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Traffic Island Discs – Jonathan Wilcock

Traffic Island Discs

You’re hitchhiking to Edinburgh and you’re dropped off somewhere in Gateshead. After a protracted visit to a working men’s club and several yards of subsidised ale, you find yourself wandering and befuddled, but remarkably chipper for someone who’s forgotten what day it is.

Ahead, look, an oasis, a green and pleasant land to rest your weary head for the night. Snuggled up, safe and warm, the only things missing are three righteous tunes, a good book and one luxury item to make your sojourn in this slightly scary urban jungle a little more comfortable.

Welcome my friends to Traffic Island Discs (based on a true story).

As a follow up to ‘The Non-Movie Buff’s Top 10 Movie List‘ and ‘The Official People’s Top ‘You Gotta Watch’ Movie List‘, here’s my homage to one of Radio Four’s oldest and best-loved shows (thanks for the blog post idea @_MortonWaters).

Here are the rules:

Choose three tunes: one to soothe and gently lull you to sleep, one to perk you up/get you busting a few moves in the morning and one that pushes all your nostalgia buttons as you slurp your first cuppa of the day.

Choose one book: something to raise your spirits/help you make it through the night/let you know everything’s gonna be all right.

Choose one luxury item: it won’t get you off your island, but it’ll make the experience more bearable.

So, shooting from the hip, here goes my choice for Traffic Island Discs.

Tune 1 (the chill-out one)
Albatross by Fleetwood Mac
All of a sudden this little island of mine is starting to feel a lot more tropical.

Tune 2 (the bouncy one)
Phat Planet by Leftfield
Cobweb removal services c/o Neil Barnes and Paul Daley.

Tune 3 (the “aaah, that takes me back’ one)
Marcus Garvey (and Garvey’s Ghost – the dub version) by Burning Spear
Winston Rodney’s voice, the bass line, everything really.

The book
‘Sathya Sai Baba, The Embodiment of Love’ by Peggy Mason and Ron Laing
Opened my eyes, made me cry, re-set my compass.

The luxury item
Arm & Hammer sensitive toothpaste. I’ll just use this stick as a toothbrush.

Tuned-up, inspired and with minty-fresh breath, I head off into the great unknown.

Care to join me? What would your Traffic Island Disc essentials be?

Tweet me @Jonathan50Wh4t1 or pop your comments here.

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter.
You can drop me a line here, or email jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk

The People's Movie List – Jonathan Wilcock

The Official People’s Top ‘You Gotta Watch’ Movie List

I wrote a blog post entitled ‘The Non-Movie Buff’s Top 10 Movie List‘.

Then I asked the Twitterati what movies they’d want to see in their own list.

Crumbs, that got tongues wagging.

As a highly intelligent (some might say hugely intellectual) creative person, I am in no way endorsing this list. There’s been no editing or quality control whatsoever. Don’t blame me, the people have spoken. Oh whatever, here it is:

The 39 Steps (1936)
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
The Godfather (1972)
Rocky (1976)
Grease (1978)
The Warriors (1979)
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Alien (1979)
Escape from New York (1981)
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Blade Runner (1982)
Back to the Future (1985)
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Commando (1985)
The Goonies (1985)
Flight of the Navigator (1986)
Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Highlander (1986)
Running Man (1987)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Dirty Dancing (1987)
Withnail and I (1987)
Predator (1987)
The Lost Boys (1987)
Die Hard (1988)
When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Total Recall (1990)
Miller’s Crossing (1990)
It (1990)
Kindergarten Cop (1990)
Goodfellas (1990)
Wayne’s World (1992)
Unforgiven (1992)
Speed (1994)
Forest Gump (1994)
Braveheart (1995)
Se7en (1995)
Before Sunrise (1995)
The Rock (1996)
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Con Air (1997)
The Big Lebowski (1998)
A Room For Romeo Brass (1999)
Magnolia (1999)
Fight Club (1999)
Memento (2000)
Heist (2001)
Black Hawk Down (2001)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Finding Nemo (2003)
Dead Man’s Shoes (2004)
Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
The Prestige (2006)
Gran Torino (2008)
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Inception (2010)
Tyrannosaur (2011)
Prometheus (2012)
Goosebumps (2015)

Stats time: 4 Arnies, 4 Ridleys, 3 Clints, 2 Meadows’, 2 Cages and only 1 de Niro.
18 from the ’90s, 17 from the ’80s, 1 each from the ’30s and ’60s and nothing from the ’40s or ’50s.

Of the 60 films in the list, I’ve seen (or at least remember seeing) 45 of them. Of those, I reckon I’d watch 25 again, any day of the week.

Thanks to everyone who cast their vote. If you didn’t and your favourite film isn’t here, tough – this is now The Official People’s Top ‘You Gotta Watch’ Movie List. End of.

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter.
You can drop me line here, or email jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk

How to tell a creative copywriter their work sucks – Jonathan Wilcock

How to tell a creative copywriter their work sucks (without getting blood or tears on the carpet)

A creative copywriter is a sensitive soul. It doesn’t take much to shatter his or her funny little world.

The best way to make them cry is to tell them their work is rubbish. And if you want to twist the knife, don’t tell them why.

Besides a woolly creative brief, destructive criticism is a sure fire way to get the worst out of your creative resource.

They’re human beings. More than that, they’re artistic pixie people that need buckets of TLC.

So, how do you tell a creative copywriter their work sucks and leave them feeling inspired?

