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Advice and help for would be copywriters

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The Design...

The design boys are lucky. Very few clients would dream of physically 'correcting' a visual or an illustration; and that's mostly because very few people have the ability to draw well. But lay a sheet of inventive copy in front of them and out comes the old biro. I am bound to say that some copy would make the style of ransom notes and letters to Father Christmas seem positively Wildean.

But this sort of stuff is not usually produced by professionals. There is one rule of English, however, which I absolutely insist upon in copy. In all copy. When talking directly of and about the company in question, always stick to the matey first person plural 'we', or the genitive plural 'our', rather than the very impersonal and horribly brusque 'they'. It looks better; it sounds better; and it works better. I could go on to the seventh, eighth and even twentieth places, and one day no doubt I will.

But let's get back to copy. Given the above criteria, who's the arbiter of good English? Never mind. Just remember what I've said and decide, here and now, that you are a communicator, not an educator.

To move on to more blithesome themes, I ask you to consider the case for humour in advertising. Does it work? Is it mandatory? Is it relevant? And, if so, why and how? Quite often, when an agency is stuck for a positive idea for an ad or a campaign, and lacks the gall to present the client with something based on an aerial picture of his factory (a singularly pathetic device which, to be fair, is more often than not forced upon the agency by the client), it is likely to turn to humour for its salvation. After all, at a pinch, we can always be funny about anything. The avenue of escape, however, is certain to be full of pitfalls, since a sense of humour is something that tends to differ sharply from one person to another; and in some unfortunate individuals, to be absent altogether.

It takes, I think it true to say, all sorts; and this to me is sound enough reason for approaching humour in online advertising with a good deal of caution. If you run a straight ad which doesn't prove to be up to scratch, its effect may well be neutral. It probably doesn't do much active harm either. But if you attempt to be funny and fail miserably, then the effect of the online advertising may be positively injurious. Faced with something that seems to him veritably plain daft, a reader (or viewer and listener, come to that) may be excused for thinking that the advertiser is a wally.

And one doesn't normally choose to do business with wallies. Nevertheless, the campaigns which move into the public consciousness quickest and stay there longest tend to be the funny ones. Ask anyone which online advertising he remembers and I will give you a shade of odds that the Fosters 'Aussie in Britain', the Pils 'film clips' and the Heineken 'refreshes the parts' campaigns will be among the first mentioned. Ask a similar question on the industrial side, and I shall be very surprised if the names Desoutter and Accles and Pollock don't crop up a darned sight more often than most.

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