Mr Stokes taught me maths when I was nine. In careful, chalky hand above his blackboard was written, “Margins, Accuracy, Gumption and Guts”. That pretty much summed up his approach to the subject.
I’m still rubbish at maths but the words stuck. Phrases and sayings stay with me in a way that lists or bullet points do not. That’s the power of succinct copywriting.
Every day, the likes of Linked-In, Feedspot, Medium and now even the BBC all promise me 16 helpful ways to spot an unhinged axe murderer just before they buy an axe. Or the 34 careful habits of people who get a bit stuck counting up to 35. Success achieved in numerous nuggets. The next day, I can never remember one of them.
Writing doesn’t just come down to a list or a thought. It comes down to a single word. Single words are the copywriter’s best friend. Think of ‘Superhumans’ or perhaps ‘Fearless’. In both examples, one word unleashes volumes.
Lucky to have learned from some of the very, very best, I do have a number of tricks, hints, techniques and bleeding obvious suggestions to help people write short. That means writing with impact, flair and confidence. Thanks to feedback from all those who have attended D&AD workshops since 2000, the ‘learning outcomes’ have become considerably more focused. (https://www.dandad.org/en/d-ad-advertising-copywriting-creative-training-course/)
So what about five handy hints that will turn you into the 21st Century embodiment of David Abbott, Tony Brignull, Barbara Nokes, Tim Delaney and Indra Sinha all at once? That would be telling. In a sentence, rather than a list, I suggest they are a) write, b) rewrite, c) cross out, d) start afresh and e) repeat. A few, horribly gifted people can eventually replace ‘repeat’ with ‘refine’.
For D&AD and a truncated version of this piece, I was asked to give some examples of enviable copywriting. Here they are:
Copywriters: Pushpinder Singh/Sagar Mahabeleshwakar, O&M Mumbai.
At a masterstroke, a statement (Smoking causes cancer) is changed into an idea. As an idea, it stays in the brain for longer.
A beggar outside a French station held the handwritten sign: “Blind man without a pension.” A passing poet changed it to, “Spring is coming and I won’t see it”. The beggar’s takings went up exponentially. By using context (the season), the audience is forced to confront the message subjectively, comparing it to their own lives. The poet was Jacques Prévert.
Copywriter: David Abbott
The full word count of the Economist captured in just nine. Genius at work. A sentence that makes me yearn to be part of the admirably clever club.
Copywriters: Thomas Schob, Simon Smit, Spillmann Felser Burnett, Zurich.
Faced with the same old banking brief about life stages, with-you-all-the-way, the usual money-for-each-step-of-the-journey twaddle, two non English speaking creative people came up with, ‘She’s my everything went wrong’ for Swiss Life. The twists and turns of existence captured effortlessly in this and several more, fabulous, switchback lines.
Copywriters: Jason Gormley, Steve McKenzie, Lowe Lintas
From too many great slogans to choose from, this is a stand out. In 1993, it was a fresh and funny creation for Peperami that fought – and today still fights – its corner with a loveable snarl.