“I’m standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona and such a fine sight to see – it’s a girl, my lord, in a flatbed Ford, slowing down to take a look at me.”
I’ve never been a big fan of the Eagles, but that line from their 1972 hit “Take it Easy” recently made me think about the similarities between songwriting and copywriting. I was watching the documentary “History of the Eagles,” in which Jackson Browne and the late Glenn Frey of the Eagles discuss the song and how Browne had come up with the first part of the line – “I’m standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona” – but was having trouble finishing it until Frey suggested the ending of the verse. Browne marvels: “Girl, lord, Ford, I mean, all the redemption, you know, girls and cars and redemption all in this one line. It’s very mercurial.”
Now, I’m not a songwriter by any means, but writing advertising copy is a big part of my day-to-day life. Brevity is essential in writing advertising copy because you’re always working within parameters. Some are fairly rigid: space if you’re writing something that will appear in print, or time if you’re writing for broadcast mediums. Some are less clearly defined. For example, in an age when we’re when we’re all exposed to hundreds of advertising messages daily, a copywriter has to compete for an increasingly limited amount of his or her audience’s time and attention. You have to engage your audience quickly. And when I thought about it, I was amazed by what Frey had done in just 24 words.
First, Frey clearly understood his audience and was able to relate to it. I could argue that the key elements of the line (girls, cars, redemption) are everything you could have wanted in an early 70s rock song with a presumably male audience. There’s also an emotional cue (“such a fine sight to see”), which anybody can relate to. Relatability is something copywriters strive for, too. Every time I sit down to write an ad I start with the same basic questions: who am I talking to, and what do I need to say to them? Compelling copy appeals to the audience’s interests, experiences, emotions, needs, and desires.
Good copy also sparks the audience’s imagination. It’s important to write visually, especially if you’re writing for a non-visual medium like radio. I think Frey succeeds here, too. I can picture that street corner. I can see the girl (she’s blonde), and I know what type of truck she’s driving because Frey told me (in two words). And because the writers immediately set the scene (we’re in Arizona), I imagine the Ford is a little bit dusty. Oh, and it’s an early 60s model.
I’m glad Netflix kept insisting that I’d like “History of the Eagles” and that I finally broke down and watched it, because the film’s dissection of that one line reminded me of the things I try to do when I’m writing copy: engage the audience with emotion and imagery, make it relatable, and keep it brief. I now admire that lyric, when previously I’d never given it a second thought. It’s won me over, the way good advertising can.