What Makes Someone A Good Copywriter?

In my twenty seven years of copywriting, I have worked in a number of top advertising agencies in Johannesburg and worked alongside many good copywriters.. What is clear is that those copywriters who continuously produce good work are those who are truly passionate about their craft and who love writing. (In fact, I’ve never met a decent advertising copywriter who doesn’t have a draft novel in a drawer somewhere). A good copywriter doesn’t just bash out copy: he or she crafts it, hones it, re-looks it and writes it over and over again until one hundred percent happy with it.

Many a night have I tossed and turned through the early hours because a paragraph or a sentence in an ad I’ve written doesn’t read well. Whilst this may come across as being obsessive, it’s the reality – and I can only put it down to my being demanding on myself. Maybe too demanding. But this is the kind of passion I’m talking about.

I have always believed that copy not good enough for me is not good enough to present to a client. And I know a number of copywriters in Johannesburg who think the same.

“Copy not good enough for me is not good enough to present to a client”

Unfortunately, there are others who churn out copy like there is no tomorrow and, come what may, the first draft is – to their mind – always good enough. One can see this from a mile away; there are typographical errors, the copy doesn’t flow, it doesn’t read well, it rambles on and on – and most times, there is insufficent “sell”.

And copywriting is all about selling. Be it hard sell or soft sell, we write copy to either reinforce behavior or change behaviour and whatever the product or service, it is the task of an adverting copywriter to do this. It doesn’t matter if it’s a brand of peanut butter, the latest make of cellphone, a ticket to a Lady Gaga concert or a drive to use less electricity, advertising copy must be persuasive and written in a way that communicates the goals of the brief succinctly.

This takes experience, and a junior or lightweight copywriter may find the task difficult.
The heavyweight copywriter will find it easier. We’ve written so many ads over the years, for so many different products or services, it becomes second nature.

As a rule of thumb, a copywriter should always be to the point. Brevity is the new guideline. Today, people do not have the time to wade through long copy. (Which is a pity as paging through advertising award annuals of the 1980s – in my opinion, the decade that produced the best advertising of all time – great newspaper or magazine advertisements were made greater through intriguing, informative and well-structured writing, much of it lengthy. The copy in these ads worked a charm; sucking the reader in through a terrific headline and absorbing him or her through body copy that was superbly written. These were the heady days of David Ogilvy and other gifted copywriters).

These days, we see more and more ads with a visual communicating what long body copy used to. We see short snappy headlines. And maybe a paragraph or two of copy at best. All the more important therefore to have this work as hard as it can.

Due to the internet, consumers these days suffer from information overload. There are just so many advertising messages one can input on any given day.

That is not to say that I don’t write long copy ads from time to time. Some products and services need to be explained in detail. So there are no hard and fast rules here: as copywriters, we have a gut feel for what and how we need to write.

Long copy or short: the recipe for successful copywriting is to write with passion – regardless of whether you’re writing a TV ad, a script for a radio commercial, a newspaper ad, a billboard, a website or a brochure.

Back to my headline: What makes someone a good copywriter? Two things: passion and experience. The first is inbred; the second, unfortunately only gained over time.

Fedbond Needs To Revisit Its Radio Ad. As In Yesterday.

FedGroup There is always some pretty amateurish radio advertising around, but the Fedbond ad that’s been flighted for what seems an eternity now truly takes the cake. You may have heard it: it’s the one that goes “nyum nyum nyum nyum nyum nyum” which is ostensibly the sound of inflation taking a bite out of one’s savings.

It’s childish stuff and the marketers at FedGroup need to question whether the commercial is doing the job intended or whether (more likely) it’s proving damaging to the brand.

I have written before about the dangers of alienating your target market through bad advertising – admittedly after this radio commercial commenced flighting, but really,
this ad is plain silly.

Advertising is costly (regardless of whether you’re advertising on TV, in magazines or newspapers, on billboards or on radio) and when you consider that bad advertising costs just as much as good advertising the question needs to be asked: why take to market something that is patently below par?

The marketing company responsible for Fedbond’s advertising stands accused. If this is the best it can do, it’s a pretty poor show. (Mind you, one can never be sure who came up with the idea: if it were the client, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that a marketer has come up with an idea, thought it absolutely marvellous and summarily instructed its marketing agency to get it made. But if this were the case, the agency should have stood its ground and talked the client out of it).

Radio advertising in South Africa is often criticised and there are justifiable reasons for this. For some reason, it’s an advertising medium that copywriters seem to battle with. The result invariably are ads that either try too hard, attempt humour (and fail) or just fail to connect.