The first thing is to be honest with yourself. Did the brief have more holes in it than a pound of Swiss cheese in a Wild West shootout?

Basically, if you gave them a bum steer in the first place, it’s time to suck it up and pay for more of their time.

Let’s assume the brief was tighter than a bodybuilder’s showtime pants, but the creative results are disappointing. Where do you go from here?

1) The main point of the brief, ‘the most important thought to leave behind’, isn’t coming across.

Go back over the brief and explain why this is important to you/your audience. Ask them to look at ways of pulling this message out more clearly.

2) The tone of voice is wrong for your audience.

If you have a brand language document that they haven’t been exposed to, then it isn’t their fault if they’ve gone slightly off course. If there was no such document to share, the brief should have at least defined the kind of people you need to talk to.

Go back over this part of the brief and expand if necessary – point them at other brands that are talking in the right kind of way. Explain the sort of newspapers your target might read and the brands they buy. Pick out words the copywriter’s used that particularly jar.

3) The creative execution lacks impact.

It could be the headline, imagery, colours… If you feel that it would get lost amongst the competition, say so. Show examples that have the sort of impact you’re looking for.

4) You just don’t like it.

The onus is on you to work out why you don’t like it. The absolute worst thing you can say to a creative copywriter is, “I don’t know why, but it’s just not doing it for me”. If that’s all you’ve got, don’t be surprised if by draft 7 it’s still not floating your boat.

5) You’ve seen it before.

Is it just like something you’ve seen in your sector, an idea that’s been run by a competitor or is it an obvious rip-off of a famous piece of advertising/design (but not a knowing parody or homage)? Don’t assume your copywriter knows the piece you’re referring to. Dig it out so you can show how similar the thinking is.

This is a particularly interesting area. The amount of times I’ve heard someone say, “It looks like XXX’s logo”, then when said logo’s been found, there’s no resemblance whatsoever. Be sure your memory isn’t playing tricks on you.

6) It has no redeeming features whatsoever.

Tricky one this. Your objective here should be to inspire, not deflate. Unless you know each other well enough to be totally blunt, find something that you can put some kind of positive spin on. It could be as simple as, “I know this is a difficult brief…”, “There’s some really interesting thinking here…” or “Not sure this is up to your usual standard…”.

Don’t be patronising, but find a way of letting them down as gently as possible. Then make your feedback constructive. Leave them with a clear understanding of which direction to head in and feeling fired up, ready to wow you when it comes to Round 2.

Getting it right first time every time is the ideal, but it isn’t a given.

Copywriting is an art, not a science. A tight brief, open dialogue and working with someone you know you can trust will get you 99% of the way, but then it’s down to interpretation, magic and taste – all the flowery stuff that can’t be bottled.

If you want to work with a seasoned creative copywriter, who can help with the briefing process and has a thicker skin than most, please give me a shout – but not aggressively in my face – even I have my limits.

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter.
You can drop me a line here, or email jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk

The non-movie buff's movie top ten – Jonathan Wilcock

The Non-Movie Buff’s Top 10 Movie List

What makes a good movie great?

We all love a good movie, but what makes a good movie a great movie? Without analysing the mechanics of film making, these are the ingredients that keep me on the edge of my seat:

– Hooks me and pulls me in
– I care about the characters
– It entertains me
– It stands the test of time
– I get lost in the story
– I’d happily watch it again and again.

I thought it would be fun to quickly throw together a top ten list of films that tick all of these boxes. How deluded was I!

I reckon I’ve seen somewhere in the region of 7,000 to 10,000 movies. IMDb has 300,000+ features in its database. Rotten Tomatoes has given more than 350 movies a 100% rating and Hollywood alone releases 600-700 new movies a year. This wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought.

Undeterred, I started to draw up a very long shortlist. Here’s what I learned along the way.

– My taste isn’t very highbrow, in fact I’m about 30% human, 70% popcorn
– I’m a sucker for sci-fi, comedy and action
– The 60s, 80s and 90s were great decades for film
– Somebody is investing millions in a load of straight to DVD dross
– Criteria 6 rules out M. Night Shyamalan movies
– A top forty is easier to compile than a top ten
– If you love rom coms and musicals, best you stop reading now.

Hold on a minute, what’s this all got to do with copywriting?

Good question.

Copywriting also needs to hook people, get them to care about something, entertain and stand the test of time (If you’re forced to watch a TV commercial 50 times, it ought to be pretty decent).

Great film writing is a masterclass in storytelling, memorable one-liners and dialogue. And when it comes to the posters, that’s where you’ll find some of the best taglines:

IN SPACE NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU SCREAM – Alien

BE AFRAID. BE VERY AFRAID – The Fly

THE FIRST CASUALTY OF WAR IS INNOCENCE – Platoon

Now we’ve cleared that up, it’s on with the show.

The BlancaKane Cuckoo Father – Jonathan Wilcock

Every movie top 10 list seems to include at least one of these usual suspects (but not The Usual Suspects): The Godfather, Casablanca, Citizen Kane or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. All superb films no doubt, but none of them made it onto my shortlist.

As my wife might say, “You always have to be different don’t you”.

I was determined not to be swayed by the opinions of the great and the good. Using my own Gogglebox-ometer, I plundered my DVD collection and memory bank, and soldiered on.

