Thursday 25 November 2010

Long copy is dead. Long live long copy.

I’ve just read an interesting article from THINK Eye Tracking entitled ‘The (Long Forgotten?) Art of Long Copy’. You’ll find it here:

Now this has long been one of my favourite bugbears. The rise and rise of the visual image over the written word. The shunning of the copywriter’s skills to the extent that most press and print advertising now consists of a big picture and a line of often poorly-written copy.

(Without wanting to sound like a grumpy old man, I remember writing four-page and even six-page DM letters for financial services companies back in the 80s. Now I’m lucky if I’m allowed to write more than a side of A4, including of course, the obligatory five or six bullet points.)

You’ve probably seen this trend for yourself – particularly if you’re a copywriter.

But this blog post really brought it home to me. It includes the winning entry in the Commercially Driven section in a ThinkPrint Advertising Effectiveness study. It’s The Art of Long Copy Commercial winner for Adidas by London agency Iris:

It’s certainly well written and engaging. But an ad with 86 words isn’t long copy. The Solarbo kitchens two-step direct response ad from 1980 is what you call long copy.

Of course, we all know why this is happening. The world is moving ever faster. We’re all suffering from information overload. We want everything in bite-sized chunks. Twitter is 140 characters. Text messages all use abbreviations. Rolling news coverage can give us a snapshot of the world in five minutes. Who’s got the time to sit down and read more than a few words from an advertiser?

(I’m sure this lack of respect for the written word is also something to do with the rapidly declining standards in grammar, spelling and punctuation that we all see everywhere.)

Who cares?
But does this trend really matter? Who cares apart from some annoyed and frustrated copywriters?

Actually, I think it does. It means that as creatives - copywriters and art directors – we’re letting our clients down. If you’re not interrogating the product or service and discovering everything possible feature and benefit it has, and then talking about them, how can you possibly do a complete selling job? And if you’re not doing a complete selling job, you’re wasting the client’s money.

Solarbo kitchens ad

Of course, the Solarbo ad above is a two-step direct response ad selling a product off-the-page and encouraging readers to clip the coupon (remember those?) and send for a brochure. This ad sells so hard, even the inset pic (which is proven to increase response) of the free planning kit has its own caption: Planning kit makes it so easy.

But you can still take the same approach with almost any product or service. Remember the D&AD winning long copy ads for Sainsburys in the 80s written by David Abbott? Or the Parker Pen ads from the same decade beautifully crafted by Tony Brignull? They certainly helped build impressive brands for both companies, and it could be argued that they sold off the page.

So let’s start pushing to bring back long copy ads. Who knows, if they’re well written, people might actually read them. And clients might actually see some benefit from their advertising.

Incidentally, I have a whole stack of ads from the 80s which I clipped from the Sunday supplements and saved. I’m just not sure what to do with them. Should I include some more in a blog post? Or set up an archive on my site where you can see them all and gasp at the number of words? I’d be interested to get your feedback.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Adult cereals? I'd love to try some...

There I was, wandering around Sainsbury's on Saturday when I came across this titillating piece of signage. (Pardon the expression.)

Adult cereals? The mind boggles. Of course, it's simply the section where the cereals aren't drowned in sugar, smothered in chocolate or look as if they've been irradiated.

(Actually, with our current obesity epidemic, these are precisely the shelves where we should be buying our kids' breakfast cereals.)

But cereals for adults? What can you buy there? Ready Breast? Pornflakes? Crunchy Nuts, naturally.

And then it came to me. This is where you get your oats.

Anybody else got any good adult cereal suggestions?

Friday 14 May 2010

How to write a great strapline

In my last blog post I gave quite a few current straplines a bit of a pasting. I imagine some people might have been thinking, ‘Fair enough, smarty-pants, but how do you write a good one?’

It’s a good question and for most copywriters the arrival on your desk of a new strapline brief can fill you with excitement and trepidation in equal measures. Why? Because it’s your opportunity to show your skills and possibly create a strapline that really captures the essence of a brand.

Conversely, you know you’re in for some bloody hard work which will really test your mettle as a wordsmith. It’s like chipping away at solid rock hoping to find a diamond. Trouble is, you don’t know where it is or even if you’re prospecting in the right place.

You’ll probably come up with plenty of alternatives which are pretty good. But you still have that feeling that somewhere out there is that unique combination of words that nails down that company and everything it represents. You’ve just got to keep looking.

(For men, it’s that same uncertain, troubling feeling you get when your wife/partner/girlfriend is extremely cross with you, but you’re not exactly sure why…)

It’s the brand in five words or less

Before you even put fingertip to keypad you want to be absolutely, totally, 100% certain that you know the brand inside and out.

* What kind of company is this?
* What do they stand for?
* How do they see themselves?
* What’s their tone of voice?
* What are the benefits of using this company?
* What does it offer to customers?