As copywriters, we love to write ads for TV, we love to come up with clever headlines for billboards and we love to come up with great ideas for newspaper or magazine advertisements. The moment we’re briefed to do something clever on radio, the shutters come down and we can’t think of a decent thing. (Well, some of us copywriters anyway).

Fedbond’s effort (a bit of a dog’s breakfast if you’ll excuse the pun) gives radio advertising a bad name, and the ad critics, if they needed it, even more ammunition to shoot at the advertising industry.

The bottom line is that Fedbond participation bonds may well be a fantastic investment delivering outstanding returns, and may well be the answer in terms of countering the negative effects of inflation. To listen to their ad however, one wouldn’t think so.

Because financial services advertising is serious stuff, I would have suggested a serious “tell it like it is” scenario, showing just how damaging inflation can be from an investment point of view. I daresay that there must be a number of professional and noticeable ways of communicating this.

Take it off, I say.

Vox Telecom’s Street Pole Posters. Anyone Give a Hoot?

Vox TelecomYou would have seen them: a series of street pole posters in the middle of the M1 North Highway, between Vox Telecom’s Head Office in Waverley and the Melrose Arch business precinct.

The posters read : Hoot if your blood runs green.

Now without sounding flippant, I honestly don’t think anyone gives a hoot. And doubt very much whether anyone will EVER hoot.

As a Vox Telepreneur (dealer) myself, I think that the good marketing people at Vox need to replace this message with one conveying tangible product benefits – and there are many. For the uninitiated, users of Vox products (the Vox Supafone for instance) can reduce their monthly telephone bills through the making of cheaper calls to cell phones (just 96c per minute to either MTN or Vodacom numbers) national numbers and international numbers – plus they can earn a rebate of 15c per minute on every call received on their Vox 087 numbers. (Similar benefits apply to Vox PABXs and switchboards).

Now these are tangible benefits. Especially to a populace battling to make ends meet in what has become a never-ending recession. Therefore, why not trumpet these benefits loudly and clearly?

The point is, many products these days are parity products offering only perceived benefits. There are not that many when you come to think of it that provide real benefits, such as money back in your pocket.

Yet this is what Vox products do. So why beat about the bush with something like “Hoot if your blood runs green?”. It sure beats me. As The Star newspaper proclaims, “Tell it like it is”.

But to be fair to the marketers at Vox (decent people if there ever were), the company has been advertising widely on TV and Radio and their advertising messages on these advertising mediums are spot on. They’re understandable and benefit-driven. People understand the “You and your ADSL” campaign through the accompanying analogies and as a result it is hard to understand why someone with an ADSL line would NOT want a Vox phone – especially as the product comes with no contracts. (Thirty days notice if you’re not happy and the phone gets collected from you, no questions asked).

Back to the street pole campaign however: the positioning of the posters is awesome. There cannot be too many motorists stuck in the morning traffic heading north to Sandton or Pretoria who don’t see the posters. I have been in this traffic many a time and as the posters are on a bend, they are hard to miss.

But I haven’t heard one motorist hoot in response to Vox’s urging. (At taxis and other motorists maybe, but not at the Vox advertising campaign).

So, to Maggie and Clayton at Vox Telecom: ditch this messaging and replace it with copy that will resonate with the passing traffic.

How about the following?

  • Just 96c per minute to MTN numbers.
  • Just 96c per minute to Vodacom numbers.
  • Cheaper calls to national numbers.
  • Cheaper calls to international numbers.
  • 15c paid to you on calls received.
  • Now have a nice day.

Direct. To the point. Selling the benefits of a Vox product.

You can tell I’m a copywriter.

Advertising on SABC’s Generations Can Cost You Millions

SABC 1 GenerationsDue to the popularity of SABC1’s TV soap, Generations, ad agencies are often asked for their thoughts pertaining to advertising on the program.

Straight to it then: advertising on Generations is prohibitively expensive so if you’re don’t have a budget running into the early millions, flighting a TV commercial during this program may not be for you. Not when you consider that a thirty second flighting could set you back upwards of R130 000 excl VAT. And that’s for just one flighting.

Flight your ad on, say five episodes of Generations and you’re in for R650 000 odd. Could you flight your commercial less than five times? You could, but does it make sense to? Probably not. The reason being that advertising gets taken in over time and that whilst there is nothing wrong with quick advertising bursts, there should be advertising bursts over a sustained period for your intended message to hit home.