It’s a bit of a cheat, but after a lot of deliberation, here are four top tens, all cracking movies (in this reviewer’s opinion) and all worthy of a couple of hours of your life. Unleash the geek:

The ‘almost made it into the top 30’ top 10:

• Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
• Blade Runner (1982)
• Die Hard (1988)
• Home Alone (1990)
• There’s Something About Mary (1998)
• The Truman Show (1998)
• The Bourne Identity (2002)
• Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
• Inception (2010)
• Avengers Infinity War (2018)

The ‘almost made it into the top 20’ top 10:

• The Maltese Falcon (1941)
• It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
• Scrooge (1951)
• Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1953)
• The Magnificent Seven (1960)
• Planet of the Apes (1968)
• Jaws (1975)
• Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
• Predator (1987)
• Delicatessen (1991)

The ‘almost made it into the top 10’ top 10:

• The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)
• The Servant (1963)
• Carry On Screaming (1966)
• Enter the Dragon (1973)
• Raising Arizona (1987)
• Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
• The Big Lebowski (1998)
• Van Helsing (2004)
• The Incredibles (2004)
• The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Top 10 movies of all time – Jonathan Wilcock

So here it is: the ‘non-movie buff’s top 10 movies of all time’ top 10 list (of all time):

A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
Rear Window (1954)
Goldfinger (1964)
Easy Rider (1969)
Gremlins (1984)
Aliens (1986)
Big (1988)
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Toy Story (1995)
The Matrix (1999)

And just in case you’re screaming at your screen, here are the others that almost made it:

Un Chien Andalou (1928)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Key Largo (1948)
Passport to Pimlico (1949)
The Lady Killers (1955)
Forbidden Planet (1956)
Some Like it Hot (1959)
The Great Escape (1963)
Repulsion (1965)
The Party (1968)
Midnight Cowboy (1969)
The Deer Hunter (1978)
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Gandhi (1982)
John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)
Back to the Future (1985)
Wings of Desire (1987)
A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Wild at Heart (1990)
Dumb and Dumber (1994)
Trainspotting (1996)
Being John Malkovich (1999)
Snatch (2000)
Be Cool (2005)
Ip Man (2008)

Question is, which movies do you think should be in the top 10 and which ones ought to be thrown into the alley behind the Scala?

Now back to that choc ice.

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter.
You can drop me a line here, or email jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk

What is copywriting? Jonathan Wilcock – Freelance Copywriter

What is copywriting? Art or Science?

What is copywriting?

It’s not journalism, it’s not writing novels and it’s not writing just for the fun of it. So, what is copywriting?

Copywriting, in simple terms, is the use of words to persuade someone to do something.

This could be to make a donation, click on a link, go out and buy a new pair of pants, write to their MP, sign up to a newsletter, reassess their opinion of a brand or hit the share button.

Art or science?

Many will tell you that copywriting is a science*, but in fact it’s an art†.

My job as a copywriter is, more often than not, to capture the attention of a marketing-saturated, ad-frazzled, disinterested punter. Once I’ve got them reading, I then need to persuade them that the widget I’m selling is the absolute best widget in the entire widgety universe.

This takes wit, guile and intuition. It’s an art form.

A love of words, the ability to spell and lots of writing experience are all handy, but without an intuitive creative spark; a scientific, data-driven approach to copywriting won’t save anyone.

Where does this artistry come from?

In the last 18 months, the stuff I’ve written has been ridiculously diverse:

• On-pack copy for a vodka brand
• Press ads for a law firm
• Social media posts for a genealogy website
• Web copy for a children’s nursery
• Video scripts for a car manufacturer
• Sales aids for teeth aligners…

I don’t drink vodka, I don’t hang out with lawyers and I’ve never traced my family tree.

I don’t own a toddler, I don’t run a 4×4 and I’m perfectly happy with my dodgy teeth.

So how am I qualified to write persuasive copy for any of these clients?

Beyond having a great brief and lots of background information, if I relied on the ‘science’ of copywriting, I’d probably still be at “Err…”.

The art is in getting my head around what the client needs to say and then slipping my feet into the moccasins/flip-flops/toe tectors/louboutins/high tops/brogues of the target audience, so that I pull all the right strings.

For this, empathy is the copywriter’s best friend.

Empathy is a wonderful human quality nurtured through the richness of life experience. So as copywriters, we’re fortunate in the respect that the more we do and the longer we live, the better we get at the job.

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.”
Dale Carnegie

Do you have to be born with it?

To a certain extent, yes. Like all art forms, there are plenty of chancers who get by with a lucky break or two, but then there are the maestros. Those that are born with an abundance of empathy and creative ingenuity.

To anyone who’s into copywriting, it will be no surprise to hear that I place David Abbott at the very top of the maestro category.

Mr. Abbott had a God-given gift for advertising copy. No doubt he worked hard at it, but without the creative seed that he was born with, I doubt he could have written this, one of his most famous ads, for Chivas Regal.

What Is Copywriting? The blog of Jonathan Wilcock – David Abbott

David Abbott makes it seem completely effortless. It feels more like a heart pouring out its contents than a copywriter selling booze.

Try doing that armed only with a spreadsheet of consumer insight data and a laptop.

“Use your life to animate your copy. If something moves you, chances are, it will touch someone else too.”
David Abbott

Can it be learned?

By studying those that have the gift and then writing, writing, writing; again, yes.

If you have a love for it and are willing to put the effort in, there is no doubt you can get better at it. Put it this way, I am definitely a better copywriter now than I was a year ago. And unless I’m mistaken, I’ll be a better copywriter this time next year.

Can anyone do it?

Yes, absolutely.

However, the real question should be, can anyone do it really well? And the answer to that is most definitely, and fortunately for the likes of me, “NO NO NO NO NO”.

