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Writing Asian American advertising copy

“Which is harder,” someone asked me, “being a journalist or being an advertising copywriter?”

Being both, I would say advertising copy is harder to master.

So where does the hard part factor in? It boils down to direction and process.

In terms of direction, the more it is narrowed down, the writing becomes easier, flowing almost organically. This is if one writes for the general market audience. Once other cultures come into play, the ballgame changes entirely. Even the expression, “the ballgame changes entirely” will no longer be culturally relevant translated to the Chinese, Korean or Filipino corridors.

This means that as an Asian American advertising copywriter, you are even more specialized. You are not only writing ad copy, you are trans-creating or culturally adapting an ad copy. It has to suit the ethnic market it is targeting. So when people ask me why I don’t argue my point about a certain headline, it’s because I am aware that if I am writing for a different ethnic segment, there may be a cultural nuance I am missing. I learned this from being a journalist (read: trained skeptic).

The ratio of your input as a copywriter, though, is 20%, more or less. One must understand it is a collaborative process. Once you are finished with the ad copy, it goes through an approval process, the second hard part about this profession, although some would also argue its merits; that’s an off-tangent angle best written elsewhere.

For approval, an ad copy can pass through as many as 20 people–from the agency’s departmental team to the entire agency (assigned to the account) to the client and its legal department. You must be aware that when you pound the keyboard, it will go through a legal team. And that revising the ad copy is common. But I agree. As E.B. White would say, “The best writing is rewriting.” But it doesn’t stop there.

In journalism as in ad copywriting, there’s selling involved. If you cannot sell it to the client or your agency, what more to your audience?