Sunday, September 03, 2006


An open letter to advertising copyrwiters throughout the region, from Titus Upputuru, from WordSociety, New Delhi, India:

This letter is from one Copywriter to another.
I was going through the results of the award shows this year and
was saddened to notice a death.
The Word has almost disappeared.
In most ads, there are just one or two. (There are a few
exceptions though, and the outdoor Grand Prix at Cannes gives me
In many, there are none at all.
I was wondering what happened to the Copywriter.
When did we stop writing Copy? And when I say Copy I do not mean
the long copy masterpiece that we all set out to make at least
once in our lifetime.
When was the last time we wrote a good, full-bodied headline,
even? Was it because the Client had rejected the picture-only ad
so many times that we had no option left but to do a headline
This email is an initiative to 'Save The Word'.
If you would like to join this movement, contribute by doing the
1) Do your next five ads or campaigns with headlines,
irrespective of brand guidelines.
2) Pick an old One Show/D&AD Annual and photocopy copy-led ads
and paste them up all over the agency.
3) Dnt wrt lke ths.
4) If you are a Creative Director, ask your writers to show a
headline, with every visual-led ad that they show.
5) Hire writers who have at least ten headlines in their
6) Spread the word. Send this email to all the copywriters you
You can add more to the list.
The only way, we are going to Save The Word is by getting
together and ensuring that we see more Copy in the media. For
that to happen, this email needs to find legs and travel far and
wide. So, please forward this to as many Copywriters in the
world as you can.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember the good old days too. I argue endlessly with my art director about the proliferation of 'visual puns' and the demise of copywriting craft. I mourn the passing of the apostrophe.

But language is ever-evolving. And advertsing 'copy' currently reflects the world our customers live in: a world of texting, email, shorthand, short cuts and marketing saturation.

So instead of trying to flog a very-nearly dead horse, perhaps you'd be better off trying understand the way the people you're marketing to actually communicate.

The 'word' may have its day again. But not this month, or even this year, I'm afraid.

9:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I wish my newspaper was full of words instead of those bloody pictures.

And Harry Potter. Bloody picture books eh? What happened to good old-fashioned stories?

Ohm, and websites. Doncha hate 'em?

Pictures pictures pictures. I haven't read for years.

10:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

10.11, you've missed the point. Reading something voluntarily (for pleasure) isn't the same as reading advertising.

As marketers, more than ever, we hijack consumers' time, dragging them away from what they'd rather be doing to deliver a sales message.

So messages get shorter to gain greater impact in an ever-shrinking window of selling opportunity. And visuals start to become the shorthand for the words ...

So words start to disappear in ads.

11:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear 9:48

Unlike 10:11's failed sarcasm, your blog entry was very eloquently written.

11:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suppose it doesn't help when award juries keep giving he gongs to the ads that stick with the formula of big picture and logo.

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can't be bothered reading it, but it looks cool.

11:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"... the outdoor Grand Prix at Cannes gives me

Not me. I read the bloody things and they were all appallingly written. The idea was cool, but they're actually proof of your point, Titus, that the copywriter's craft is an endangered species.

12:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The One Show annual from 1994 is full of copy driven ads. Top stuff. Technology has seen the power shift from the pen to the mouse. It seems art directors now have the upper hand.

12:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"picture is worth a thousand words"

Do these six words paint a good picture of what you're up against?


1:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"[A] picture is worth a thousand words"

Show me the single picture that captures this thought as succinctly as those seven words do.

1:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with 11:05

2:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If a consumer only has x amount of time to spend reading ads in a magazine sitting, are we better to do an ad that doesn't take much of his time, but ultimately leaves him unimpressed, or strive to write something so interesting that he spends his whole x minutes with us? I don;t know about you guys, but off the top of my head, I can't think of the last great visual pun I saw, but I can remember verbatim at least 3 or 4 good headlines I've read. Maybe it's just me....

2:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Positional only.

3:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, word.

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

2.55pm, I think there is still an audience for good copy-based ads, but I can only presume advertising is changing because people aren't responding to the 'word'.

The old BT ads here spring to mind; they were beautifully crafted and presumably well targeted, but BT ended a long relationship with Bevins to change tack creatively.

A sign of the times maybe. But I too appreciate a beautifully written ad on the rare occasion one presents itself.

4:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Write better and they'll read your guff to the very last...

4:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

11:39 great point. Words freak me out.

What I'm really worried about is if this movement takes off will we see more written puns instead of visual ones?

I think a visual pun is generally a lot more thoughtful and engaging.

And I think the majority of writers do today what they've always done – spend half their time in the pub and the other half dreaming about when they become a director / novelist / rock star. Art Directors tend to stick at their craft a little longer.

5:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tired OLD argument. Marshall McLuhan was arguing the difference between visual puns and written puns in the early 1960's. Maybe if you all read a lot more you'd all become better writers and art directors.

