“David is more than a good creative guy. He is a creative adult. He understands that the best creative ideas are not art for art’s sake, but art that is meant to solve a strategic marketing problem.”
—Bob Wolf, former Chairman & CEO of Chiat/Day | "Agency of the Decade," New York Times, Adweek & Advertising Age Magazines
Long-form content writing
Copywriting for marketing
Copywriting for radio
David Branby sits down with Edward Estipona, CEO of The Estipona Group, to celebrate 25 years in marketing
Confessions of a Copywriter
By David Branby
I am a copywriter; a wordsmith; a scribe. Working with words is how I survive. I craft, I sculpt, I make pictures with words (though I must admit, sometimes it’s just blurbs) with one goal in mind: To gently urge that reader of mine ...
... to take action (usually in the vicinity of a cash register); in short, to purchase, to procure, to buy my client’s wares or embrace their ideas, to know their stance or acknowledge their presence. I am a crafter of dreams and a deliverer of details. I am a copywriter. I turn words into gold.
I am neither a poet nor a prophet, and yet I deftly weave both into my potent potion so the prospect (in this case, you!) can savor the sizzle and salivate for the steak.
My purpose is simple, my task is complex: Distill my client’s 96 copy points (so painstakingly writ) into three or four paragraphs that’re sure to make a hit; and give them a headline that’s snappy and fun; and deliver a benefit to the reader (just one) in a way that’s sexy and creative and pops; so as he or she meanders through NEWSWEEK, she stops! And reads what I’ve written and writes down the name, and writes down the phone, fax, e-mail, and then ... she hops in her Audi, her Bimmer or Nio, heads for the mall and with nothing but brio, walks into the store and with hardly a thought, whips out her VISA just as she ought, and BUYS the one item I’ve told her about, just as the merchant says, “Wow! Now, we’re sold out!”
I am a copywriter. I turn words into gold.
Now, let me illustrate the power of words in my chosen profession, which is advertising. I’m going to write a part of a phrase and I want you to chime in—to yourself, or out loud (depending on who’s around)—if you know the rest of it. Let’s try a few:
Winston tastes good ... (like a cigarette should.)
You’re in good hands ... (with Allstate.)
M&M’s melt in your mouth ... (not in your hand.)
Nothing beats a great pair of ... (Legg’s.)
And one of my favorites, which I wrote for the Public Restroom Company: "Building Better Places To Go."
Now, some people may call these slogans, but in my line of work, they’re known as tag lines. And most companies should have a tag line, which is kind of like a mission statement for what a company does, and the way that they do it that makes them unique.
A powerful tag line melds all the marketing objectives into one cohesive thought, from positioning to brand image and personality. To put it more succinctly, in the words of advertising great Jim Jordan, “the heart and the power of advertising is ... a few words so skillfully targeted, so clear in their positioning, so vivid in their articulation, and so memorable in their identification with a given brand ... that they become people’s principal reason for buying the brand.”
In fact, we copywriters spend an inordinate amount of time trying to come up with the perfect tag line for a company—because once you find it, you can use it forever. To give you an example, the copywriter who came up with “Everything you always wanted in a beer. And less.” took a brand that nobody liked—Miller Lite—and sold $95 million worth a year to sports fans over the next decade and a half.
The point is, the tag line should always remind the consumer of the key benefit – what’s in it for them. For example, Silver Legacy Resort Casino originally used the tag line “Lucky For You” to market Sam Fairchild’s mythical silver mine in downtown Reno. When my former agency pitched that account, my team and I came up with the tag line, “Share the Wealth,” because frankly, I’d rather be rich than lucky any day. At the heart of it, though, is my steadfast belief that good copy always offers a promise or benefit to the consumer, and lucre out-lusters luck any day, in my book.
Another example of the copywriter’s art is the use of word play or puns to make a point. The best one I’ve ever seen was an ad for Oakley Sunglasses that showed a pair of the glasses with the headline “A Shade Under $35. The copy went on to explain that the glasses retailed for $34.95. I should note that puns have fallen out of fashion among copywriters, particularly for headlines, but you’ll still see them in use for tag lines. Sometimes, a great play on words can become the principal reason for buying the brand — and some become classics. Think "When it rains, it pours." (1914) for Morton’s salt and "A diamond is forever." (1947) for DeBeers, the diamond giant.
Now, as you may have noticed, I used a bit of rhyme in the beginning of my article, because people tend to remember rhymes, and in fact, great literary masterpieces (such as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey) were passed down from generation to generation orally, and one of the reasons they survived was because they rhymed. And so it is with the great literary traditions of our time. Who can forget:
The best part of waking up is Folger’s in your cup?
Timex takes a licking and keeps on ticking?
For all you do, this Bud’s for you?
And so, gentle reader, if you’ll permit me one last time, I will leave you with a rhyme:
If advertising’s my passion, then words are my mistress; and lest this malady cause you much distress, let me assure you as sure as I’m here, the words that I craft for your reading come dear; a hundred an hour give or take a few syllables, a bit more for those who insist on the parable that “nothing well is written once”; and so for those insufferable dunces I raise my take to one-fifty an hour, and write so slowly our relations soon sour; until, that is, they take pen in hand, and decide for themselves (and this, to a man) that writing’s for fools and nitwits and pros, and so their notebooks they quickly close, pick up the phone and ring me and plead, “How in the world do you ever write a lead?”
I am a copywriter. I turn words into gold.