From here, your strapline must be completely in tune with these values and capture the very essence of that company. You know that feeling you get when you think about a company? Your strapline must give you that feeling and create that mood.

Start digging

Now comes the fun bit. At this point, you need a good brief. This should set out the single proposition you are trying to express. Don’t allow the client or account management team or whoever it is you’re working for to say it’s an open brief and you can do anything.

Nor let them get away with a brief that says we want to talk about quality, value and service, and we’re right on your doorstep. Pin them down to one benefit or one singular expression of the company’s values.

As the old saying goes,
Give me the freedom of tight briefs.’

Let’s take an example. Tesco have a great strapline for their home delivery service:

Tesco home delivery
You shop. We drop.

You get the idea and the benefits in an instant. Then again, Asda have one that’s just as good:

Asda home delivery
From our store to your door

Just as clear. Just as punchy. Now suppose that Morrisons decide to introduce home delivery and you have the brief to come up with a strapline.

Start by taking a big A2 pad and filling it with words, phrases, idioms, colloquialisms and slang around the single thought you’re trying to express. Or in this case, the two halves of this benefit story.

(Of course, you can open a new Word doc and do the same thing. But type your lines in about 18 point. I actually prefer to see the lines on screen and it’s easier to move words, parts of lines and whole lines around, which suits me being essentially lazy.)

Get some online help

And you don’t have to sit their racking your brain trying to think of words. Use a Roget’s Thesaurus to find synonyms for the words you’re thinking around. There’s a good one online at

Throw in a few idioms. You won’t be using the idiom lock, stock and barrel but it might inspire something else. Or you can tweak or twist it to create a new thought. There’s a good site at Don’t forget rhymes too. Instead of sitting their trying to think of rhymes, you’ll save a lot of time by going to

* So, the first part of this proposition throws up: home page, basket, mouse,
click, trolley, shopping, shopping list, online, net, bags, meals, window
shopping, keep shop, shop around, talk shop, buy, groceries and so on.

* The second part gives us: door, armchair, home, delivery, doorstep, deliver,
knock, knock, easy, convenient, save time, wheels, van, relax, bags, simple,
shopping and so on.

You have to really concentrate and think of every tiny component of the ordering process and what will happen when the delivery arrives at your door. Then you want to come up with a line that expresses each half of this product story, but links them together cleverly, succinctly and memorably. Or a line that just states the whole proposition.

Don’t forget to employ the weapons in your arsenal as a copywriter – alliteration, rhythm, repetition, metaphor and rhyming.

Based on some of these words, phrases and idioms I’ve jotted down, I can then start to pull together some straplines and see how they’re working.

Click, click, knock, knock.
Morrisons home delivery

Meals on wheels
Morrisons home delivery

Bags more convenient
Morrisons home delivery

We deliver
Morrisons home delivery

Get your Friday nights back
Morrisons home delivery

From mouse mat to door mat
Morrisons home delivery

All the groceries. None of the grief.
Morrisons home delivery

From our home page to your home
Morrisons home delivery

Delicious. Delectable. Delivered.
Morrisons home delivery

From here, you can begin to sift out those lines which have potential or need more work, from those that are too quirky or don’t sit with Morrisons tone of voice. With straplines it really is a numbers game and the more you come up with and can refine, the better the final selection will be.

Of course, this all takes time. Which amuses me when a client briefs you on copy for an ad or campaign and says, ‘Oh, and can you just spend a couple of hours thinking of a few straplines.’

I guess it’s the same for designers when they’re asked to knock out a few logo designs – that’s only a couple of hours work, isn’t it?

Your strapline checklist

So to summarise, you need to keep checking throughout the process that your straplines are:

* Relevant

* Honest

* Memorable

* Short

* Creative

And, most important of all, that they are totally in line with the client’s brand values and tone of voice.

Tune in next time for an entirely random selection of my favourite straplines.

For more invaluable help and advice on writing, marketing and advertising, go to

Thursday 29 April 2010

Why are most straplines just crap lines?

OK, so I’m generalising and being just a tad subjective. And I only used the word ‘crap’ because it made a nice headline. So let me be more specific. A great many straplines you see these days are irrelevant, forgettable and most unforgiveable, boring.

It wouldn’t be so bad if these straplines belonged to small, local companies and had been dreamed up by the business owner, whose full-time job is making widgets, not writing powerful, effective, memorable straplines.

Or if they’d been thought up by the account exec or an inexperienced junior copywriter in the ad agency. They’re only working on a small account so it doesn’t warrant the creative heavyweights spending any time on it.

No, these straplines belong to some of the biggest household names in Britain. Companies you know and love. Companies with strong brands which you’d have thought they’d be working hard to protect, cherish and nurture.

An emotional emptiness

What all of these straplines have in common is the feeling they give me. A horrible, mushy nothingness. An emotional emptiness. No connection with the business. And a sense that if the company doesn’t even know what it stands for, how can I?

