[Nothing’s ever as funny as a true story.]
Early Thursday morning, an up-and-coming slogan was shot down in the Silicon Valley office building of a software startup.
An intern, recently hired to handle social media marketing by the software company (whose brand must be kept secret), claims to have witnessed the entire sequence of events that transpired in the conference room, where the tragedy occurred. (The young woman requests anonymity while the investigation takes place but claims to have witnessed what happened.)
She remained at the scene of the crime when authorities arrived and recounted the details. The intern said a meeting involving the company’s marketing team and a freelance copywriter had taken place, with the copywriter participating in the meeting remotely via the popular Skype application.
The Meeting Was About Selecting a Slogan
“Everything was going well and the mood was upbeat,” the intern said. The copywriter was presenting ideas for a new slogan for the emerging brand. “The CEO and the guys on the marketing team were thrilled. There were a lot of fun and interesting ideas, and almost everyone loved them.”
According to the young woman, not everyone in the meeting had the exact same shortlist of winners, however. The CEO expressed his opinion, and everyone began to rally around the clever four-word phrase he favored.
“There was some friction reaching consensus and a final decision,” she said. “And at that time things began to get contentious.” Despite the differences of opinions, the intern said things were progressing nicely, and there was no reason to believe a felony would soon be committed. She did admit to sensing signs of a power struggle as the executives jockeyed for position.
An Apostrophe Was at the Center of the Dispute
But the meeting took a turn for the worse when the discussion began focusing on the use of an apostrophe. According to the police report, a contract marketing director adamantly objected to the proposed apostrophe and pressed the copywriter to revise the phrase.
The copywriter was cordial and professional, said the intern, but demonstrated how a compromised version of the slogan created awkward and less meaningful language.
“He seemed very sure of himself,” said the intern. “He listened to the team’s ideas and even threw in some of his own but stood fast by his recommendation to leave the slogan alone.”
Raja Gupta, the marketing associate responsible for setting up the meeting, corroborated the story. Gupta told reporters from The Point, “The marketing director introduced an objection based on SEO. He said the slogan’s keyword would be lost on search engines because of the apostrophe. Then, as if he was literally foreshadowing what was to come, he expressed very strong belief the slogan’s possessive noun should be eliminated.
Gupta said he himself sided with the copywriter, who insisted SEO considerations and the choice of the best and most memorable slogan were completely separate issues.
SEO Shouldn’t Trump Smart Communications
When contacted after the murder, the copywriter was happy to reveal his name as well as the location of his website—understanding, of course, the backlinking implications.
“The issue really calls for some context,” explained Barry Feldman, of Feldman Creative. “A good copywriter would never deny the importance of SEO for web-based content, but—and this is a huge but—the searchability of a slogan simply doesn’t factor into the slogan selection process.” Feldman continued (much more so than we asked him to) by adding, “It’s really quite lame.”
“For starters, slogans are supposed to appeal to customers, not friggin’ robots. And also, it’s extremely unlikely the slogan would be search-friendly, no matter which words it contained, because it was unlikely to appear as HTML.”
Gupta told us given the chance, Feldman can really rant, but copywriters are generally very strong-willed and don’t respond well to having their expertise challenged or creativity stifled. Feldman didn’t disagree, but he did seem fairly pissed.
Sentenced to Death
Ultimately, the marketing director’s objection prompted a stalemate. The team played nice and pretended with a little “stewing on it” time, some additional ideas, and additional creative fees, a solution would be found.
However, the truth is the slogan, a victim of the omnipresent SEO, lies slain.
Experts across the online marketing landscape wrestle with search-based issues and seldom agree on any sacred set of laws. Plus, it’s no secret that Google, the dominant force in search products and services, relentlessly clouds the picture by frequently updating its software while revealing only vague explanations of its doings.
Feldman and other members of the copywriting camp are convinced SEO is the poison behind infinite crimes of creative slaughter and the catalyst of countless bad business decisions.
The father of the precious slogan, Feldman was distraught as he spoke with us. Though he fought back tears as he spoke of his loss, he mustered the strength to condemn his client, the process, and SEO in general.
“Screw it,” he said. “Screw it, screw them, and screw the algorithms they rode in on.” Harsh words to be sure, but understand, Barry had just suffered the most profound pain a copywriter could ever experience: the death of his idea.