Baby Corn Farmer.
I can’t think of too many jobs that require a writer to come up with as many ideas as quickly and as often as an advertising copywriter has to. I have written thousands of ads. Which means I’ve written thousands of stories. Hopefully, I needn’t tell anyone reading this that an ad is a story. Usually they’re no more than 30 seconds long. And these days sometimes they’re as short as six seconds. But no matter what, if it’s good, there’s a story in there somewhere.
There are many tricks to how we do this. There are creative archetypes we follow. They do the same thing in movies. Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets her back. Seen it a million times. Put a twist on it and boom you've got this summer's hottest romantic comedy.
In advertising we do the same thing. Which helps. A little. The trick is finding a new way of telling an old story. So new that no one says that it reminds them of something they’ve seen a zillion times before.
That’s why creatives have so many old awards annuals in their office. When you’re really stuck and the deadline has your back against the wall, pull out the CA Annual from 2005 and find something you can rip off. You feel like a complete fraud for doing it, but don’t let that stop you. We all borrow from each other. And borrowed is such a nicer word than ripped off. It’s not stealing. It’s an homage.
Another thing you can do is keep a stash of old ideas. For emergencies.
When you work as a creative in an ad agency, about 90% of the work you do ends up in a trashcan. Which is stupid and I reject that. Sure, it might be garbage. But garbage can be recycled and even turned into something better later on. So don’t throw it away. Put it into your stash.
Baby Corn Farmer is one from my stash. The first thing you need to know about Baby Corn Farmer is that it is not about a baby who farms corn. Though that’s an interesting idea that I might one day explore. But my Baby Corn Farmer is about an ordinary farmer who grows baby corn.
Many years ago before the marriages and the kids, I was just a carefree dude living in the magical city of Detroit. I scored an amazing apartment. It was a two-bedroom in a four-flat walk-up built in 1927. I think the rent was $725/mo. Amazing location. I could look out my back window and see the marquee of the art house movie theatre across the street to check what was playing. On the other side of the alley, I backed up to a fairly decent taco place. I ate there pretty much every day. There was a cute girl who worked there and she would use my place to shower and sometimes spend the night. She always showed up with a big bag of tacos.
But one cannot live on tacos alone. And why would you when there’s a good Chinese place right up the street? And it was at this good Chinese place right up the street that I was having the spicy Szechwan stir-fry, when Baby Corn Farmer was born.
The gag with Baby Corn Farmer is that you start off with a heroic shot of an ordinary farmer standing proudly in front of his corn field. The camera’s perspective shifts and you pull out to see that the corn only comes up to the farmer’s ankles. And that’s when he says his line.
“Anyone can grow corn. But baby corn is a whole different ballgame.”
We then see that everything on the farm is miniaturized. He rides a tiny little tractor that’s about the size of a Tonka truck. He has a tiny little barn that’s about the size of a dollhouse complete with tiny stacks of hay bales and tiny little cows and chickens happily milling about. His dialogue continues.
“Growing baby corn is all about the tiny details. The little things. You gotta dream big but think small."
By now you’ve either had a laugh or changed the channel and it’s time to make the turn and pay-off the product. So the Baby Corn Farmer says:
“Baby corn farming is hard work. That’s why I like/use (insert product here). It’s totally easy.”
And there you’ve got it. You can put anything in there as long as the main benefit is ease of usage. Which covers about 85% of most products out there. Brands always want to say they’re the easier way to do something. Everyone wants to be the product that makes your hectic life simpler. You hear it all the time. Which is why if you’re going to say it, you’ll really need to find a way that’s different and hopefully memorable.
Enter Baby Corn Farmer. A character I’ve used on three different occasions at three different agencies for three completely different products. Each time it got a good reception. Especially internally. But, also on each occasion the client passed. So I’ve decided to retire Baby Corn Farmer for good. No more tiny barns. No more super small pitchforks lovingly arranged. No more accompanying teaser campaign for the fictional Baby Corn Council with their beloved tagline – Bring on the corn, baby!
I’m done with Baby Corn Farmer. I’m putting him out to pasture. But don’t worry. There are lots of other Baby Corn Famers in my stash. Some are weird characters. Some are strange situations. Others are bizarre consequences. But I only pull them out when I really need them.
So to all you young copywriters out there, the lesson is this. Ideas never die. And death is such a bummer so why even think about it? Hang on to those crumpled up pieces of paper and the stuff your boss said wasn’t right. Keep them in your back pocket for a creatively rainy day. When the deadline is looming. The nerves are fraying. And all your ideas have already been summarily dismissed. That’s when you bring out your own Baby Corn Farmer.
Which always had a nice ending I thought. After the product copy and the obligatory cutaway, we come back to the farmer standing proudly in the field as he says his final line.
“Yep. Baby corn farming is hard work. It’s not for everyone. But you just think about all those people out there enjoying their spicy Szechwan stir-fries and their Kung Pao Chickens—it makes the whole thing worthwhile.”