Don’t stand so close to the brief

John Lewis have done one thing right when it comes to advertising. They’ve certainly got us talking.

Like a panicky pitch meeting, everyone has an opinion on their campaigns. They’re analysed, dissected, often sympathised with – who would want to be the copywriter handed that brief – you would? Yes, I know, we all would. But, I am certain that on the day an advertising creative gets handed the John Lewis Christmas Ad brief, somewhere a dove cries. Or a fox or a penguin. Or whatever.

Always be asking, ‘so what?’

Yet this new re-brand is a classic case of the client, the planners and possibly the creative team, being too close to the brief.

The point is, I don’t feel the whole brand awareness about their partnership actually matters to the consumer. And it all feels like old news.

What the consumer now wants is the signal that John Lewis aren’t a dying brand, and that our die-hard staples of old have something new and vibrant to bring to the table. Because let’s face it, to release this in a week that has seen redundancies along with the CEO of John Lewis talking about generational retail landscape change of the like that has never been known before, well. I’m willing to bet that the whole, ‘we’re awesome’ message just rings empty for most consumers.

What I really want to know is, how are you going to solve the problem of non-shopping? Now that is a proposition. Tell me how you can cure the ailing high street of its woes, and leave Brexit out of it. Britishness is being pedalled out by brands across the land right now.

The lazy post-Brexit vote brief

Just yesterday Vauxhall’s radio ad explained what ‘fomo’ was to me and how they are a British car maker. Good news for the ageing Brexit listener. Not so interesting for the rest of us who are likely to really cringe at it. I’d also wager this is the totally wrong demographic for Vauxhall. They need to think younger. But that aside, it’s a huge job to make people pay out for a high impact spend just because it is British.

Never underestimate your customer

Same goes for JL and Waitrose. I am target market, judging by their latest Bohemian Rhapsody advert. But as their new Waitrose direct mail suggests, I am not going to be making Baked Sea Bas with a Black Garlic Parcel this weekend.

No, I will be dipping into Sainsbury’s magazine telling me how to save money on meals whilst giving me what is one of the best educational children’s editorial I have seen  – the new Lego sticker album. Now that is a brand partnership with legs, albeit plastic ones.

Actually, the Sainsbury’s store I visited was awful inside and needed a total revamp. John Lewis and Waitrose may well have cleaner looking floors, but more is needed to boost customer loyalty.

Retail brands should start with the in-store experience to drive footfall – as indeed their Oxford Street revamp aims to do – rather than spend millions on shiny ads and rebrands that are simply unbelievable for the average consumer. John Lewis would do well to put the product back into its advertising and show the quality and price points to attract our attention.

There you go partners, you can have that one for free.

Ask, are you too close to the work?

I guess it helps that I’m coming at this with fresh eyes, but any copywriter worth their salt will have probably interrogated the brief and made this suggestion already. Sometimes, clients need to listen and know when to trust the professionals.

Unfortunately, for John Lewis, like the baked sea bass, this one reeks of blinkered thinking.

Let’s hope Christmas has something more to offer…

 

 

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The business of outrage

People are so busy being outraged, it’s as tiresome as an all-nighter on a box set binge.

If there was ever one thing the advertising industry is certain to display, it’s a dog-eat-dog approach to life. Advertising has never been kind.

When I worked as a copywriter in large companies such as one in the WPP building, I felt this more keenly. People could hide behind their screens and avoid eye contact to indicate they were on deadline, but really, they were reading something vaguely interesting to them instead.

Real-life interactions were fairly London-standard: talk if you have to, but only as a last resort.

Now we have social media to express ourselves, the interesting articles take a back seat and we absorb information that someone else has seen fit to write. Yet increasingly, that something was written not by a professional writer, but by a person like anyone else.

Social media: the end of professional journalism

Journalism is a dying art. Chasing it as a career option is like wanting to be an ostler at an inn at the turn of the twentieth century. Sadly, if you’re seeking good career prospects, there is little to zero point. One can only hope this isn’t the same for copywriters!

Yet it’s this ‘noise’ that is sucking us in and driving our creative processes.

But is that right? What value do these words have? If anyone can write something inflammatory and drive news headlines into a storm in a teacup territory within seconds, what chance do the rest of us have? Anyone, it seems, can be a writer. Question is, should we be giving any of the writing our attention?

Is it best to simply leave the social media playground to the kids with less focus and return to the pages of actual printed books and other intellectual stimulus? Practice free thinking and absorb the mind in other matters? Observe, give where you can, but don’t get dragged into the undertow?

See it for what it is, like the big ad agencies with their swipe cards and free canteens – something fleeting and precious to behold, but also full of smoke and mirrors; real life happening beyond its doors.

Creative work without Creative Direction

We’re told that to be shocking and provocative is good – but ideas need creative direction. And these ones are often limited by a lack of life experience and agency (business) wisdom.

Recently, a bunch of creatives took this approach and their work was viewed as sexist and misogynistic. Clearly, that was where a Creative Director would have said, “Er, guys, what’s that about?”