In my tiny time in advertising I've only met one or two 'copywriters' who can actually write.

I agree with 4.41. Write well and the reader will want to read all the way to the end.

5.00pm is tedious.

9:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good copywriting is about bringing out the idea with words. Good art direction is about bringing out the idea with visuals. Good creative is about bringing out the idea with a great combination of both.

If the idea is good, people will read the copy. However, if the copy is just nicely written information chances are people won't want to read it.

People choose to read a magazine, see a movie, watch a TV show, listen to the radio - but the ads in between get in the way. We have to make people choose to engage with the ads too - which is achieved by the IDEA.

If we want more ads with long copy then perhaps we need to focus on the really big ideas - the ones that transcend media boundaries and demarcations in craft. The ones that are IDEAS before they're copywriting, art direction, or anything else for that matter.

If we set about to create ads that focus on long copy we're doing ourselves a disservice. If we set about to create ads that focus on great art direction or design we're doing ourselves a disservice. If we set about to create ads that focus on content or interactivity we're doing ourselves a disservice. We should be setting out to create ads with big ideas. Everything else will follow.

As the segmentation of media continues and new, innovating modes of communication and entertainment emerge, we need to rely more heavily on ideas to attract people to our message. Which means the long copy ad (like any other) needs to start with a great idea.

And to that end, the Tate Gallery work that won Grand Prix for Outdoor this year at Cannes, (among a raft of copywriting awards at various shows), was absolutely brilliant. It wasn't long copy for the sake nice copy; every word was in support of a big idea.

A fantastic demonstration of quality copywriting that people will actually want to read.

12:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sorry 12:51, can you sum up that whole novel you just wrote into a nice headline? You lost me after about 8 words.

9:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I couldn't get to the end of any of those Tate Gallery ads, 12:51AM. Appallingly written, despite the admitted "bigness" of the idea.

Try reading them again, and this time, put the Cannes Grand Prix to the back of your mind. Just read them. Self conscious, over-written, unedited guff, I think you'll find.

A demonstration that the writer's craft is withering on the vine.

9:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

9:35AM. Tate Gallery ads were great. I read them while in London - before the Cannes results - and they were brilliant then too.

10:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

10:51, here's just one example, from the "I've just split up collection" ad.

"We know how it feels. You don't even want to wake up in the morning. Your confidence has taken a bit of a knock and we understand."

The italics are my emphasis, to prove this point: repetitive drivel. If 'they know how it feels', there's no need to repeat the sentiment with 'we understand'.

And the three ads are littered with these unnecessary duplications. Not to mention unwitty asides (Still with us? Good.) And self-conscious conceits.

In my opinion, humble though it is, the writer could do a lot worse than read and re-read Paul Fishlock's chapter of The Copy Book, And spend less time showing off how good he or she is, and more time showing off how good the product is.

12:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with 9.35 - tate ads are average at best. Long and boring. I don't think they desrve the outdoor Grand Prix either, print maybe, but outdoor? Really, who stops for 3 minutes to read an outdoor poster?

If they were done by Singo's for a shitty little art gallery then everyone would of slagged them off and said they were shit... and they would of been right.

1:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey 1:03, thanks for the support, but if you were going to slag off someone's copywriting craft, it would have been best to get your grammar right.

- 9:35.

1:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1.03 here

why do I have to get my grammar right? I don't care for long copy ads, in fact, the less words the better. And on the odd occasion when there is a need for a few words, that's what my copywriter gets paid to do.

2:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

2.49pm, I can guarantee you will never work in a quality agency.

3:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey 2:49, I think you missed the point. "Would of" / "Would have". Geddit?

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr/Mrs 2.49 I'm not sure what you consider a quality agency but I'm pretty sure it would come down to a few things:

- big billings
- in the hot, hot end of Campaign Briefs agency review
- international network to draw upon
- one of the most extensive and impressive client lists in Australia.

Most people think some or all of these things make a "quality" agency.

Fortunatly my agency is all of those things.

So you better get back to your brochure quick smart and maybe if you try really hard you could end up working in a quality agency just like me. That way you won't have to be so bitter and twisted about the shit you have to do every day.

Have a nice day

- 1.03/2.49

5:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps 2:49's literacy levels aren't quite up there. Maybe he watches cartoon network and reads infants picture books for inspiration. Just maybe 2:49 should care for words. Without them he's got no argument to speak of. Unless Lynchy will let him post a highly detailed, complicated drawing that is.

But aside from that I think old mate Titus has a point. As much as we are more visual today we cannot neglect the power of the word.

6:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

9:35AM & 12:28PM.

The Tate Gallery campaign works because the copy has empathy. It sounds human. It’s built on insights and, contrary to your suggestion, the client's product is in fact all throughout the copy because the writer uses examples of artwork from around the gallery to illustrate the idea (and the argument) that there's a collection for everyone.