“I’ve learned that any fool can write a bad ad, but that it takes a real genius to keep his hands off a good one.”
Leo Burnett

So, to recap, what is copywriting again?

It’s the ability to empathise, to intrigue and persuade. It just so happens that the tools we use to do this are words.

For more on the art of copywriting, have a look at:

Copywriting for the worst client in the world

The Seven Deadly Skills of a Great Copywriter

* OK, there is a bit of science to it, but mostly that’s in getting the brief right.

† Let’s get this straight. The end result isn’t art. Advertising, commercial websites, brochures and the like can’t be compared to a Picasso or a Rembrandt. However, there is an art to the copywriting process.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please give it a share.

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter.
You can drop me a line here, or email jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk

Copywriting: worst client in the world – Jonathan Wilcock

Copywriting for the worst client in the world

Surgeons don’t perform their own heart bypasses and dentists don’t drill their own teeth. But, when it comes to copywriting, surely writing your own ad campaign can’t be that painful. Can it?

Well they reckon if you can’t sell yourself, you can’t sell anything. So I’ve been putting the theory to the test.

First things first, what’s the brief?

Objective. Show off my creative skills to attract new customers.
Target Audience. Creative Directors / Recruiters / Marketing Directors / Resource Directors.
What do I want them to think? “Ooh he’s good at copywriting”.
What do I want them to feel? “He’d solve all our creative problems”.
What do I want them to do? Have a rummage around my website / give me a project.
*What’s the USP? Ideas, Copywriting and Art Direction all in one neat package.
Tone of voice. Fun, but intelligent (just like me).
Deadline. When I can fit it in to be honest.
Budget. Ha!

*Even though I have years of experience copywriting and art directing, the concept of a hybrid creative polarises opinions. For some it’s a huge asset, others feel more comfortable with a single-minded proposition. So with my AD skills, I usually show rather than tell.

On with the creative bit

The mission began some months ago and after several false starts I thought I’d cracked it.

I put together a campaign under the general banner of: A different way of looking at the world.

Witty, clever, a bit different; it used the line ‘Alternative Thinking’ as the pay-off and all was well with the world.

Copywriting: worst client in the world – freckles

Copywriting: worst client in the world – bottle it

Copywriting: worst client in the world – bobble hat

Then self-doubt kicked in

Was it all a bit up itself? Would anyone actually get it?

I sent it to a few agency folk, including fellow Copywriters, to get their take on it, and 9 out of 10 really liked it. Then the MD of a marketing agency told me it went way over his head.

“What are you trying to tell me Jonathan?”

“Well”, I said, “I’m not your average wordsmith, I provide alternative thinking”.

“Yeah, but I don’t want alternative thinking, I want a copywriter”.

Damn, was this alternative thinking line a complete red herring?

I eventually convinced myself it still worked, so I plugged the campaign on my website and in social media. And it got some positive responses, even a couple of actual new clients.

Time isn’t always a great healer

A couple of months later, I was having serious second thoughts. I still liked the concept of alternative thinking, but I’d fallen out of love with the execution.

So, with the same brief in mind, I set about coming up with what I now think of as my Different way of looking at a different way of looking at the world campaign:

Copywriting: worst client in the world – polaroid

Copywriting: worst client in the world – pony

Copywriting: worst client in the world – cherries

What did I do with this campaign? Not a lot.

I liked it, but I had a strong hunch that it was marketing to an audience of one – me.

Perhaps I really wasn’t the right man for the job after all.

The worst client in the world

If the worst client in the world is an indecisive ditherer who keeps changing the brief, then guilty as charged.

It’s not that I’m not capable. It was just the ‘judging whether it’s terrible or not’ bit that was tripping me up.

So, I put it in the drawer marked ‘ideas that may be pretty good, but then again am I deluded?’, assuming that was that. Until a couple of weeks ago, I saw a great blog post from Dave Dye all about the lost art of the agency ‘house ad’.

In the post, Dave ponders why agencies don’t seem to do their own ads anymore.

“It could be that it’s just too hard to be the agency AND the client.”

But then he goes on to show dozens of fantastic examples, mostly from the 70s through to the 90s.

Absolute belters from the likes of AMV, DDB, GGT, BBH, O&M… all the best initials.

So, re-invigorated, I looked at the stuff I’d done previously and the penny dropped. OK, the ideas had merit, but they just weren’t anywhere near copywriter-y enough.

It was time to get back to basics. None of this arty stuff.

I needed something that was simple, bold, got its point across quickly, had ‘legs’ and would raise a little smile with the audience I was after.

And I think I’ve cracked it.

Or have I?

Am I just too close to it all?

Damn you, self-doubt.

Now I understand why my clients don’t do their own copywriting.

Is it on brief, does it tickle all the right bits? Tell you what, you be the judge.

Copywriting: worst client in the world – than what

Copywriting: worst client in the world – nipple

Copywriting: worst client in the world – boy

Copywriting: worst client in the world – words

Copywriting: worst client in the world – details

I may well look back at this post in a few months and want to rip it up and start again, but there are projects to be won, comms to be written and bills to be paid.

If you’ve got this far, here’s the hard sell

(Read this bit like Cillit Bang Barry):

Are you pushing words around on a page in a bit of a daze?

Have you got a great brief, but no idea how to turn it into something that excites your audience?

Then you need new formula Freelance Copywriter – Jonathan Wilcock, with built in alternative thinking for those stubborn briefs that ordinary copywriters just can’t crack.

