Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Adventures in Copywriting: 1

When I look at a print advertisement, the first thing I look at is the copy. Is it short, succinct, and well-written? Does it communicate to the reader? Does it bring out the salient functions, features, and benefits of the product it is trying to sell? Does the copy integrate well with the visual or graphic that is holding the ad in place? Does the copy make you smile or even better, does it make you chuckle?

During my bachelor days in Bombay I used to help my friend Prasad with some copywriting. Prasad held a temporary job as a lecturer in a management institute and tried to supplement his income by working as a freelance copywriter in a small advertising agency which could not afford a full-time copywriter on their rolls. It was handsome pocket money which we invariably blew up on beer.

We were novices but worked hard to deliver the perfect headline and the perfect body copy. Prasad borrowed books on Advertising and Copywriting from the institute’s library which we devoured with fiendish intensity. We pored over famous international print advertisements, analysed them in minute detail, and poured scorn over what was masquerading as copywriting in India. We felt very superior.

But we realised rather quickly that the agency and its customers, mostly small manufacturing companies, had a totally different aesthetic viewpoint when it came to what was and what was not, good copywriting. When we strived for simplicity and clarity, often what was needed by the customer was exaggeration and hyperbole. When we said humour should be elegant and understated, our agency and its customers were seriously upset. Sometimes, we will go with ten alternatives for a headline, arranging them in our own order of preference and would be chastened and embarrassed when the customer complimented us on our wonderful effort and chose No. 9.

In hindsight, I have to admit the agency and its customers were right. They knew their end customers, we did not. By trying to impose our own sensibilities, received wisdom, and pre-conceived notions on what constituted good copy, we were forgetting that one cardinal rule of good copywriting which is to first understand who you are trying to communicate to.

But some of the copy that we wrote during that time and some of the headlines that found their way to print, were truly hilarious. And just to tease you (Cynic, are you listening?) I will defer narrating them until my next post!
Photo Courtesy:


Cynic in Wonderland said...

Bah!! I am. And I am waiting also.


But good fun, didnt know u had done copy as well. This client mandated rubbish lines are the permanent bane of everyone in advertising though.

IdeaSmith said...

This is a useful thought for any marketer. And bah...after that tantalizing promise of what's to come, you don't actually link to the lines!! Waiting impatiently...

Cris said...

LOL! This was funny. And a bit scary for me cause I had just attended a copywriter's interview last week having no clue what the job is! Do write more!

Rada said...

@Cynic: "Client-mandated rubbish lines!" How can you? Don't you know customer is always right? :-)

@IS: Good to see you here after such a prolonged absence!

@Cris: No preconceived notions mean that you can look at the job with fresh eyes, always an advantage. Don't worry!

Cynic in Wonderland said...


Santosh said...

Outstanding prelude for the things to come. Waiting for it Rada.

padmaja said...

Actually I think copy-writers have it easy! You can always get away with a grammar book, when someone tries to massacre your line... We designers bear the brunt of bizarre suggestions from clients. Once a servicing guy didn't speak to me for 3 days because I refused to change a colour on a hoarding!

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Stepping Sideways... by K. Radhakrishnan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.