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Advice and help for would be copywriters

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It Would Seem, Then, That There Is Gold In Them There Smiles...

It would seem, then, that there is gold in them there smiles - provided you write and design them in a genuinely funny way. I emphasize genuine because if you are not one hundred per cent convinced that what you are proposing will tickle fancies right and left, you would be better advised to get that picture of the factory organized. I once wrote a mildly humorous ad (not my only humorous ad, by the way) for the Portuguese airline TAP. It contained a large black and white picture of a Boeing 707 in flight. Below that was a second, smaller picture in full colour; it showed the dinner-tray and typical food served by this airline.

The headline said: 'Nobody ever walked out because the food was bad'. Well, I said it was mildly humorous; and whether you smiled or not is completely academic. For when I wrote the ad, I missed one very important issue: something like sixty per cent of all air-passengers are terrified of flying. So not only did I take the initial risk of appealing to the sense of fun of only a fraction of my audience (humour being the nebulous thing it is), more than half the audience already found nothing funny about flying anyway.

See what I mean? Rule 8 People don't buy from clowns - and that includes clients. Which brings us nicely to the pun.

Without doubt, the pun is endemic to the average British copywriter. And the more average he is, the more endemic it is likely to be. It is in his blood; and it is there because he believes it is expected of him. It ain't - not by me it ain't.

One hardly dares open a magazine these days for fear of being punned to death. The little devils appear in headlines, in body copy, even in tag-lines.

(A tag-line is that phrase usually placed beneath the company logo. It sets out to give a concise philosophy of the firm, and a nice warm feeling to the reader. Invariably, though, it's an impediment that says nothing and means less.) I think you know what I'm getting at, but for fun we'll take a few random and distressing examples of the pun. A recent campaign for a well-known tool manufacturer gave us a hammer pictured in the contrived guise of a boxer. That should have been plenty enough warning to the student of the pun, since one could practically close one's eyes and recite the copy.

It had allusions to champions, to ringing the bell and never throwing in the towel, to heavyweights, to punches being packed - and to any of the other one hundred and one pugilistic references. The torch that this company carries with such egregious distinction (throughout its entire product range, incidentally) burns brightly in the hearts of many another advertiser. There is a company manufacturing luggage which tells us: 'let's get down to cases,' along with a picture of . . . yes . . . a judge. Another, which for its sins makes zip-fasteners, insists it is in the 'security business,' reinforcing this with an illustration of a uniformed security guard. There's a third making some kind of labelling machine that assures us they have 'a name' for doing just that.

It's a case of piling Pelion upon Ossa if ever there was one. Yet example mounts on tedious example. Manufacturers of domestic cleaning fluids can't seem to get over the happy linguistic fact that their solutions provide solutions to problems. People who offer to cut costs, lend a hand, undertake mammoth jobs and tailor their services show: scissors, hands, elephants and tape-measures respectively. I'd have thought that, by now, this penchant for maltreating the obvious would have had its execrable day.

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