How To Be A Good Copywriter
You wanna be a better creative? I've been doing this for 35 years, since before computers, since a Word Doc was a yellow legal pad.
Becoming a good ad copywriter is really not that hard. It’s much easier than becoming a good actual real writer. Here are six things I’ve learned through two centuries:
First Tip: Forget grammar (mostly), just write informally, like how (smart, cool, but not snobby) people talk to each other. As Nigel Bogle (the second “B” in BBH) says, “If you want to speak to everyone, speak to someone”.
Your strategist may say the target audience is “All Millennials”. But if you write an ad to all of them, none of them will feel any connection to your product. See below:
Create your ad(s) targeting One Person. And as David Ogilvy famously said: “The customer is not a moron. She’s your wife”—which is dated and sexist but just replace “wife” with “best friend”. This is a very important insight to remember. Now, notice all the ads today that make you feel like a moron.
2—Second Tip: Think Visually, Sir/Lady Wordsmith. I touched on this in this post from March, The Lost Art Of Art Direction. Attaching words to a meme is not thinking visually Millennials, sorry. What I mean by this is: Your clever puns and wordplays can be nifty sometimes but more often, they’re not. Usually, they just sit there, flatly, like a dumb flat thing. Great visuals can come from anywhere. Anywhere. Like, an ugly office binder:
This 2012 ad via Serbia is a great visualization of the current Southwest Airlines tagline “Wanna Get Away?” See how easy your job becomes, copywriter, when you think up an unexpected visual? The headline (or video copy) writes itself. It is not solely the art director’s job to think visually, poet-boy. Ad agency: Y&R, Belgrade.
When I was your age (here goes the geezer again), I had to page through fucking stock photo books and “edgy” magazines to push my mind visually or find swipe. You lazy fucks have the internet. But! The mind isn’t wired to think like you need to think as an ad creative. You need to train your brain. And the only way to do that is by repetition. Let’s say a brand’s benefit is reliability. You get started by typing “reliability” (and related words) into Image Search. And start scrolling and scrolling. Keep scrolling. Put in another word, and fucking scroll. You almost certainly will not find a good unique visual but this process might startle your mind into coming up with one. Do the same process with photo sites. And it doesn’t matter the assignment/medium: online, video, etc. It’s the same thinking, digital guru.
3—Third Tip: Related to the above, get a very imprecise inaccurate thesaurus like Roget’s. YES, a thesaurus book. The physical process of paging actually helps your mind get in the head you need to make good ads. I’m serious. It really does (As does paging through back issues of Communications Art and Archive.) Then, just start writing (or “typing”) words/phrases/every stupid thought that comes into your head. It’s better to write than type because you won’t be tempted to delete something. Don’t edit yourself—ever!
4—Fourth Tip: Once you get your brief, after you get done
typing writing down your bad first ideas, start thinking “conceptually”. You’re not looking for the perfect pun, you’re looking for “campaign-able” ideas, yes, Big Ideas. Ideas like these. Very few creatives think this way anymore because it’s harder to think this way. They think: “one-offs”. Much easier to do. But it’s better for your brain, and most importantly, better for the client to think Big. Better for their branding, better for their bottom line.
5—Fifth Tip: You are not a “storyteller”. You are not. Remove the word from your resume and online bios immediately. You’re a seller, Hemingway. Nothing more.
6—Sixth Tip: Google Image search “Fallon McElligott ad”. Scroll click read absorb repeat.
FINAL NOTE: All-copy ads can be brilliant. But you still need a concept, like the great David Abbott had for The Economist. See a few more of the ads from the long-running campaign here.