Step forward just a few of the companies on my Strapline Roll Call of Dishonour.

This one’s a real corker. Sky TV is in millions of homes across the country. They bring, ‘the most up-to-date editorial, pictures and video-breaking news, sport, showbiz, movies, TV, travel and more.’

Just think of the panoply of words that are at the copywriter’s disposal, the images and emotions that can be stirred up in the reader’s mind, the bond that people have with the box in the corner and nowadays, their computers. Write something that taps into this feeling and you’ve reinforced Sky’s position in the market and helped create an even stronger brand.

So what do we get?

Believe in better

What’s this? A strapline for the C of E? A promise of nirvana in the afterlife? And at the very least it’s saying, you can believe in better from Sky, but this doesn’t mean you’re going to get it.

How about this one:

We can help

Which just goes to show that one of the key requirements of any strapline is relevance. At least try to suggest what kind of company you are and what kind of products or services you sell. This strapline could literally be applied to any company, but would actually work really well for the Samaritans.

Here’s another one which was only launched in April 2010:

Drive the change

OK, so it does have ‘drive’ in it. And they may be launching new models which have changed from the old ones. But the use of the word change doesn’t work in this context. The old Asda strapline, ‘You’ll love the change’ worked because Asda had changed and it tied this into a value proposition. The Renault line does none of this and is just woolly and unfocused.

What’s more, there’s no suggestion of the French heritage of the cars. Remember, Renault’s most successful TV campaign, Nicole and Papa’ was so charmingly Gallic you could almost smell the Gauloises. And tying into your national heritage and country of origin has worked so well for Audi – ‘Vorsprung durch technik’ – that now VW do it too – ‘Das auto’ - 25 years after Audi first had the idea.

All in all, a great strapline. For an HRT product.

Here are a couple of straplines which completely baffle me:

Toby Carvery
Just as it should be

So Toby Carvery is just as it should be. I’m getting that feeling again. What should it be that Toby Carvery is just as? (You see what I mean?) I haven’t been to a Toby for about 30 years, but if you gave me a good reason to go again, I’d go. This isn’t it. I don’t know what Toby should be as and now you’re making me think about it.

I just want something that suggests a good choice of well-cooked food, nice wines, a relaxing atmosphere, good times, great company. All at a good price. A place that’s special, but not posh or expensive - a kind of upmarket Harvester.

And what about:
We can be bothered

Well, I’m glad to hear it. I think they want to be in the territory of the famous Avis strapline, ‘We try harder’ which is a good strategy. But please, don’t use the word, ‘bothered’. Straight away you’re thinking about Catherine Tate’s irritating teenager.

Here are two more which actually aren’t bad:

Saving you money every day

Nice and simple, and it talks about saving money which is what Asda is all about. But even this can be improved. I’m guessing that the ‘you’ in the line is a collective you referring to everyone in Britain. In that sense, Asda does save us Britons money every day.

But I’m an individual and every single person who reads this line does so individually. And guess what – I don’t go to Asda every day. I might go once or twice a month if I can’t avoid it. It would be much better to say, ‘Asda. Saving you money every shop.’ There’s alliteration, it scans nicely and people now refer to doing the weekly ‘shop’.

Enterprise rent-a-car
We’ll pick you up

Great. The USP as a strapline, and why not. And even if it isn’t a USP and every car rental company does it, nobody else is saying it. Therefore, it becomes a brand property of Enterprise.

Why so bad?

There are a variety of reasons. From the client’s point of view, nobody in the marketing team wants to green light a strapline which might backfire and harm their career prospects.

A strapline which actually says something about the company and its brand values might attract unwanted attention, open up the company to criticism or be controversial. It might even heaven forbid, stand out and be noticed. In short, nobody wants to be the person who takes that risk.

(It reminds me of the phrase from the 80s, ‘Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.’ It was true. But where are IBM now?)

This mindset was echoed in a recent presentation by Rory Sutherland, President of the IPA. He said, “Creative people have a fear of the obvious, and yet they have to present their work to people who have a love of the obvious.”

In short, clients want obvious straplines because that’s what they feel happy, safe and secure with. They certainly don’t want to run the risk of standing out.

On the advertising agency side, similar thinking applies. The agency doesn’t want to lose the account and if the client is saying they want a safe, corporate strapline then that’s what they’re jolly well going to get.

Of course, many large, established companies have a set of brand values, standing and reputation to uphold and can’t be seen to be supported by a tagline that’s too radical, creative or just plain different. I understand that. But the skill of the copywriter comes in developing something new and fresh while keeping within these constraints.

And so we are left with these safe, sterile, meaningless jumbles of words. But remember, as the old advertising saying goes, ‘Safe isn’t safe.’

Tune in next time for more on straplines and how to write a great one.

For more invaluable help and advice on writing, marketing and advertising, go to