Here’s a word or two for young copywriters from the owner of a small advertising agency.
Group your ideas into five clusters:
UNUSUAL MEDIUMS – Once upon a time, no one dreamed of putting ads on buses or elevators or tattoos. Now it’s commonplace. Find the next bus. New mediums make for newsworthy and award-winning ideas.
UNTAPPED ART DIRECTION – Always keep an eye out of undiscovered ways of laying out type. Anything that can be used to spell out words. Since the age of art directors, almost everything has been used, but every so often a unique, ‘undiscovered’ way of writing words pops up and blows everyone away ie Moss Letters.
CLEVER PLAYS ON PHRASE – Makes Pasta Fasta won a Clio at one point. It’s cute, and it probably wouldn’t win today. But people still love clever turns of phrase. When you think of them, write them down. One easy way is to go through idioms and then twist them. This is also the laziest form of copywriting, because it’s not hinged on a solid idea. However, pair it with a human truth or insight, and you have a great ad. This should be the last stage, not the first.
PRODUCT INSIGHT – Get good at this and you will never need to look for work. If you can articulate the benefit of your client’s product, and it is particular to that product, and that product alone – you have mastered the art of copywriting. “It tastes awful, but it works.” was/is one of the world’s most successful headlines (for Buckleys). “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz.” dramatically increased Alka-seltzer’s sales. (Because people used twice as much as before.)
HUMAN TRUTHS – Make note of things that you notice in your day-to-day observations that aren’t attached to an idea or product yet. For instance, you perform better when being watched. File these insights away. They make for the strongest ads. If you watch Mad Men, this is Don’s trick. He is very astute about human interaction, and weaves his discoveries about behaviour and emotion into his ideas. This technique made (Bernbach) DDB very famous and successful in the 1960s even though they were selling German cars to post-war Americans. They always strove for the human truth.
When you are given a brief, start with the product insights you get, but then bring in ideas from the other four clusters. When things start coming together like puzzle pieces, you have a great ad.