And So It Begins…

2020 has been pretty rough for most, if not all of us.

This is the year that started bright and full of optimism. And before we could seriously hit the gym – in an attempt to absolve past new year resolution failures – the shit hit the fan so hard that we are still gasping for air. Yes, literally gasping for air from under our 3-ply, suspect-quality masks.

We’ve gone from ‘What happened to Wawasan 2020?’ to ‘Why am I washing my hands every 20 minutes?’. Not to mention our political drama that on its own would have taken the cake on being a disappointing year. And then to cap it all off, a certain Merseyside club won the English league.  What’s next, Kaijus lurking beneath the seabeds to unleash destruction on humanity? It’s only August so let’s see what else goes loco. Surprise me!

Bring It On

And you know what the funny thing is? This is the year that I had planned to finally re-commit myself as a full time freelance copywriter and marketing consultant. Meaning opting out of an almost full time gig that left virtually no room for me to take on any other client. It was a good, stable, well-paying gig but of late just became too one dimensional and mundane. It’s also part of the reason why this blog has been dormant for quite a few years now. And for someone who is a copywriter by profession, it’s seriously counter-productive and soul-killing when I’m not writing.

Okay, rant over.

So here I am at the dawn of a new beginning in a year that never really got started. Yes, I did let go of that gig… a necessary step for the greater good of my mental health. Despite my sensible self constantly reminding me not to rock the boat this year, I figured let’s get a guitar on board and rock it harder.

It feels like I am back at square one, just like when I quit my last ‘job’ 9 years ago to attempt my first foray into freelancing. Not the best of times to do this. But is there ever a good time to put yourself in a uncomfortable, uncertain position? Didn’t think so.

Let the chips fall wherever they may.

So yes, I am back and ready for all marketing-related enquiries – unless the Kaijus get to me first.

Confessions

Uninspired or not bothered?

Busy or lazy?

Attention-deficit or not-up-for-it?

Family-first or Netflix thirst?

Risk averse or glut of guts?

discuses
Distractions or excuses?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first post on this blog was on 3rd January 2010, it was called the Accidental Ad-man. In that post – just shy of 10 full years ago, yikes! – I prophesied how this blog could be an accident in the making. That’s just me being the pseudo-pessimistic, ultra-realist person I sometimes am.

Well now, at this very juncture, I feel that that playful premonition has come back to haunt me. I have become a victim of my own self doubt and analysis paralysis, which has resulted in this blog being dormant for the last few years or so.

And honestly, I have ran out of excuses.

There is nothing more I can say here to justify my lack of efforts. 10 freaking years has just dissipated into memories. A decade of the good, bad and ugly; all irrecoverable, un-editable, immutable.

It’s especially painful when I re-read my musings here, seems like I enjoyed the process of writing – just plain writing. Thoughts, ideas, observations and commentary forming out of nothingness, only accompanied by the sound of key strokes.

What a beautiful feeling.

I started this post with a few questions. Yes, they are questions for me by me, and the answers are meant to shed some light why I stopped writing. While I can easily attribute the fact that I started a family as one of the contributing factors, I feel that becomes just another excuse.

In fact, I should have more solid material for my writings with all the insanity of having 2 kids in quick succession. And believe me I do.

So why have I reduced myself to this? Maybe god knows, but I think our friend is equally perplexed. This is solely on me.

And if someone is actually reading this attempt of me trying to make sense of things, then congrats! You now know more about my inner feelings that the average person does.

Last thing, writing this was an absolute pleasure.

 

Life Took Control

Well hey, it’s been a 3-year hiatus since my last post.

I blame myself to be honest, for not keeping this sorry excuse for a copywriting blog up-to-date. You see, I really, really meant to continue writing, but circumstances of my own doing somewhat halted my drive and determination to keep the posts coming. My bad, to say the least.

Yet everything has a reason (or many reasons), and mine are very much to do with family and everything that goes along with it. In addition, I’ve had a full-time J.O.B over the last couple of years or so, which meant penning my thoughts was not high up my priority list. I slacked for a few weeks, which became months and eventually years… so here I am, ashamed of my lack of effort and motivation to, just, write.

SEO Writer
I chill for a few years and this is what happens to copywriting… damn!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But let’s let bygones be bygones shall we?

Essentially, life took control. And now I am in the midst of setting in motion the plans of what I hope will culminate in regular thoughts, insights, observations, advise, and the usual nonsense (or sense) from yours truly.

This is not a false start and I am determined not to falter. But as with all things that is being reconstructed, it may be a while before you hear from me again. It has been a whirlwind past 3 years, and I hope the trend continues in this domain, positively of course.

Before I end, it is only fitting for me to apologise to all those whom have enquired for my services in the past few years and got turned down. I must say I was very busy and would not have done justice to your company, brand or marketing plans had I taken up your project.

Hopefully soon, I will be available again to assist in achieving your marketing aims and aspirations.

Cheers!

