Cheat sheet for copywriters to survive in design and advertising
On 28, Apr 2014 | In Insights | By adminrezonant
Pranav / Copywriter
Copy-writing is a funny term. Even today, a large number of people do not know what it exactly means. There are a lot of misconceptions and assumptions. I have been subjected to a lot of randomness from, “Machan even in school you used to copy da!”, to a baffling, “Oh, so you are a a lawyer!”. In general I receive a blank stare from people when I use the term and some semblance of sanity is regained only when I say, “I write advertisements”. But this is not completely the fault of the people I am dealing with. There are people who do things that are extremely vague and still proudly call themselves copy writers.
For example, I once met a friend who said that his cousin was also a copy writer and that he was waiting for him at that moment. In another couple of minutes the cousin walks up to us. So I asked him if he worked for an agency. He said that he had his own agency. That was quite impressive, since he was about my age. So I asked him who his clients were; to which he replied. with no small measure of pride that his clients were students belonging to 10 different schools and 5 different colleges. This was confusing. I asked him if the students were his clients or the institutions they studied in. He replied with considerable swagger,”Only Students”. Upon further investigation I found out that he and his friends, charged money from Rs 500 to Rs 5000 (“No Discount allowed”) to write record note books and home work assignments for students. He also told me in a conspiratorial whisper that he could arrange for a medical certificate too. His company was called, “Friendzz Copyrighters”. I still have the card.
So, over the past couple of years working at first as a freelancer and then in an agency I have realised that there is actually a cheat sheet for copywriters to move ahead in the field. Some points are based on personal experiences and some on general facts. Please do forgive me for any gyaan in the following, I am not too big on receiving too much of it, so giving gyaan is a far-off feat for me. Anyway, here goes –
Do it like Bond
This sounds a lot like Kung-Fu wisdom from England (if there is such a thing), but I assure you it definitely works. For a copywriter, or a creative person in general everybody in their field is the competition, the enemy. And it always pays to know what your enemies are up to. For example, no one knows exactly how much money a particular government has scammed better than the opposition. Or how James Bond and all the great spies always know what their enemies’ plans are. Similarly, in the world of copywriters, it always pays to know what is going on in the ad world. Knowing what’s up is always worth it.
Your client is your girlfriend
A company manufactures shampoo and asks you to come up with a commercial for their product – an anti-dandruff shampoo. You sit through the night and come up with a brilliant script which involves a unique mix of computer generated effects, taekwondo stunts, singing rats and George Bush. You think you have reached the pinnacle of creative excellence and that now you will be the next Prasoon Joshi. When you show the script to the client, they reject it and then hire a Bollywood actor to run his hand through his hair with an expression that is a mix of cool star smile and pained constipation. Result, they get what they want, the star gets his two cents worth and the only one sitting alone with a remand email from his boss for losing a client is you. So, like your love interest of the moment, spend some quality time with the clients and understand what they need and understand exactly what they want. It will prove to be the making of your career.
Yes, this is the gyaan part I mentioned about. Please forgive me for it. Anyway, knowing yourself is very important. When I say know thyself, it does not mean I want you to count how many moles you have on your hands (I have 10), it means that you have got to know what kind of work it is that you want to put out there and what kind of work do you want to be known for. The beauty/problem of the advertising world is that there is plenty of space for mediocrity. There are plenty of writers writing the “Rush before offer gets over” type copy and getting paid for it. If that is the case then please, your role model should be “K.Shanmugam – Advertisement and Weddings and Misc” of Shivaji Nagar and you can go and work for him and be inspired by him. But then if you are dreaming of achieving Balki and Prasoon Joshi type status, then you have got to know what you stand for and what you want to achieve. So like a wise man once said, “The force is within you, young Skywalker”. May the force be with you!
Dosa and Sambhar
In the beginning, every copywriter makes the fundamental error of underestimating the value of the design quotient in any project. When in fact, design is what attracts ‘eye-balls’ and other things to an ad. Only then is the copy given any chance. Good design and good copy go hand in hand, like a great dosa and spicy hot sambhar, and a balance has to be struck.
What works is what works
Knowing what works is the biggest achievement in this field and the toughest. You have to know at the end of the day that whether your advertisement will work and achieve what is the base purpose of any advertising – positive publicity, boosting sales and brand recognition. Trying new and different things and ideas is okay as long as apart from fulfilling the requirements of the advertiser they also are cool and well made and are creating a buzz and making an impact and all of that jazz. Without fulfilling the purpose, an idea no matter how cool, is actually worthless. A lot of the time a client also will not have an idea what exactly is required for his product or brand. He will be putting his money on our talent and experience. For example, if a man wants a shirt from a tailor in one week’s time, the tailor will have only the first 4-5 days to design it and try to make it into the best shirt ever, but then on the 6th day, if all his designs are rejected by the customer; then the tailor should have the smarts and the common sense to make a well fitting clean white shirt and give it to the customer. The customer also accepts it happily, simply because it works! That is when we have really got to know what works. Because if something goes wrong, you would have lost a client and depending on the client you would either be in the hospital or hiding in Jamaica. So, know that what works is what works.
This is somehow the biggest problem that I have noticed happens to me and all my colleagues a lot of the time. We lose track of the magnitude of the thought and what it can achieve. I sometimes wonder how genii around the world like Droga, Prasoon Joshi, were and are able to take decisions that affect the lives of so many. Their pulse has always been on tomorrow and thus they could lead from the front. These greats have carved a gigantic niche for themselves in the history of advertising. Creating something that works today, is smart, but creating something that stands the test of time is genius. In today’s world, ‘big’ is actually too overused a word and one which has lost all positivity. Today, it just means, the biggest car, the biggest house, the biggest plane and the like. Here, in this little world of creativity that we love to live in, there is value only for the big thought. And nothing else.
There are several ways of broadening our minds and getting set into the skin of a copy writer. The trick is to talk to as many people as possible. People from your field, people from different fields, just people in general. Different perspectives and points of view into various lives will help a copywriter to broaden his scope of thinking. For example writing copy is extremely hard for a product that you have never seen or used. For example: A guy would find it hard to write copy for a sari. Simply because he does not wear it. But if he does talk to women of all ages and maybe even a sari maker or two, then a beautiful perspective can be gained into what goes into making a sari or wearing one and then the copy that he would write would be informed copy.
Anyway, these were some points that I felt I could highlight. I am sure there are a million people out there who can provide better insight, examples and strategy. This is definitely not a distinctive rule list, just something that I felt I could write. Read it even if it is just to be relieved that there is someone else also who is going through the same things that you are or did when you began your journey down this path.
Cheers and keep writing!!