Hollowman: Gatsby on Web Content

Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation of The Great Gatsby is what you’d expect from the director: Lavish, over-the-top and just this side of believable. But in the context of Fitzgerald’s novel this kind of direction works, gives a sort of fiendishly colored edge to the entire film, a sense of vibrant desperation.

Last night the film caught me again as I paged through channel listings before bed—it had been some time since I saw the beginning and I was captivated by narrator Nick Carraway’s descent into the world of New York’s Roaring Twenties.

Sitting at my desk today, tired and seeking the solace of coffee, it occurred to me that the hollowness of Gatsby’s peers—Tom and Jordan and Daisy—bore more than a passing resemblance to the work I do on a daily basis.

Daisy and company are stand-ins for the kind of hollow copy so many sites have used for years, the kind of “click here, buy now” jargon that’s designed to boost sales by any means necessary. Bold and brash, this copy promises the moon but never delivers. Behind all the bombast is a thin shell; crack it, and you’ll find nothing at all.

Gatsby is an idealist, much like the Web entrepreneur or startup company; he sees Daisy as he wishes her to be, the potential in their relationship that was never really there. So it is with Web content, the notion that flash and flare can take the place of intrinsically valuable work.

Bottom line? Hollow copy nets the occasional customer; content-rich work yields real contacts.

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