I realise how old I am when I mention the name Robert Kennedy – Senator, Bobbie Kennedy that is! It happened just the other day in a room full of under 35’s. At first I became aware of the vacant looks and so I repeated his name and like the chorus of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, back came a resounding “Who?” It was at this point that I realised I had staggered into a time zone which had little or no appreciation of my past world or the greatness of its heroes and their sad departure. For a while I lamented its passing and grieved for the lessons it had taught me. Not that I am at all concerned that we do not live in better times, for in most cases we most surely do, however I believe that when we allow significant moments of history to fade to invisibility, we lose the ability to learn from such moments and that in itself relegates us to the scrap heap labelled “Let’s make the same Mistakes Again”
For those much younger, Senator Robert Kennedy was the younger brother of the assassinated President John F Kennedy. After his brother’s death and the political demise of President Lyndon B. Johnson, the young democrat campaigned for the 1968 presidency. While celebrating a win in the primaries at a Los Angeles Hotel he too was fatally wounded by a .22 handgun, fired by a Palestinian, Sirhan Sirhan. This background is to acquaint those of you who know little of this time, for without some knowledge of this passage of history what follows would make little or no sense.
It was only recently that I saw a masterful piece of copywriting which demonstrated for me the power of simplicity and the genius of creativity. It was a press advertisement for the anti-gun lobby in the US. It was a little larger than a business card in size and resplendent with the head & shoulders of the Senator, our genius had written the following sentence, “If a .22 handgun is less deadly, why isn’t he less dead?”
As a writer I swoon over the brilliance and power of the wordsmithing. Brilliant because it says everything that needs to be said, powerful because of its directness and eternal rebuttal. It makes mockery of politicians who waffle using hundreds of sentences only to have said nothing. Remarkable in its logic and devastating in its command of remembrance. It is a lesson for us all in so many ways. In terms of advertising copy, this gem teaches me so much. That ‘less is more’ that ‘potency is not volume’ and that parables are not confined to the lips of a Saviour.
That we should have to trade on the death of a young and great man, who was cut down in the prime of his life is regrettable, but if it saves another life, if it reduces the tears shed by mothers, if it stops the breaking of a father’s heart, Robert Kennedy’s death will not be in vain. Our job as admen. is to persuade, as copywriters our words must be our weapons and this example is a masterful piece of persuasion, demonstrating the weeping and rocking of words. Good night Bobbie, we miss you and to the remarkable writer, we salute you.