(Read this bit at double speed in a slightly mumbled way):

Alternative Thinking is not a registered trademark of Jonathan Wilcock, but he’d rather you didn’t bandy it about as if it was yours. If you find Alternative Thinking as a concept a bit confusing and simply need a Copywriter, pretend you never heard it. Terms and conditions apply.

Back to normal, internal voiceover style

Campaign ideas, long or short copy and a bit of art direction; if you need a creative (and objective) pair of eyes on your advertising and marketing comms, give me a shout.

Writing my own ads may be a kerfuffle, but when I’m on other people’s briefs, I make factory-fresh razors look like butter knives. Here are a few testimonials to prove it.

Back to the blog

Work examples

And if you’re up for it, any (constructive) opinions on these campaign ideas will be gratefully received.

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter.
You can drop me a line here, or email jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk

Why you should never compromise on creativity

Guest post by Sophie Wilson, CEO and Founder, Tuesday Media

Every day, an overwhelming number of new campaigns are launched. They range from advertising to email marketing to PR; from big to small, flippant to serious, conscience raising to product touting. As a career creative and now CEO of communications agency Tuesday Media, I’ll admit to having developed a debilitating campaign habit. I devour new campaigns with a passion, examining them to see what the special ingredient is that makes some shake things up, others push a brand into the spotlight, and a select few even change the world. The answer is simple. Successful campaigns all have creativity at their core.

As Jonathan has already discussed on this blog, creative ideas aren’t as much new in themselves, as a combination of things that already existed. This is also true of campaigns; the issues, products and ideas that they deal with aren’t new, but the fusion of subject and approach is what makes creative sparks fly.

With all this in mind, I’ve drawn together a list of thoughts, or a stream of consciousness if you will, on the common features of the most brilliant creative campaigns.

1. Creative campaigns don’t just rehash what others have done
How many times have you seen an iteration of ‘Keep Calm and…’? Some concepts may have been novel to begin with, but they have since been flogged more times than the proverbial horse.

I often encounter brands that want to launch campaigns based on things that have worked for others. But the clue is in the past tense – they’ve already been done. On these occasions, we have to be clear in our convictions and challenge potential clients – at the risk of losing business – to be bold and to place genuine creative thinking at the centre of what they are doing.

2. Creative campaigns engage with the thing that makes a brand special
If a brand has nothing special about it, it won’t last long. Businesses that stand the test of time do so because they have a unique reason for being. Even so, there are thousands of campaigns that fail to interact with their organisation’s special quality. The best campaigns I have seen use the brand’s essence as a springboard for creativity – creating campaigns that aren’t just interesting but embrace their raison d’être.

3. Creative campaigns are bold
On occasion, a campaign may need to ruffle feathers. A strong creative campaign will be bold, clear and willing to challenge, provoke or even upset some people to drive its point home. A good example of this is Blood Normal, BodyForm’s recent campaign to normalise periods. This has shocked, appalled and delighted in almost equal measure – and most importantly, has sparked endless debate and set the wheels of change in motion.

4. Creative campaigns feel fresh – even when they’re dealing with tired material
A mark of excellent creative implementation is when ideas that aren’t new are presented in a way that feels innovative and fresh. Take Trash Isles, the campaign led by Plastic Oceans Foundation and LADbible, as an example. The looming catastrophe posed by the mass of plastic in the ocean is not a new discovery – plenty of people are talking about it. But by flipping the issue on its head and running a campaign that aims to gain nation status for the floating island, the team have got the attention of members of the UN Council and the buy-in of the public.

5. Creative campaigns are on board with changing times
It may have taken a while, but the creative world is moving away from boozy client lunches and the ‘be here to be seen’ office culture, towards digital nomadism and atypical structures that allow the expression of talent at work. In short, traditional PR and marketing office culture is dying, and with it, is withering the traditional model of campaign. Tired-out ideas that focus more on the tools than the reason for using them are doomed to failure. The most brilliant creative campaigns I have seen take a step back from the way things have always been done and embrace new technologies, new practices and new attitudes.

Even with all this in mind, there is no magic formula for creativity. Coming up with a successful campaign takes time, effort, engaging in the creative process and a stack of false starts. But if you want to generate something that stands out from the crowd and tells your story in the most compelling way possible, it has to be driven by an idea. And that’s ultimately what you buy when you buy an agency – creative thinking from creative minds.

Sophie Wilson is CEO and Founder at Tuesday Media

Would you like to submit a guest post?

If your post is about advertising, design, marketing or related crafts, and is uniquely yours, drop me a line at jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk

The 7 deadly skills of a great copywriter

The Seven Deadly Skills of a Great Copywriter

Anybody can be a writer of sorts, but what does it take for an ‘anybody’ to become a proper, worth-every-penny, great copywriter?

For dramatic effect, I’ve boiled it down to what we’ll call:

THE SEVEN DEADLY SKILLS OF COPYWRITING

The 7 deadly skills of a great copywriter – ideas

1) A mind stuffed with ideas

Spelling and stringing sentences together are the bricks and mortar, but ideas are the foundations. A great copywriter isn’t just great with words; they’re also a great ideas person.

There’s an overload of marketing messaging out there, so copywriters use smart creative thinking to give their clients an edge. A great copywriter isn’t afraid to try something different to get noticed.

Copywriting rule number one says, ‘headlines should be short and snappy’. Great copywriter says, ‘Lipsmackin’ thirstquenchin’ acetastin’ motivatin’ goodbuzzin’ cooltalkin’ highwalkin’ fastlivin’ evergivin’ coolfizzin’ Pepsi’.

