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Happy bloomin’ November

It’s that time of year, isn’t it? No, I don’t mean the lurgies, I mean the endless comparisons between Christmas adverts bursting forth on our screens. Unavoidable clashes of colour, noise and sometimes, if we’re very lucky, daring marketing decisions.

Storytelling is always key in copywriting, and using literal fabled characters from children’s literature only brings this into sharper view. So should we judge an ad by its budget or by its familiarity (as many of us dust off our childhood copies of Mog), or even by its ability to make us cry?

That’s the beauty of a good story, isn’t it? We make of it what we want. Who doesn’t love a big idea? But what feels really clever to me, is a killer line. Not a shoehorned line that happily matches up to a big idea, but a line that was born with the idea. I like to see a copywriter taking their idea by the adjectives, the sleight of hand, the alliteration or the very punch of that eureka moment and turn it into something fantastic.

An ad is only as good as its proposition of course; there are lots of other stars that must align to make it brilliant, like the strength of the agency, the marketing department, compliance, budgets, lead times and so on. Anyway, that said, people have to like what you make.

So here’s a round up of the top yuletide lines of 2015…

“Spare the act this Christmas”
Curry’s gives you Jeff Goldblum. It’s real, punchy, direct and, dare I say, funny. I’ve put a Jeff G on my list. Everyone should.

“Christmas is for sharing – Sainsbury’s supports child literacy. Save the Children”
This is the follow up from last year’s trenches advert for Sainsbury’s. Last year, we were supporting the Royal British Legion, this year it’s Save the Children. Cue massive shoehorn time – perhaps they borrowed one from John Lewis?

“All your favourite things”
Simple, catchy, festive. A great family tune AND a killer line. Nice work Aldi.

“Whatever makes your Christmas, make it with Waitrose”
Ooohhhh. May I sigh in wonderment for a moment? Look at the way they’ve used the same word twice and got away with it! *rubs thighs*

“Show someone they’re loved this Christmas”
Nice line as lines go, but is the insight actually quite right? I mean, really right? The link I made is that we need to spend money to show people we care, and quite frankly, that doesn’t sit so well. So…no prizes for guessing the ad.

What do you think, fair reader?! Any more great lines out there? Feel free to share and comment below. Meanwhile…Happy bloomin’ November!


Who’s v Whose

Every now and again, a good copywriter has to question their grammatical knowledge. We all do. Particularly in this age of spell checks and grammar tools on Word etc. It’s so easy to get a bit stale or question whether you are actually right in your opinion – especially when challenged by an account man (thanks Howard!). So here’s what I brushed up on this week:

Who’s is a contraction of who is and who has.

As a rule, look at the sentence you’re constructing and work out whether ‘who is’ or ‘who has’ is correct. If not, you might be better with ‘whose’, e.g.

“As somebody who’s never been kissed…”

Although less common these days, this means ‘who has’ in this case, so a contracted ‘who’s’ is correct.

Whose is a possessive form meaning ‘of whom’ or ‘belonging to whom’.

It’s also often used with inanimate objects, e.g.

The book, whose jacket had a picture of a pony on it, was dated from the 1950s.


Whose books are these?

Not black and white

This week’s copy conundrum came in the form of an email from an old friend. Strangely, people think that because you’re a copywriter, you suddenly know everything there possibly is to know about the English language.

I’ve had friends secretly vying to beat me at scrabble before now – albeit slightly drunken scrabble at that – just so they can say they beat the copywriter. It’s made me up my game, believe you me. Mainly because, I can’t claim any real expertise over other keen scrabble players. I’ve basically been winging it.

So how do you wing it when it comes to grammar? Well, luckily for me, my school actually taught grammar back in the day. But the English language is so wonderful and perverse, not everything follows a rule. This can sometimes come as a shock to people, as so:

Friend: Tricky!?  I thought the grammar game was all black and white!

Me: Yes Nige. It is tricky. This is why people pay copywriters to sort it out mate!

I’ve been going back to school recently through the eyes of my daughter. She is learning phonics which TEFL people may remember from their original courses. You sound out a word and hopefully it can be spelt as it sounds. Actually, this is ridiculous, because most English words don’t seem to be phonetic! Are they? Words like are and was, for example, would be spelled R and WOZ if that were true. These are what are known as grey areas (schools call them ‘red’ words and other fun things).

It’s thanks to all these numerous grey areas, that people like me can make a crust writing lovely company communications. So here’s my friend’s little copy conundrum:

“Apple was using multiple tools which were not integrated to its system properly.”

Why is it WAS and not WERE after Apple?

A good question eh? I’ll leave that one with you.

In the meantime, if you need a copywriter to be very black and white, decisive, incisive, creative and just good – as well as being a tea making machine – well, get in touch. I’d be happy to help.

Copywriting tip no. 98

Get some help.

Whether you’re a junior copywriter or you’ve just thrown yourself into freelance waters, you’re going to need some help. It’s easy enough to knock on the invisible door of your Head of Copy, but in my experience, this is often busy being invaded by lots of other people all looking for similar pearls of wisdom (usually in the shape of an approval form or brief submission).

So here’s a little glossary of the more useful books I’ve come across on my merry copywriting way. Apart from advertising agencies, this journey has also included completing an English Literature degree, a CELTA certificate and a ‘Teaching English Literacy to Adults’ course.

