Before You Write Copy for the Williams-Sonoma No Spill Gravy Separator, You Must Become the Williams-Sonoma No Spill Gravy Separator.
BY MIKE GILLIS
Listen up, hotshot. Yeah, I’m talking to you. I’ve read your file. L.L. Bean. Bose. Gucci. Pretty impressive stuff. I bet you think you have the whole copywriting game figured out. That you can just stroll in here, crank out a few throwaway lines—“sleekness” this, “ergonomic design” that—and call it a day. Well, rookie, if you think that Best Buy Sunday Saver bullshit will fly here, let me remind you that we stand on hallowed grounds. This is Williams Fucking Sonoma. We make the rules of copywriting. Those other companies you worked at? All they did was follow.
What am I trying to say? I’m trying to say I don’t trust you, I don’t respect you, and hell knows I don’t think you’re fit for the job. I said that exact thing when the Board Of Copywriting met to discuss your file. You’re too cocksure, kid. You take too many risks. You don’t seem to understand copywriting is as much science as it is poetry. But here we are anyway, aren’t we, you son of a bitch? And so for whatever reason—God knows what—I’ve gotten the job of schooling you on your first subject: The Williams-Sonoma No Spill Gravy Separator.
I’m going to take it out of its cardboard box now, but don’t blow your load yet, maverick. You aren’t even close to being in writing condition. Right now, we’re just drinking it in. Meditating on its form. What do we know about it? Well, it siphons off gravy fat to its top for easy removal. It’s made in China. It’s no mess, no hassle. Obvious, right? Too obvious. These are just shallow reflections of what the No Spill Gravy Separator truly is—like calling Michelangelo’s David a lump of rock. No, if you’re going to write copy for the Williams-Sonoma No Spill Gravy Separator, you can’t just gloss over it. You must become it.
Is any of this getting through to you? Dear God, I hope it is, because your first test starts now. In a moment, I’m going to put a pen and paper in front of you. I’m not saying you’re ready. Believe me, you’re not. But I want you to sense what it’s like to be an arm’s length away from the mental self-destruction necessary to write copy for a luxury item.
I’ll dim the lights. Now: Gaze at the device. Ask yourself: What is at the core of the No Spill Gravy Separator? Ease of use. Wonder. The future. Perhaps even love itself. These are the truths you must decode as a copywriter. Don’t ask, what are this product’s dimensions, but rather what is its essence?
Whoa, why the hell are you picking up that pen? Jesus Christ, Usain Bolt, calm the fuck down. Exercise over. What was that? Three minutes before you started writing? Are you on cocaine or something? I mean, look, were you even listening? You don’t just scribble down whatever comes to your mind like a freshman in his first writing seminar. It takes time. It takes effort.
Let me give you an example from my life: The year was 1993. I was broke, moonlighting in product number writing, contemplating just quitting this whole beautiful gig and selling out to some soulless corporation. But by some miracle, I was given the chance of a lifetime. You know where I’m heading, don’t you? Yes, I was the copywriter for the Williams-Sonoma Nonstick Popover Pan ‘93 Model. “Siliconate Siding Fills Up Popovers With Steamy Air,” “Sturdy Edges Prevent Chipping,” “Made in China”—That was all me. And do you know how long it took me to write that? Seven goddamn months. I nearly lost my mind in the process, toying with every word, each modifier and phrasing. But when I got there, the whole thing clicked. It almost glowed like molten gold before my very eyes.
And I have to ask, did that sort of epiphany come to you just now? No. There’s no way it did. So I’m throwing out whatever the hell you wrote on this scrap of paper, and I’m going to give you a piece of advice. Because even if I don’t like you—and let’s make it clear, I don’t—there’s something in your fuck-all attitude that reminds me of myself at your age.
Now, Ernest Hemingway once said something like, “Writing’s easy, all you have to do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” I have my own little bon mot: “Writing copy for Williams-Sonoma is easy, all you have to do is sit down at your computer and cut your own fucking head off, then replace it with the Williams-Sonoma No Spill Gravy Separator.” A little more intense, huh? Well this isn’t The Sun Also Rises, dipshit. This is real. This is honest. This is Williams Fucking Sonoma. Now get into that writing bullpen and don’t come out until you’ve written seven of the most glorious words ever put to paper to sell a No Spill Gravy Separator.
SUGGESTED READSAnother Example of the Illuminating Correspondence Between John Hodgman, Professional Literary Agent, and His Cousin, One ‘Josh,’ Who Aims to Be a Man of Letters
by John Hodgman (1/31/2000)
Five Under Five: Five Fiction Awards for Writers Under Five
by Todd Pruzan (12/15/1998)
I Write Short Books About the Popular Bands of the Day. Here Is My Story. (Episode 1.)
by Catherine Zymet (5/29/2000)
RECENTLYSo You Want to Get Into an MFA Program: A Decision Tree
by Rebekah Frumkin (9/16/2014)
A McSweeney’s Books
by Courtney Moreno (9/16/2014)
Monologue: Alexander Graham Bell Has Had Just About Enough of Your Shit
by Charlie Stockman (9/16/2014)
POPULARClassic Movies Changed to Not Be Sexist
by Blythe Roberson (8/14/2014)
Hello Stranger On the Street, Could You Please Tell Me How to Take Care of My Baby?
by Wendy Molyneux (8/16/2012)
Best Joke Ever: Mitch Hedberg: Hippie Martian Zen Genius
by Mark Peters (8/28/2014)