Perfect spelling and grammar don’t make copy stand out, ideas do.

A great copywriter also knows the difference between ideas for ideas sake and ideas that are centred in the product or its character, values or attributes.

Bill Bernbach: “Be provocative. But be sure your provocativeness stems from your product. You are not right if in your ad you stand a man on his head just to get attention. You are right if you have him on his head to show how your product keeps things from falling out of his pockets.”

The 7 deadly skills of a great copywriter – detail

2) A love of the details

Idea first; telling the story second; then editing, editing editing. One word too many is one word too many. One typo stands out like a dog’s wotsits. A slip in tone of voice grates on the reader.

Details are important to a great copywriter.

At the same time, deadlines are deadlines and we have to cut-off at some point. Balancing the pursuit of perfection with the constraints of economic pressures is a constant reality for any copywriter. A great copywriter gets that balance just right.

Robert Fleege: An ad is finished only when you no longer can find a single element to remove.

The 7 deadly skills of a great copywriter – up to speed

3) Up-to-speed-ability

Some people are born with it, but most require practice. The ability to write to order is gold dust.

I wake up one morning with a dull headache. The client’s changed their mind about a chunk of copy for the fifth time. I’m not in the mood. I’m no longer excited by the brief, the product or, with this throbbing bonce, not even the paycheque at the end. Now what?

Great copywriters can turn ‘it’ on when they have to. They cut through the problems to find new solutions even when there seem to be more problems than an over-order at the problem factory.

They’re not phased by compromise or the idea of ripping it up and starting again. A great copywriter is a great copywriter any day of the week*.

*A great copywriter will also know how long it takes to decipher, research, understand, write and re-write. Just because they’re great doesn’t mean it’s instant.

Dave Trott: But before we can do anything with other people’s minds, we have to be able to control our own.”

The 7 deadly skills of a great copywriter – start and stop

4) Working start and stop buttons

Great copywriting always starts with a great brief, but just as important are research and asking the right questions.

It can be tempting to write a few thousand words based on a slither of information or a germ of an idea (and in the right hands, that can sometimes be enough), but a great copywriter is also a detective/forager/investigator.

Whether given a verbal, 2-minute briefing in a Soho coffee bar or a 20-page brief document in a 3-hour strategy meeting; a great copywriter will sift and sort, quiz and question until he or she has the right information at their fingertips.

Just as much as knowing where to start, copywriters know when to stop.

Clients sometimes mistakenly think that writing hundreds of words takes much longer than writing a few.

Getting to the point, persuasively, entertainingly and convincingly can take 10 times longer than writing paragraphs of meandering waffle.

A great copywriter knows when enough is enough. They know that their audience is busy and imapatient. They know all the tricks to get them to take in the juiciest bits of information and keep them reading.

The world is complicated and confusing. Our job as copywriters is, as much as anything else, to simplify. There is so much stuff to think about, so many decisions to make. After we’ve grabbed their attention, we need to make things as easy as possible.

Do I like the look of this? Does it speak my language? Do I know what to do next?

Great copywriters are happy to hack away, even at the bits they love, to leave just the bits that work.

Great copywriters Keep It Simple.

Leo Burnett: Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.

The 7 deadly skills of a great copywriter – nice people

5) A (nice) way with people

A great copywriter is on your side. They fight for you and whatever you are selling. They gain your trust and become a part of your team. They do this because it makes all round good business sense.

When a client is onboard, when they like and trust you, they will listen to your opinion and allow you to do the best possible job.

A great copywriter will tell you if you are asking them to polish a turd. If you want them to tell the world that your terrible product is the best ever, then they have the guts to explain why that won’t work.

They may be the experts, but they know that everyone involved has a part to play.

They listen as well as challenge. They fight their corner as well as empathise with the client’s position.

They are confident, but know when to back down.

The best copywriters are usually nice people to work with.

David Ogilvy: “We exist to build the business of our clients. The recommendations we make to them should be the recommendations we would make if we owned their companies, without regard to our own short-term interest. This earns their respect, which is the greatest asset we can have.”

The 7 deadly skills of a great copywriter – visual

6) An eye for pictures

Words are powerful. Pictures grab the attention. When the two work together in harmony, then that’s often where the magic happens. Copywriters need to spend time with Art Directors and Designers. They need to pore over the pages of D&AD annuals, visit art galleries and fall in love with images as much as they have with words.

Copywriting is about communication, not just writing. An intimate knowledge of how words and pictures can work together to communicate is a huge advantage to any copywriter who aspires to greatness.

David Abbott: Think visually. Ask someone to describe a spiral staircase and they’ll use their hands as well as words. Sometimes the best copy is no copy.

The 7 deadly skills of a great copywriter – connected

7) A connection with the audience

‘Clever’ writers fill their prose with ‘clever’ words to show off just how ‘clever’ they are. A great copywriter uses the language that their audiences respond to.

Unlike literary writers, copywriters can’t afford to use their own style of writing over and over. Every job is different.

Last week I was working on scripts for a software provider. The week before it was web copy for an overseas development charity. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t cut it.

A great copywriter wears a hundred different hats: comedian, best friend, business adviser… Copywriters need to be actors, getting into the role and speaking in the appropriate voice.

Tony Brignull: “Great lines don’t have to be clever, they just have to speak to people.”

For me, these are the most important skills that any copywriter needs. Add to this a massive shovel full of patience, confidence and a sense of humour, and you’re going to be at least halfway to greatness.