Whether you have a bad hangover, an important meeting, or a broken heart, there's something at the Tate Gallery that can help you through your dilemma. So in other words, there's no excuse not to go.

The fact that the writing contains the occasional aside comment and emphasizes certain points for dramatic effect, only adds to the conversational tone of the ad which in turn supports the idea - because it's meant to sound like a friend wrote it, not a writer.

The execution follows the idea.

You seem to like suggested reading, so I'd suggest On Writing by Stephen King. He talks about how to engage an audience by creating experience. Something that's written like an ad - following all the correct rules of grammar and perfect prose - often feels just like an ad. Correct, clever, and distant.

These ads are brilliant because they don't do that. Everything about them is insightful and accessible. They connect with people.

If we become preoccupied with sounding like good writers, we may stop being good writers.

7:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agreed. On Writing is an excellent book. And that was a great comment.

7:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

7.49pm, King also writes in the same book that correct grammar and punctuation are essential as they are the signposts that lead us through the meaning of the words we're reading. The words that create the 'experience'.

Stephen King (and other good writers) write 'correctly' but are never 'distant'. That's why they're successful.

I agree with you that the Tate ads have empathy. But I would argue that they could have been better written.

Oh, and I think that unless 1.03/2.49/5.02 works for Glue Society, Crispin Porter or Wieden & K, he should probably hush up and go back to watching 'Punk'd'.

7:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If an Art Director needs to write as well as a Copywriter, why then do we need Copywriters?

9:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think we've all missed the whole fucking point of advertising (any anal writers out there please excuse my use of 'fucking').

Writing an ad isn't about words or pictures. It's about communicating a message.

So who cares if it's better done through words, pictures or brail??

Quit the bitching :o)

10:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem these day's is: most planners and / or clients get us to deliver the wrong message.

10:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I think we've all missed the whole fucking point of advertising (any anal writers out there please excuse my use of 'fucking')... who cares if it's better done through words, pictures or brail?"

I can excuse your use of the word "fucking" no problem. You've spelt it correctly and used it in the right context (though uncomfortably close to the word "anal").

However I can't forgive your spelling of "Braille".

11:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Copy vs Visuals... different tools for different jobs.

So why don't you tools get back to your jobs and surprise the public with something fresh and interesting, be it visuals or words or, heaven forbid, a combination of the two...

12:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's all about the IDEA. Whatever works for the IDEA.

1:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can you fix up the kerning between the D and the E in idea? It'll communicate much better with the appropriate attention paid to the art direction.

3:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


it's so true that we get bogged down in agency gossip / lunches, fighting the client on minimal changes like adding two lines of body copy to an essentially visual ad and wondering what brand of tennis shoes to wear to impress that accounts chick you thought was keen on you after 2 bottles of champagne at drinks upstairs last friday that we forget why we got into this industry in the first place.

Let's kick some collective ass and screw whatever london and the rest of the world are doing.

Would anyone agree here that AWARD winning advertising apart from a few notable exceptions has been reduced to essentially 5 or so formulas?

There hasn't been a new wave since.. well maybe still free / jason donovan / lynx jet last year (which all seem to have the same formula revolving around create a crazy bullshit story, sell it to consumers and trick them into looking at your website)

Who's going to be the next agency that sticks a proverbial finger up to the norm and says "We don't care, your organisational structure, systems and ideas are outdated. Fuck you Bernbach/Ogilvy/Burnett"??

3:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said 3.47pm. When genuinely groundbreaking work appears, even the most cynical of us feels proud to do this pointless crap for a living.

5:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

3:47PM & 5:35PM - you're both right.

And work like that requires an original idea. So lets concentrating on the quality of the idea (new, innovative thinking) and the rest will surely follow.

10:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

let's all hug

12:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Six munce ago I couldn't even spell copywriter, now I are one.

3:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

3.33PM, you're the proof that Award School works.

4:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fank you velly munch.

4:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Which brings it all back to the point – fuck using copy, lets use ideas.

So much pointless shit out there that doesn't even say anything.

Has anyone noticed the over-use of question marks?

Got milk? Need an easier way to come up with ideas?
Want semen and vegemite on your home loans?

11:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The over use of question marks is the tried and tested way to get around the legal bastards. e.g.

"This is the best widget in the world." Legals would be all over it. But ...

"Is this the best widget in the world?" Legals can't touch it.

So the over use of question marks can be seen as yet another indicator that legals are encroaching more and more on our industry.

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How many strategic planners does one need to come up with "The tastiest / best / blah " in the world?

Is that why most people see our creativity as student work i.e. AWARD School brief: The fastest car in the world??

Why are planners so gay? The recent trend I've noticed is to say "Heinz Ketchup – Surprisingly tomato!" on the brief...


10:57 AM  

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