Oxford Plain Guide to English, Oxford University Press
This is a brilliant pocket guide to have around. It covers all the sticking points of written English, such as bullet pointed lists and semi-colon usage. But it takes this further by covering things like Post Scripts, ways to write more succinctly and the basics of clear layout. I wouldn’t be without it, now or back in my junior days.

Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Oxford University Press
A great starter guide for junior writers who need an easy-to-use reference tool. For example, you can look up apostrophes or commas for a quick explanation about how they’re used. Definitions also show examples of words in situ, to back up your existing knowledge.

English Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy, Cambridge University Press.
This reference book was the must-have grammar guide on the CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) course. Like a TEFL, this course helps students brush up on their English grammar, so they can understand the challenges posed by newcomers to the English language. For copywriters, it’s useful for explaining to clients or account handlers why something has to be a certain way. So if you need a little help outlining why you’ve written ‘which’ and not ‘that’, this is the one to reach for.

Webster’s Grammar Guide
Shock horror, a mention for a US publication: Noah Webster was a grammar reformer in the United States in the eighteenth century. He published the first dictionary in America in 1828 and lends his name to the Webster’s Grammar Guide. It used to be a regular on English Literature degree lists and is the name behind the Merriam Webster US online site.

Just wanted to add a note about this. I might be old fashioned in saying this, but I believe everyone should have a paper dictionary to turn to for absolute clarity in case of a spelling concern. There are so many resources online, but it can be hard to know if they are accurate or if they are American English based, as mentioned above, where the rules can be different. To combat any uncertainty, it’s best to have a hardback reference tool to hand. I’m an Oxford University Press fan but Collins is a good name as well.

The online thesauruses are quicker to use and generally very useful, but there could be times when a brief requires you to name a product or initiative. This is when a hardback Thesaurus can be invaluable and lead you down routes you might not have otherwise discovered online.

This isn’t a definitive list, but it might be useful to someone, somewhere. If you have any other reference tools to share, please get in touch. I’d love to hear about them.


Copywriters Unite. One size doesn’t fit all.

I took my remote working slippers off back in March and headed to the bright lights of a swanky bar in London town. It was the second Copywriters Unite evening, as powered by twitter and the hashtag collective #copywritersunite.

The owner of this hashtag is Vikki Ross, social media and copywriter extraordinaire, whom I once tweeted to request a night out. I wasn’t the first to request a meet up, and subsequently, Vikki hosted the first Copywriters Unite event. This wordsmiths’ spring occasion went on to attract far more writers than the previous Christmas night out.

I didn’t know Vikki from Adam of course, but that’s the beauty of twitter. Not only has it put me in touch with someone who has given me lots of lovely copy work, it also brings people together who wouldn’t normally be hanging out in an immaculate Aldwych bar on a Thursday night.

As a freelancer, our only contact with other writers whom we aren’t sat next to in agencies, is usually through the world of recruitment consultants as they bait us against each other for the next available copy project. These other copywriters are, effectively, the enemy. The competition, with whom we must improve upon or somehow excel against. If you’ve ever worked in an agency through a recession, you know what I’m talking about.

Meanwhile, in comfy working from homeland, I have discovered there is more to the label of copywriter than just the traditional team model of Art Director and Copywriter partnership. Or even the lone wolf copywriter, also known as a ‘floater!’ Someone who can sit down with any adland professional to bring the goods to fruition. I probably used to fall more into this latter category.

But now, my days as copywriter (or shoe horn), have evolved somewhat. I proofread for big London agencies. And I write long copy more than I sit staring out of windows to come up with punchy giant campaign ideas. And meeting all of these other writers made me realise, there’s even more to the copywriter label than you’d think.

Some of the lovely young folk I met, told me they write for regional agencies with a clientele I hadn’t, I confess, always heard of. But the bulk of the work sounded similar: websites, emails, direct mail. But there’s also a breed of writer out there who largely writes blogs for companies, among other content led projects. SEO features as a big part of this world. The work includes devising word clouds, meta code copy and tag descriptions.

I even met a copywriting collective, a company who employs writers purely for clients looking for content led projects without the rest of the agency faff (or, I’d imagine, price tag?). A gaggle of copywriters if you will. (Apologies, I know the collective noun for copywriters is long discussed and likely merits another blog post).

Then there are the copywriters who train marketing professionals about copywriting. These senior figures have written their fair share of books on the subject, convened student copy conventions and hosted umpteen tone of voice workshops. They are in the business of raising the profile of copywriting as a career choice – after all, although everyone thinks it from time to time, not everyone is born to be a writer.

I know what you’re thinking. I worked the room well, I know. Oh, and don’t forget about the seasoned integrated agency writers; you’ll know who they are, as they emanate a whiff of cynicism on approach. These guys will make you laugh, lots.

So were these newfound writers, the enemy after all? For junior writers it seemed the perfect space to quiz the established folk on best practice while the old timers compared rates or client anomalies. It was certainly an interesting evening, as the varied copywriting tribes soon became apparent. We had a lot to learn from each other. And it’s clear that no two writers are alike. Someone better remind the recruiters that.

So what else do you need to know about Copywriters Unite? Did we work out who had which twitter handle? I’d like to think so, but the room was pretty packed. I was the girl who threw her pint over the floor at the beginning of the evening. Pretty classy by my standards even. But one thing freelancing teaches you early on: you need to front it out. Keep the skin thick and the deadlines respected. And always be reading.

I look forward to learning more at the next Copywriters Unite on Tuesday 16th June. If you fancy doing the same, check out #copywritersunite or follow @VikkiRossWrites