A Copywriter’s Story

from Dirty French Novel: For the past few months, I’ve been writing catalog and newspaper ad copy for a local retailer. I noticed something odd the first week or so I was in ad strategy meetings: the big buzzword here is “story.” What story are we trying to tell in this spread? What’s the story in this ad?
Except when they say “story,” they don’t mean story. There’s no rising action-climax-denouement progression.
I don’t consider it a story unless something happens. (Or it’s by Raymond Carver.)
My theory is this: once upon a time, someone at an executive level was told that advertising is more effective if it tells a story. “Great,” the unknown executive said, “we’ll tell a story on every spread!” So there were meetings, and strategic initiatives, and discussions of best practices, and at the end of the day it was decided that from this day forward, every spread would tell a story.
And the next day, nothing changed but the words they used to describe what they wanted. Instead of talking about an ad’s message or takeaway point, people talked about the story, and by story, they meant message.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. I’m in complete agreement. I love how clients love to bat around the term “story.” But when you try to inject come conflict (the essence of every story) they start to sweat and start to chop.

  2. Carl LaFong says:

    Whenever I try to tell a story, it always ends with Chapter 11.