But.

One person’s outrage, another’s chip shop statue?

I do wonder if work like this ever gets through to the Chip Awards? There is a category ‘In Bad Taste’ and I once saw a Creative Director submit an ad about bombs on the underground. Having lived through that fateful day, I was personally a little taken aback about this, but he said it was alright. He submitted it and it made it through to the finals.

Back to outrage.  Like a client do that ends up in the Bada Bing strip club, advertising hasn’t exactly got a great rep.

Twitter doesn’t have a Creative Director. Yet it goes to show that experience counts for a lot in this fast-moving world of outrage.

Get it wrong and you serve up all sorts of pain in nano seconds. It’s why sales of business insurance amongst copywriters and creatives are in demand by recruiters.

Everyone is liable, yet no one wants to be liable. They want to play and eat their cake at the same time. Real life rarely works this way unfortunately.

Mix this with advertising and what have you got? A dog-eat-dog world where the dogs have been replaced by zooped up ninja sharks on steroids.

Play along at your peril – but whatever you do, play nicely.

The future of business is talent

I’ve been writing a lot of employment related copy recently.

It is particularly perfect for me because I am at a crossroads that many of us come to in our lives – a big birthday where people tell you life begins. Funny people also tell you that your life is half over – but where would we be creatively if the world wasn’t a little glass half empty at times?

So here it is, I find myself well placed to understand issues of career breaks, parental leave, ageism, career changes and employee engagement, for starters. And as a freelancer, I’ve met a lot of employers.

Plus, as a brand marketer, I understand businesses and the demands on their time as well as the conundrums they face in the marketplace.

How can you stay agile? Where are the next opportunities? What does the future hold?

One thing’s for sure, like any industry, marketing is changing at a rate of knots. Take content marketing, for example. Content agencies have been popping up across the board. The term ‘copywriter’ is being stretched to say the least. Something professional copywriters will have mixed feelings about.

Everyone can write copy, even robots!

You can write by the word or by the blog post. You can write to deliver. A constant stream of words, trickling towards one end goal: SEO.

But what then of quality? Of consistency? Of engaging tone? How long has it been since anyone mentioned the word ‘craft’? Oh precious ageing writer! What frets thou so!

The less interesting fact is, there’s a knack to blogs, regardless of creative talent. A strong eye for detail and good research skills help. It’s editorial, ultimately. So, bank those similes, remember those analogies and make sure you’re up to date on latest lingo your audience might like. Social media sets the tone but it doesn’t always have the intellect to follow through with anything worth remembering – yet ignore it at your peril.

Unless, of course, you’re a business operator.

The death of social media?

When JD Wetherspoon announced they were no longer investing in social media marketing, a long sigh drifted out of ad land.

Perhaps, thought the Creative Directors of the UK’s finest marketing agencies, perhaps now is the time the content explosion will settle down. Like the outspoken teenager in the marketing family, perhaps content will become more accepted for what it is. Maybe we can get back to the big idea!

Or perhaps we are simply entering a new phase in the marketing landscape. You know, the landscape where nothing stays the same for very long – or at least, that’s what you’re led to believe.

Because of course, there are business aspects that do stay the same, regardless of changes to the marketplace or innovations or trends. Like, if you want quality work, you have to find quality people.

Marketing trends may come and go. But the bankable fact of business is that talent is what drives brand success. As with the thinking behind the Wetherspoon decision, if you don’t make the right connections, you’re not going to make inroads anywhere.

It’s a sobering fact. Personally, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

International Women’s Day 2018

This year, I’ve resolved to up my networking and do more good stuff. As a creative copywriter, I think it’s important to find inspiration where you can. And while we might spend most of our lives in the digital space these days, real life is quite good too.

So, after booking onto a special networking event in celebration of International Women’s Day, I took a train to Shoreditch to catch up with She’s Back at Mother London. To be honest, I’d have gone to listen to people talk about paint drying, just to get my foot in the door of this brilliant building.

I’ve walked down Redchurch Street so many times and wondered what gems lay behind the Mother London doors of the illustrious Biscuit Building. The secret buttons that buzz to let you in through those darkened windows of an East End creative power house.

To finally be walking through those double doors was an inspiration in itself for me. I feel like I could be breaking a code of uncoolness here in saying it, but I’m going for it anyway. Mother was just as trend-setting as I’d imagined.

The walls had original artworks by the likes of Peter Blake and props adorned the entrance hall, all used in actual ads for the likes of brands such as IKEA. Staff are treated to free lunches every, single day. Not just on the Friday before pay day. They also get the day after Mother’s Day off as paid holiday. It ties in with their brand values and is frankly, an unexpected, quirky add-on. This is employee engagement with effortless ease.

If only all employers could be so forward thinking. Of the three members of staff whom we met, all three were working flexibly. Two had kids and were women, one did not and was a man, proving again that it’s not just mothers who want flexible working. Tom happens to be an ex-colleague of mine, so this was an added bonus; he uses his days off consulting with other start-up projects. Yes, I was suitably jealous and impressed by this fact, all at the same time.

