A version of this story on Copywriting Counsel from an Unbearable Campaign appeared in Total Annarchy, my fortnightly newsletter that helps you be a better writer, storyteller, marketer. Get it in your inbox; you’ll love it.
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Fall 2020 has been dominated by a contentious, polarizing, absolutely gutting election—where one plumped-up challenger seeks to unseat an overstuffed incumbent.
Social media has been taking sides (it always does)—adamant that their candidate is the most qualified. The most skilled. The only logical choice, you idiot.
I’m talking, of course, about Fat Bear Week.
Fat Bear Week is the annual competition that seeks an answer to the question: Which brown bear at Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve is the fattest?
The single-elimination tournament pits bear against bear. Voters online choose the one they think has packed on the most pounds to prepare for the coming winter’s hibernation. This is not a body-shaming; it’s body-glorifying: The fattest bear is celebrated as the one who has prepped the best.
No lie: this Fat Bear election has been a nice distraction from the other big election looming here in the US—the one that’s equally polarizing, but with higher stakes.
And maybe the backdrop of the US Presidential election is why Fat Bear Week took on new resonance this year.
Or maybe it’s because this year we are all Fat Bears? Sitting in our homes. Eating everything in sight. Bulking up for a winter we aren’t sure we’ll survive.
Whatever the reason, heavy bears are the lightness 2020 needs: This year, Fat Bear Week drew 646,282 online votes, more than double the number of voters during Fat Bear Week 2019.
This year’s champion won by a… well, wide margin: A bear called 747 (he’s “big as a jet”) took the title:
There’s a lot I love about Fat Bear Week from a Marketing point of view. (I’ve talked about why I love it in speeches this fall.)
But at the foundation of it is the story that the Katmai Park and National Park Service tells about each bear candidate.
Copywriting Tips from Fat Bear Week
Telling is better than selling. The park service doesn’t sell the fat candidates to us. It doesn’t implore you or me to vote for one over another.
Instead, it tells their story in a way that makes every bear relatable, while educating us on the challenges and surprising humanity of wild bear life.
Her maternal experiences haven’t been without hardship. When Holly and her single yearling arrived in 2007, the yearling had a pronounced limp. Despite the difficulties that accompanied her yearling’s injury, Holly was able to successfully care for him. The yearling’s leg healed by the end of summer and he was weaned the following spring.
In 2014 Holly adopted a lone yearling cub into her family. Holly cared for and raised this bear alongside her biological cub. In 2020, Holly returned with a single spring cub that represents her fifth known litter.
See what happened there?
Holly is transformed through story. It’s not her weight or appearance or the facts of her fatness that win us over. It’s the story of how she’s advocated for her own children, fostered other kids in need—how she is basically Mother of the Year by any measure for any species.
Humor is painted, not written. Holly isn’t tan and black; she’s the color of a bloated “toasted marshmallow.”
Bear 402 (so close to “404” that I dubbed her Bear ALMOST Not Found LOL) has “apostrophe-shaped ears.”
Grazer is “an especially skilled angler,” which instantly conjures up the image of a pudgy brown sow in hip waders and a fishing vest, casting her rod into the rapids, posting her catch on her Instagram account later that day.
The best way to describe is almost always to paint a picture. And in humor, to use a paint set of unconventional words.
Always apply alliteration. “Lardaceous Leviathan Levels Chunky Challenger” is a much more vivid way of writing “Fat, Large Creature Beats His Challenger.”
Especially when it’s followed by “747 fulfills the fate of the fat and fabulous as he heads off to hibernation.”
That’s some world-class alliteration there.
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Danielle Bridiga runs digital strategy for the Department of Interior, which includes the parks in the National Park Service. She told me that the social strategy of the National Park Service “is to share plenty of content that sparks wonder and memories, travel ideas, and of course amusement—while keeping people aware and invested.”
Our product might not be Fat Bears (sweet Cheezits I wish). But isn’t Danielle’s mission not unlike that for all our brands? To share content that sparks awareness and investment?
And maybe a little humor, a story, and a reminder that even in the wilderness… we can thrive.
And if you’re in the US: Please VOTE!!! It’s too late to favorite a Fat Bear. But it’s not too late for that other election dominating the news. Get to it.
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