Pioneer – art director or copywriter, is there a place for puns? Jonathan Wilcock

Do puns have a place in advertising?

If you’re an Art Director or Copywriter, like me you probably have a few puns up your sleeve.

Collins defines a pun as:

‘…a clever and amusing use of a word or phrase with two meanings, or of words with the same sound but different meanings. For example, if someone says ‘The peasants are revolting’, this is a pun because it can be interpreted as meaning either that the peasants are fighting against authority, or that they are disgusting.’

‘Clever and amusing’, surely that can’t be a bad thing, can it? However, when I was a design student, I was told to give puns a wide berth.

When touting my book around, trying to land my first job, I was told that puns were crass and that no self-respecting Art Director or Copywriter would use them.

When I landed that first job, senior creatives kept telling me to avoid puns like they were junior account handlers with bad breath.

Puns, after sarcasm, are the lowest form of wit

They’re not sophisticated or clever, but come on, admit it – they’re irresistible. They catch our attention, make us smile (or groan if they’re really bad) and have a down-to-earth approachability about them.

They’re everywhere: on the high street – ‘The Rock and Sole Plaice’ (a chippy, obviously); in the daily paper – ‘ANT AND DECKED’ (The Sun, even more obviously) and definitely in the advertising of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s – perhaps the Godfather of all punnery, Collett Dickenson Pearce’s Wall’s sausages poster – ‘Porky and Best’.

But do they really have any place in the portfolio of today’s Art Director or Copywriter? Here are a few guidelines that will help you decide whether or not you should venture forth into the pundergrowth.

1) Is it gratuitous? If it’s slapped into the middle of a slug of nicely crafted, on-brand copy and throws everything off balance, then it probably doesn’t belong.

2) Is it causing a pile up? If your 25-word sentence has grown to 50 (it’s become a bit pun-wieldy), it may need culling.

3) Are you over-egging it? If a cake’s too eggy, no one wants to eat it. If a headline or a paragraph’s too cheesy… let’s put it this way, you can have too much of a good thing.

4) Does it confuse the reader? If it’s funny, but it throws the viewer off the scent of the intended communication, bin it.

5) Does it add magic? A well-timed bit of word play can bring sparkle and warmth to the page. It can wake a reader up. It can be rewarding, witty and make your brand seem more human – just the sort of magic any writer strives for.

Used scattergun fashion, you definitely won’t come across as an intellectual, but I’ve come to the conclusion that when used at the right time, in the right place, puns are perfectly valid.

Welcome to the pungle

Be it verbal or visual, it’s not often I get to use a really juicy pun in my day job, but it seems a shame to confine them to a dusty shelf in my mental library. So, love ’em or loathe ’em, I’ve created the perfect outlet for every visual pun that I can muster. I call it my #badphotoshop of the day and you’ll find it posted on Twitter and Facebook.

Yes, they’re stinking rotten puns, but they get likes and retweets, so I guess I’m not the only one who orders the cheeseboard.

Ladies and gentlemen, get your punderpants on and enter the punderdome…

If they tickle you in any way, please follow me on Twitter, where you’ll find answers to the above riddles, many more visual puns and other ventures into the wonderful world of words.

And if you enjoyed this post, give these a whirl:

Brand tone of voice in action on the South Western line
Does brainstorming work?

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

Creative freelancer v Creative agency – Jonathan Wilcock

Creative freelancer v Creative agency

You’ve got a brief and you need a creative freelancer or agency to work their magic.

You’ve dismissed your mate’s sister’s boyfriend who “has a Mac and a GCSE in art”.

And you don’t have the time, skills, objectivity or inclination to do it yourself.

Let’s assume the budget won’t cover a protracted pitching process and the deadline means you can’t spend ages meeting dozens of people for a coffee and a chat.

So now there are two basic options.

Do you hook up with a freelancer or an agency? There are pros and cons in either direction.