So unless you’re a national brand and a big advertiser like Colgate Palmolive, ABSA, FNB, Cell-C, MNet or Vodacom, you’d best look at advertising during TV time slots where the costs are lower.  The likes of Isidingo, Carte Blanche, Top Billing etc are all popular amongst advertisers, and whilst not cheap, deliver the necessary ARs (audience ratings) at a more palatable cost.

This is not to slate Generations in any way. If you have a marketing budget that extends to advertising on this hugely popular TV series, and your product or service is aimed at its viewership, it’s a good buy and you won’t go wrong.

According to Richard Lord, managing director of The Media Shop, who spoke on Jenny Chrys-Williams’s 702 program recently, marketers are attracted to TV programs with large viewerships (measured as ARs). This stands to reason, and Generations enjoys the highest ARs of them all – more even than the 2010 World Cup soccer final.

I’m not sure of the exact figures but something like 6 million people watch Generations on a weekly basis. That is massive, and no other program comes close to delivering this sort of number.

What’s important also is the loyalty aspect. People tend to watch every episode. So if you’re advertising regularly on the program, your product or service stands a  chance of being associated with the program. Always a good thing.

An example of this was Samsung’s advertising on the recently-ended Brothers and Sisters. Annoying it may have been to some, but there was always a Samsung commercial somewhere in the program and people who never missed an episode of the series would come to associate the brand with the program. That couldn’t have done any harm to Samsung as a brand.

But, back to Generations: let’s assume that as a marketer you have the required marketing budget but no ad agency. How best to go about it? My advice is that you contact a good marketing agency (there are a number that will come up in a Google search) or that you contact the likes of The Media Shop, whose services will come to you at no cost -assuming of course that they get to plan and buy your media.

Media independents like The Media Shop (there are others) will negotiate you the best rate to advertise and it won’t cost you a cent extra as they make their money from being paid a media commission from the media owner. (The SABC in this case).

By going though an ad agency or media buying and planning facility, you will also be advised as to the advertising options possible on a program like Generations. Rather than flighting a regular thirty second ad, a shorter duration commercial may deliver more bang for your buck. It will certainly buy your greater frequency. Or maybe a product placement could work better for you.

(A number of locally-produced soaps will be open to weaving your product or service into their storyline to give it more credibility and product placement is sometimes more effective than conventional advertising).

Whether this is the case with Generations however is a moot point as it is a very popular program and you may well have to join the queue. The point being that an advertising agency or media house will be able to do the negotiating for you.


The Good and the Great in TV Commercials

There are some really good ads on TV at the moment,   but my favourite is the one for Heineken. I  wish I knew who shot it and where it was shot, but it’s terrific and one of those commercials that, as a creative person in the advertising industry, you say ”Now I wish I had  done that” Continue reading

How Much Does a TV Ad or Radio Commercial Cost?

Of all the questions an advertising agency could be asked, these may well be the most difficult. Why? Because they’re not easy to answer with so many variables at play. A TV commercial shot in studio is cheaper than one shot on location. An animated TV commercial is generally more expensive than one with no animation. A radio ad with one voice is cheaper than one requiring three voices. A radio commercial requiring the composition of a music track is more expensive than one using library music. Continue reading

Advertising In a Recession

 Yours is a small or medium-sized business and you’re finding things tough. The first thing you need to know is that you’re not alone. The world’s been in recession for a number of years now and as much as we’d like it to be, South Africa is not immune and no island. Unfortunately what transpires in Washington and London has a large impact on what happens here, and the present climate is not exactly kind for businesses. Continue reading

In Marketing Never Alienate Your Brand

“Hi, it’s Darryl from Burchmores here…” and “Hi, I’m Lucy Hirsch”: two openings of radio commercials quite likely to irritate South African radio listeners – if they haven’t already. Now Darryl may be the nicest chap on the block but unfortunately his voice is not cut out for radio. (That’s my opinion, anyway). Continue reading

An Marketing Campaign That Looks Like Insurance..

…sounds like insurance, is insurance but raises questions about what’s important in the marketing of insurance. Santam’s TV advertising commercial featuring Sir Ben Kingsley (and look-alikes) is certainly memorable, watchable and very well produced, but I have doubts as to how effective it is proving in the marketplace.

Consider the copy in the newspaper ad: “Every day there are more and more policies out there. At a glance they all seem similar and make the same reassurances, but the reality is, it’s getting harder to tell the good from the not so great. That’s why it’s so important that you scrutinise your policy before buying insurance. And that you ask the right questions. Is it the insurance you think it is, or does it just resemble it? Santam. Insurance. Good and proper”. Continue reading