic, like the human experience. It has moods and seasons – and staying in tune with this helps me to frame my marketing efforts and campaigns. I write poetry everyday. So, I’m never too far away from society’s daily visceral emotions, impacted by current events, conflict, road closures, climate change, parenthood, etc.
Artists and creative professionals (copywriters, graphic designers, creative directors, etc.) bring it all together by thinking about human connections and worldly narratives – and the constructs that emerge within them.
But poetry is a very selfish practice. I only think about how I feel. Copywriting on the other hand is purely conversational, drawing our audiences into the brand experience.
Poetry keeps me in tune with myself and deeper human conditions / emotions. Copywriting allows me to stay grounded and true to the world around me.
Poetry and Copywriting Look Beyond Data
I had the audacious pleasure to be a part of LinkedIn copywriter group where one of the “thought leaders” said it’s not about being able to write well but rather research well.
Well, that’s a load of cured meat.
Research is a part of what we do, but in this era of analysis paralysis, it’s not what makes us unique. Get a market researcher if that’s what you want – get a copywriter to make it compelling and tell a story.
Poetry is emotion first. Occasionally data and values are used for impact – such as this poem I wrote about water.
But copywriting is the fusion of the logical and the emotional. Guided by numbers and human truths, we help customers feel something when they encounter a brand.
As a society, if we don’t feel things, we won’t be compelled to do anything. There’s a reason we choose our friends; we trust and feel things with them on an emotional level.
Consider your customers as more than just consumers… but folk with an emotional attachment. This is why die-hard fans exist – Harley heads and Vinyl lovers, for example – often sharing this joy with their kids/friends, fostering more venerable fans.
I write Copy. I write Poetry. Deal with it.
At the end of the day, I do both because they make me happy. Yeah, I know it doesn’t seem that compelling but it’s the truth.
I’ve been able to find the perfect convergence point between what I love to do, what others say I excel at, and what pays my bills. So I hold onto what I do with care, cherishing this opportunity.
I don’t write because it’s a get-rich-quick deal. I write because words are how I see the world. Navigating life in any other way would be fraudulent.
And in Canada, well, that’s punishable up to 14 years in jail…
Express the truth y’all.