Does your brand walk the talk? 

Mother London doesn’t just look good, it acts good. And as we all know, brands can often say they’re something without actually walking the talk. It’s just not good marketing. So it’s encouraging to see that the ‘world’s leading independent creative network’ as they call themselves, really are showing us all how it’s done. They’ve nailed the art of self-promotion, that’s for sure. And their work is utterly brilliant.

Right, I’ve got back up now, just had a little swoon there for a minute.

Back to the event. As a creative copywriter and brand strategist who has been working with lots of recruitment and business-to-business brands recently, I was here to get to know She’s Back, an organisation promoting women in business, and, specifically, one that’s aimed at helping women returners get back in the professional saddle. I also wanted to network and meet likeminded individuals and find inspiration to bring to my work.

Networking is work with value – unlike email 

It’s true that networking events aren’t every copywriter’s slice of shortbread, but I’m a firm believer that if you push yourself outside of your comfort zone, you’ll get something out of it.

Here are my main take outs:

  1. It’s karma not kickbacks

Networking might feel painful at the outset, particularly for anti-social copywriters, but once you start, it can actually be very rewarding in unexpected ways.

  1. Reframe your thinking

Don’t ask, what can these people do for me, but rather, how can I help these people? If a barrier is that people will just pick your brains, try to turn that around. For example, ask what younger, more junior people can do for you?

  1. Say less, say it slowly

Good presentation is just like good copywriting. If you use fewer words and take lots of breaths – full points are your friend – you’ll have more impact than if you say loads and don’t filter your message.

It was a great day but a little deflating to see that there are lots of women out there simply oozing with unfulfilled talent. WHY?

We’ve got International Women’s Day, so why haven’t we got jobs for the (senior) girls?

I’m lucky to be a freelance copywriter with lots of lovely clients, but until brands realise there’s massive potential in hiring senior professional women – women who have had their children and who want their next career break, possibly flexibly, possibly not – they’ll never quite be on the same level as the Mother Londons of this world.

Let’s face it, we might all be in the gutter together, but there are still only a few of us who are looking up at the stars.

Say it loud

Copywriting tip no. 92

When you’re writing, say your words out loud before settling on a final draft.

Everyone knows this, right? Whether we want to be known as the office loon, is another matter. In a busy work environment, you might feel a bit foolish suddenly speaking what you’re writing, but it is hugely helpful when sense checking and proofreading what you’ve written.

Mumble it, mutter it or splutter it.

Far better to seem like madness is setting in than make a mistake. Remember, grammar is there to be respected but sometimes the vernacular is necessary when writing good copy. If your copy is too stilted, it won’t sound natural or conversational and will actually turn customers off.

Good English or good copy? 

Grammar pedants aren’t always right when it comes to critiquing the written word. This is where a good copywriter can bridge the gap between writing compelling sales copy and correct use of English. For example, in spite of what your teacher may have said, starting sentences with ‘and’ or ‘so’ is permissible. But we all know this, right?

So if we know so much, why is writing great copy, so difficult? Unfortunately, some things can’t be taught. You’ve either got a knack for it, or you haven’t. When it comes to your business, it’s this knack that brings results. And that’s where I come in.

Get in touch if you need a copywriter to bring some copy magic to your communications. I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year

Nothing says ‘Happy New Year’ like a good grammar debate about syntax. I’m sure other copywriters will agree, the use of the term New Year can be a total room 101 moment.

So, should it be new year or New Year when it comes to good grammar? Should you capitalise New Year or should you keep it in lower case?

The answer is in the context.

If you use a greeting, followed by the downtrodden exclamation mark – yes, it is still good grammar to use one! – then you should use uppercase lettering.

For example: “Hi Jane, Happy New Year!”

But if you are talking generally about the new year, it should be lower case. Do not mix your cases! I’ve seen this a lot on Twitter recently and it’s guaranteed to turn every grammar pedant purple. No ‘Happy new Year’, please!

It’s a Proper Noun, dude…

The reason is that the New Year in ‘Happy New Year!’ acts as a proper noun and as such should be capitalised. When it is a common noun (usually preceded by an indefinite article or ‘a’) it is lower case, just like every other common noun.

…but it’s not always proper

But if you’re talking about ‘the new year’, this is where it gets a bit more tricky. Because you’re using the definite article. If the reference is talking about the actual event of New Year’s, it should be upper case, e.g. “The New Year’s performance was given by Robbie Williams.”

When common, think lower case

However, if you’re saying “Spend over £50 in the new year and earn more points”, it should be lower case, because it’s talking about the new year in general and includes more than one day in the reference.

And there we have it. Your copywriting new year lesson in how to suck eggs in 2017. Have a happy, healthy new year and remember, a rolling stone gathers no moss. So tap me up for some freelance copywriting. Or if you need any freelance tea making, I can handle that too.