– – – – – – –

While writing this post, imposter syndrome raised its ugly head and whispered in my ear, “So, are you a GREAT copywriter Mr Wilcock?”

I’m sure even David Abbott would have felt uncomfortable wearing that badge, but I’m practicing all of the above, at least most of the time. I reckon I’m better this year than I was the year before, so let’s just say I’m heading in roughly the right direction.

But here’s an idea; give me a brief and put me to the test, then you be the judge.

More on copywriting and creativity:

Why you don’t need a specialist freelance copywriter
Where do creative ideas come from?
How freelance copywriters conquer writer’s block

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter.
You can drop me a line here, or email jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk

The Rule Breakers – The blog of Jonathan Wilcock

Rules are great. Let’s break ’em.

Next time someone tells you the headline you’re writing HAS TO be 9 words or less, or that it HAS TO go above the picture, tell them that there are no HAS TO’s when it comes to creativity.

If they need proof, tell them to read this.

Here’s to the mavericks, the rule breakers; those who put their unique creative stamp on the world and left their mark in my heart.

Without rules there would be chaos, but if no one ever broke them, then where would we be?

Vanilla. Magnolia. Salt-free Rice Cakes.

Rule breakers give the world its pizzazz and open up new possibilities.

Without these rule breakers, I wouldn’t be the person I am today, so here’s a mini tribute to four of them:

Spike Milligan: Author, comedian, actor, playwrite, poet and titillator of the teenage me.

Born in 1918 in India to an Irish Father and English Mother, Spike Milligan was perhaps best known as one beautifully bonkers fourth of the Goons. Along with Harry Secombe, Peter Sellers and Michael Bentine, he introduced a generation who had grown up with Ealing comedies and Carry On films to a new style of comedy and paved the way for the likes of Monty Python and Vic & Bob.

The books he wrote that chronicled his wartime experiences as ‘Gunner Milligan, 954024’, found creativity and humour where many would have only seen darkness and desperation. I read and re-read Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall and “Rommel?” “Gunner Who?”: A Confrontation in the Desert, with absolute glee. I fell hook line and sinker for his use of language – a silliness that completely captivated me.

Sadly, Spike Milligan lived with a ton of depression on his shoulders, but for me he was a first class hero. Although his mental condition often made him spiral down into a whirlpool of grey, he still managed to bring joy, beauty and mischief into the world.

Favourite quote: “I’m not afraid of dying I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

David Lynch: Painter, film maker, writer, musician, photographer and weaver of dark tales.

If you’ve only seen Twin Peaks, you probably think you’ve seen the oddest nuggets of David Lynch’s imagination. If so, get hold of a copy of Eraserhead and strap yourself in. Here’s a trailer to test the water with.

I remember the first time I saw Eraserhead, I was completely blown away. Never mind the woman with a head like a cauliflower that lives behind a radiator, or the roast chicken that spasms and spews blood. There’s one scene where the camera pans around a group of people, like a spinning bottle observing a circle of oddbods and misfits. It completes its circle so slowly that it builds the most incredible tension. I’d never seen anything like it before. After the first minute, you find yourself screaming inside “please make it end”, but at the same time it’s like some kind of excruciating visual poetry.

In his book, Catching the Big Fish, Lynch describes Eraserhead as his “most spiritual movie,” but for me it taps into a dangerous and unpredictable style of storytelling. Like Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s short film, Un Chien Andalou, few dare to go there.

Favourite quote: “The ideas dictate everything, you have to be true to that or you’re dead.”

The Rule Breakers Art – The blog of Jonathan Wilcock

Mahatma Gandhi: Philosopher, spiritual leader, activist and rebel.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in 1869 and was assassinated in 1948. For many of his followers he was Bapu, or Father, but most of us know him as Mahatma or ‘Great Soul’.

At a time when one half of India was trying to kill the other half, Gandhi stood out as a guiding light. He was principled, single-minded and driven by a belief that mankind could live in peace. It would be impossible to exaggerate the influence that he had on a whole nation (and on me).

His autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, is Gandhi laid bare. Here is a man who was truly on a mission to know himself and to bring about justice for millions of people.

In one inspirational passage, Gandhi says, “If I believe I cannot do something, it makes me incapable of doing it. But when I believe I can, then I acquire the ability to do it even If I didn’t have it in the beginning.” This remarkable book showed me in no uncertain terms what self belief and the spirit of sacrifice can achieve.

Favourite quote: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Dr. Seuss: Author, cartoonist, artist, poet, animator, publisher and children’s mesmerist.

I can still visualise the cover of the copy of ‘Cat in the Hat’, that I had as a nipper. The pictures were amazing, but the words were on another level. Compared to Squirrel Nutkin or The Famous Five, The Cat in the Hat was pretty out there, but to an early years reader like me it was pure, unadulterated joy on a page.

In 1954, Life magazine published a report that stated that children weren’t learning to read because kids’ books were boring. William Spaulding, the director of the education division of publishers, Houghton Mifflin, compiled a list of words that he felt were important for young children to learn. Spaulding challenged Dr. Seuss (real name Theodor Seuss Geisel) to “bring back a book children can’t put down”, using 250 of the words on the list. Nine months later, The Cat in the Hat was born. Here’s a snippet:

‘now look what you did!’
said the fish to the cat.
‘now look at this house!
look at this!  look at that!
you sank our toy ship,
sank it deep in the cake.
you shook up our house
and you bent our new rake.
you SHOULD NOT be here
when our mother is not.
you get out of this house!’
said the fish in the pot.

