Copywriting is perhaps easier to do than it is to explain. But during his workshop on 17 September, creative director and copywriter Chris Baylis took on the challenge anyway.
Introducing his presentation with the statement that ‘Writing about music is like dancing about architecture’, Chris highlighted the difficulty of defining something as intuitively creative as copywriting. He also stressed that unlike editing and translation (which largely focus on applying traditional textual structures and rules), this commercial art form is about far more than dotting the ‘i’s and crossing the ‘t’s. In fact, rather than conforming to established expectations, conceptual copywriting should create an element of surprise by making unexpected, original connections that reward the reader or viewer with a new way of seeing or understanding something.
To show us how this works in practice, Chris (who has international creative awards coming out of his ears) reviewed some of his favourite work. In ‘Wake Up the Town’, he took the new Philips wake-up light to Longyearbyen, the northernmost settlement on earth, for the residents to try out. His thinking: if it worked for people there, it would work for anyone, anywhere. This kind of inspiration also requires perspiration: it was backed up by a hard-working, interactive campaign. Other bold ideas (such as the Adidas ‘There will be haters’ ad) demonstrated how to tackle a problem from a different angle, rewarding the consumer with an emotional boost, a smile or a wink of recognition.
Chris then took us on a quick tour of the different types of copywriting, from outstanding TV commercials to humble point-of-sale wobblers. He outlined the marketing process that extends from the development of the actual product or service all the way to the creation of the copy, art or design used to sell it. He discussed the value of creating tension, and of allowing our subconscious mind to go off for a wander until it suddenly comes back with the goods. He also stressed the need to keep refilling our personal creative bank with experiences, visuals and popular culture: valuable stuff you can draw on later, just as successful brands do. Other aspects he mentioned were the nature, commercial value and social impact of copywriting, and the rise of ‘purpose’ as a brand value.
Then it was our turn to get creative. Our mission was to come up with a headline and strapline for the new, all-electric, all-singing-and-dancing Volkswagen I.D. Buzz. This is a vehicle that manages to combine the nostalgic charm of the original camper van with the luxurious design of a zero-emissions 8-seater ride (one so futuristic that you don’t even need to drive it yourself). Briefs like this are guaranteed to get me squealing with delight, so I muted my mic and started darkening an A4 with one masterpiece after another. Then we came back together to reveal the fruits of our labours, under Chris’s gentle and respectful encouragement. Much as I loved my own ‘Conceived yesterday. Reborn tomorrow.’, I had to concede defeat to a strapline that I still can’t get out of my mind: ‘Good, clean fun’. Damn – now why didn’t I think of that?
This exercise showed how difficult it is to convey the essence of a product in just a few words. And although there’s no easy answer to the question, ‘How do you come up with an idea?’, Chris did offer some useful tips and reading suggestions, all of which illustrate the eternal truth: ‘Good copy doesn’t sell; it makes you want to buy.’
Want to boost your own copywriting skills? Check out the following resources:
- Sullivan, J. & Boches, E. (2016) Hey Whipple, Squeeze This! The Classic Guide to Creating Great Ads. John Wiley & Sons Inc.
- Sutherland, R. (2019) Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas That Don't Make Sense. Ebury Publishing.
- Maslen, A. (2019) Persuasive Copywriting: Cut Through the Noise and Communicate With Impact. Kogan Page Ltd.