These are my personal opinions based on a career as an agency employee, agency owner and freelancer. I can’t guarantee total lack of bias, but I’ve done my best to be objective. So let’s get ready to rumble…

Creative freelancer v Creative agency

• Agenda
In an agency, the creatives want to do great work to show off to their contemporaries and help land the next job. The Account Directors want to impress the boss and get on the board. The MD wants the account to be as profitable as possible. These conflicting, hidden agendas can see your brief being tugged in different directions. The lone freelancer is often creative, account handler and MD all in one, so even though different motives may still be lurking beneath the surface, its easier to corale them into one cohesive force.
Creative freelancer: 10 / Creative agency: 7

• Priority
To an agency or a freelancer, your business is important. Without clients there’s no work and if there’s no work… well you get the idea. However, in agencies there is often a client priority list – big budget + trophy brand name = top of the list, then everything else on a sliding scale. With freelancers, you will usually find that every client is as important (client 1 pays the utility bills, client 2 buys the weekly shop, client 3 helps towards the growing collection of Star Wars memorabilia, client 4 pays for the Friday night curry…)
Creative freelancer: 10 / Creative agency: 8

• Cost
Agencies have overheads; great big, shiny, turbo-charged, Shoreditch-flavoured overheads. Smaller agencies have smaller overheads, but still, someone has to pay for them. A creative freelancer usually has a spare bedroom and laptop to feed at most. You know your budget and you know what you want to spend it on.
Creative freelancer: 9 / Creative agency: 3

• Capacity
No matter the size of the organisation you work with, there is a limit to how much throughput they can handle. Both freelancers and agencies can over-promise, but generally speaking, the creative freelancer’s right hand is more likely to know what their left hand is doing.
Creative freelancer: 9 / Creative agency: 8

• Transparency
Large agencies are infamous for putting their star players forward to win the business. Once the contract’s signed you’re left with junior account execs and creative teams on placement. With smaller agencies and individual freelancers, what you see is what you get. If you like working with these people day one, you should still be bobbing along quite happily a year later.
Creative freelancer: 10 / Creative agency: 6

• Availability
We all need a holiday to re-charge the creative batteries. If you’re dealing with a one man/woman/person band, then inevitably there will be two or three weeks every year when they’re not so easy to get hold of. Saying that, you’d be amazed how much work can be done pool-side, using the hotel’s WiFi. Agencies of course don’t all go on holiday at the same time.
Creative freelancer: 6 / Creative agency: 10

• Commitment
When it’s called for, agencies pull all-nighters, so do freelancers. Both camps want to impress and hit those deadlines, but the further you go down the agency employee ecosystem, the quicker resentment starts to build. If everyone’s pulling their weight, then no one feels hard done by. With the freelacer, it’s them or no one, commitment goes with the territory.
Creative freelancer: 10 / Creative agency: 9

• Turnaround
The old analogy of the oil tanker changing course couldn’t be more appropriate. If you need to hit tight deadlines, I wouldn’t recommend choosing a large agency. Smaller creative agencies (3-6 employees-ish), without unwieldy, hierarchical structures can be much more flexible. The same goes for working with a creative freelancer – if they’re on the ball, they can juggle workloads to fit.
Creative freelancer: 8 / Creative agency: 7

• Quality
Whether you go for a freelancer or an agency, you can expect to find a huge disparity in the quality of the work between the best and the worst. The portfolio cannot lie – unless it’s been nicked from someone else.
Creative freelancer: 5 / Creative agency: 5

• Consistency
Like a great restaurant, when the chef changes, everything changes.
Agencies can get better or worse as the years go by and the team you originally worked with moves on. Generally speaking, individual creatives just get better with age.
Creative freelancer: 10 / Creative agency: 8

• Resource
Even if your trusted freelancer has several strings to their bow and a load of software skills, they simply can’t do everything. Most agencies of a decent size can handle concepts, copy, art direction, design, artwork, web development… all in-house. The lone freelancer will sometimes have to bring in people from their network to work alongside them.
Creative freelancer: 8 / Creative agency: 10

• Value
Quite separate from cost, value is a more subtle thing. Add up all the scores above, divide by the hourly rate and then multiply by the return on investment. I think it would be fair to say that agencies and freelancers can equally deliver anything between stinking, rotten awful and 10 gold stars.
Creative freelancer: 6 / Creative agency: 6

By my reckoning, the scores come in at:

Creative freelancer: 102 / Creative agency: 87

If you disagree, you’re welcome to pipe up here or have a go at me on twitter

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Where do creative ideas come from?

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