Statistics vary, but according to most sources, by the time he died in 1991, Dr. Seuss had already sold well over 500 million copies of his children’s books. To put that into perspective, that’s more than Enid Blyton, JK Rowling or Roald Dahl. And more than 60 years since first being published, The Cat in the Hat still outsells most children’s books.

Favourite quote: “I like nonsense; it wakes up the brain cells.”

Although these heroes of mine all live(d) and work(ed) in different spheres, they have many qualities and values in common – all worth clinging on to.

– Self confidence
– A sense of humour
– A belief that anything is possible
– Creativity
– Determination
– Guts.

What’s that I hear you cry, “What about Christo, Florence Nightingale, Jimi Hendrix, Spike Lee, Edward Lear, Picasso, Aphex Twin, Walt Disney…” well maybe that’s another blog post for the future.

Enjoyed this? These articles might be worth a dip:

Where do creative ideas come from?
What I learnt in 2017

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter.
You can drop me a line here, or email jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk

Why I don't use the F-word. The blog of Jonathanathan Wilcock, freelance copywriter

Why I don’t use the F word

Everywhere you go, it’s F-ing this, F-ing that…

In the street, on the telly, even in the social streams of freelance copywriters.

Am I really the only one under the age of 99 that this is grating on?

I mean, what the F is going on?

Rewind a few decades to the slightly less F-y era of Dave Allen.

If you aren’t aware of Dave Allen, he wrote and starred in hugely successful comedy sketch shows that ran through the ’60s and ’70s.

He was a cool, laid-back master storyteller. He delivered his stand-up skits between the sketches sitting on a bar stool with a glass of whiskey (actually, it was ginger ale) in hand. He poked fun at religion and for their time, ‘Tonight With Dave Allen’, ‘The Dave Allen Show’ and ‘Dave Allen at Large’ were edgy as well as funny.

At the end of every show, he signed off with what I always thought was a brilliant catchphrase – “Good night, thank you and may your God go with you”. After half an hour of Pope-baiting, it made you warm to him and it particularly appealed to my pluralistic tendencies.

So, I was excited to see him live at The Aldwych Theatre in 1991.

He was pretty funny, but I came out thinking that if only he’d dialled down the expletives, he’d have been even funnier.

There’s no doubt, like an exclamation mark, the odd swear word has power. This is something that Dave Allen said himself in defence of his use of ripe language, “I am Irish and we use swearing as stress marks”.

But! The! Point! Is! You! Can! Have! Too! Much! Of! A! Good! Th!ing!

Contrast Dave Allen’s stand-up style with Ross Noble’s and you’ll know what I mean. I’ve had the pleasure of being ‘Nobled’ on a couple of occasions. Both times, I thought I might die in an asthmatic, tear-sodden heap. The man’s a comedic genius and unlike the majority of live comedy I’ve seen, he hardly gets much bluer than the occasional “FLIPPIN’ ‘ECK!” There’s so much in his comedy arsenal that there’s hardly any room left for Fs and Bs.

A lot of F-ing words

The Oxford English Dictionary reckons there are 171,476 English words currently in use and Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (combined with its 1993 Addenda Section) includes 470,000 entries. Only one of them has four letters, begins with F and rhymes with Muck.

So why do some people insist on using it in every sentence?

Personally, I use the F word once every 6 months or so – usually when quoting someone else. It just sounds ridiculous coming out of my mouth. As soon as I say it, I’m already telling myself off, like a stiff-collared, Presbyterian Great Uncle. I’ve never had my mouth washed out with soap and water, but it was regularly threatened during my childhood; maybe that’s where it all stems from.

The F word really isn’t for me. Most of the time it makes intelligent people sound stupid and stupid people sound stupiderer. It’s aggressive and unsavoury, but the curious thing is, some of us can get away with it.

Danny Dyer uses the F word all the time, but there’s an obvious gentlemanly-ness and intelligence about the ‘geezer’ that softens the blow. Never mind his hilarious Brexit rant, I saw him on Would I Lie To You recently and he F’d, U’d, C’d and K’d his way through the show like a rum-soaked sailor, but I still thought he was totally lovable. Maybe it’s the gorblimey accent or his actor’s delivery; whatever it is, he’s an F-ing diamond in my book.

And when Peter Kay said “F***-a-duck” in episode 4 of Car Share: series 2, I giggled like a good’un.

So, I am by no means getting all Mary Whitehouse on everyone (well, perhaps a little bit), saying that we should round up and cull all the F-ers. But like jelly wrestling at 6.30 on a Thursday night in Billericay, there’s a time and place for everything.

Here are a few instances when I think freelance copywriters shouldn’t be F-ing about:

1) When trying to make yourself sound ‘ard

2) When trying to make yourself sound big and clever

3) When trying to make something sound funny that isn’t already

4) When trying to impress a potential employer.

And when it comes to my own writing, here are my golden rules:

1) There’s no F in social media

2) There’s no F in copywriting (unless reviewing Danny Dyer playing Dave Allen in the latest Tarantino movie – then it’s foffywriting all the way)

3) There are three Fs in ruffling feathers and if you’re smart you won’t need any more to do the job.

And if you disagree, you know what you can do.

Read more on language, its usage and abusage here:

Brand tone of voice in action on the South Western line
How freelance copywriters conquer writer’s block

We’ve created a copywriting monster

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter.
You can drop me a line here, or email jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk