Poetry or doggerel?

True or false? “Nothing is more elegant than a high-heeled, pointed-toe sling.”

Answer: Neither and both. This copy, as it appears in a catalog whose keyline is “Shoes that fit you … and your lifestyle!” isn’t true in any ordinary connotation. As the first line of descriptive copy for a group of high-heeled, pointed-toe sling shoes, it survives.

Product and service descriptions have declined into a Twitterized morass. We venerate copy that capably combines a poetic overtone with hard sell. But we know, as we honor and respect copy that fuses salesmanship, color and respectable grammar, that veneration is no substitute for response.

Can a poet sell?

Shrinkage, not only of dedicated attention but of attention-spans themselves, has affected copy whose psychological intention is to generate receptivity through a gentle poetic slant.

Gentle poetry and “Get to the point” are out of sync with each other. They can coexist when a mood-setting opening is followed by a clear, straightforward offer. This demands a proposition that lends itself to such an exotic mixture, as well as the professional laying on of hands.

Adding to the rarity of such copy is automatic elimination of standard opener-goads such as “New!” or “Price Reduced!” or similar exclamatory spurs. And, oops — dynamic “benefit” copy also may not fit into this niche.

So why fight evolution? Because just by being different, copy can attract response that has become mildly numbed by typical copy.

With this definition, we’d expect to see copy candidates primarily in women’s fashion catalogs, and we’d be surprised to see elsewhere a description (in an online catalog) whose heading parallels the softness of “Cargo class luxury.” … with subhead “A beautiful pairing of function and fashion, the utility-chic trench jacket is spring’s true must-have.”

A natural exemption

Might there be a better way to sell perfume than this description, from an upscale catalog? No heading — just this adjective-loaded portrayal:

The pert, little flower with the delicate white petals and yellow center is a harbinger of spring — and the inspiration for another celebrated fragrance from Marc Jacobs. The new Daisy Eau So French is a spirited aroma, redolent of raspberry and plum. The original Daisy is luminous and enchanting with hints of violet leaves and wild strawberries.

My resident copy critic smiled while reading this copy, then asked, “Am I supposed to dab this on or eat it?” Accompanying critiques included the suggestion of replacing “yellow” with “golden,” and that single proposal underscores the difference between faux-poetic copy and conventional dynamic copy.

Might a “resentment factor” be in play? Every key word is as much a challenge as it is a gentle weapon.

A common denominator of poetic copy is delay in getting to the point. Is that an advantage or a disadvantage?

The first sentence of a description in an online catalog: “Spring comes in a succession of small details.”

Hmm. Might be a … well, let’s read the next paragraph:

“A songbird waking you up at six that you’re too late to identify at the window. The onset of preseasonal allergies. Endless baseball rumors. An errant groundhog who asks you for directions.”

Not yet. We need more. And it’s this: “Nonetheless, you can’t wait for the most magical of all seasons to arrive.”

Still not yet. We need one more one-sentence paragraph: “Eyeing these superbly cut dresses may even make the wait more intolerable.”

All this assumes space is available, state of mind is favorable, and layout does in fact show us what the item is. It might sell where straightforward copy doesn’t. It might bomb.

Why consider lyrical copy in an age of bombast? Ah, just because we’re in an age of bombast, and copy that lowers blood pressure while gently raising the buying impulse may generate pre-acceptance, where conventional copy is just a bunch of selling words.

But proceed with caution. The same prospective customer who admires “incredible apple” might be more likely to order a more obviously edible apple.

Herschell Gordon Lewis is the principal of Lewis Enterprises (www.herschellgordonlewis.com) in Pompano Beach, FL.

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