 

Copywriter Turned Consultant

Well, as eventful as it was, 2015 whizzed by like a speeding train.

In fact, my almost 5-year stint as a fulltime freelancer has gone by as if I was in a 100 metre dash.

And yeah, while I’m at it, my 18 or so years as a wordsmith in a creatively constipated industry now feels like a vividly twisted dream.

So here I am, awoken from what seemed like a pseudo-comatose state of mind – anxiously wondering where my career is headed as I approach my 40s.

Freaking 40s, nuts!

But to be honest, it hasn’t been as delusional or convoluted as I’ve made it to be. Yes, putting 18 years of your heart, soul and neck into something ought to be paying dividends.

And it has, for the most part.

pulpSEO
Pulp Optimization…

Strangely, something else has begun to happen over the last couple of years. I have found myself doing much less writing, while being thrust into situations where my overall know-how in marketing began to take the lead. I’ve gone from churning copy after copy after copy; to work on strategic, conceptual and the business side of marketing.

For a long time I thought I would be just generating content till the day I slump over my keyboard, or at best overseeing other lost souls churn out mindless garbage, and then set myself on fire on a pile of badly written client briefs while screaming “no more reeevissiooonnnsss!”.

Yes, people have mentioned I have a warped mind.

So, in essence, I am not just a copywriter anymore. I am somewhat in transition, or maybe I have already transitioned to become a marketing consultant of sorts. Don’t get me wrong, writing is still my first love, and I will continue to be a keyboard slave for a long time to come.

Maybe, just maybe it’s time I pursue my other writing interests. After all, no time to waste as 40 approaches in haste.

Oh…  better late than never, so happy new year!

Seeing is Convincing

Okay. Sometimes, I can be quite biased.

Just because I’m a copywriter, I tend to dismiss the other critical element of a great piece of marketing communication – the visual. Hey you can’t blame a writer who is defensive of his craft.

So why this sudden affinity towards visuals? Well you can’t refute facts, especially when they make a whole lotta sense. According to research by some geniuses, it is proven that:

People remember 80% of what THEY SEE
Compared to only 20% of what THEY READ

Pretty eye-opening stat, if you will. But it doesn’t take a genius to figure that one out. I would most likely remember the opening scenes of my favourite movie as opposed to the opening lines of my favourite book. Yes, we humans are intrinsically wired to prioritise visual information.

Eye is for the Brain
Roughly half of the human brain is devoted to processing visual info. That explains a lot about our half-brained politicians…

So that’s how people consume data, but here’s the more important stat part of the same research:

90% of the world’s data was created in the last 2 years.

Yes, the last 2 frigging years! And we all have access to virtually most of it thanks to accurate search platforms and social media.

So what does this mean for developing marketing communication content?

1. Target
Find out everything you need to know about your audience

2. Focus
Don’t ramble, keep it simple and concise; made easy when you know your target

3. Visual-ise
Take on an infographic mode wherever possible; icons, charts, graphs and illustrations

In essence, don’t add to the mindless drivel that’s growing exponentially every second. Say enough to evoke curiosity, compel action and you’re done.

The sad thing is, apparently only 28% of words in a webpage are actually read, which means 72% of this post just added to the mindless drivel.

Different

I’m one of those weird kind of copywriters. I don’t really read.

Well I do read a bit of non-fiction; but nothing specific, just what I happen to fancy when I’m in a bookstore or while browsing Amazon. When it comes to fiction though, I’m hopeless. The last novel I finished was probably a John Grisham in my teens.

… and sometimes I read what I say and don’t like what I’m thinking…

Even watching my sister go through almost a dozen books a month when growing up didn’t rub-off on me. I’d rather sit on the rooftop of the house I grew up in listening to Tupac’s Me Against the World while admiring the surrounding greenery.

Ahhh… the simpler times.

Despite my lack of reading, I ended up in the writing business. Most copywriters are or ought to be avid readers, and I’m pretty sure it helps them to become better wordsmiths. But me, I’m different, I tend to read the world that’s in front of me as opposed to blocking my view with a book.

There are beautiful stories playing out right in front of our eyes, no matter how inconspicuous.

I constantly take in the sights, sounds, atmosphere, ambiance and nuances of my surroundings, which in its own way has helped me become a better copywriter over the years.

How you ask? Some examples, if you will:

People watching > Analyzing consumer behavior
Watching TV > Errr… competitive analysis of other ads, provided I’ve not recorded the show
Noticing a gecko on the ceiling > Aspire to greater heights / there’s always (gecko) shit to clean up
Watching the sun go down > Holy crap, there’s a deadline tomorrow!
Hearing birds chirping > Holy crap, the deadline is today!

Well, I’m just… different.

The Secret

The secret to become a successful copywriter? Write less.

Yes, it means being able to get a message across in the shortest, most concise and most engaging manner possible.

But that’s not all.

Writing less is also about, well, actually having less writing to do. Think of it from the context of ‘Quality over Quantity’. Having attention divided by five different projects will invariably result in inferior work compared to when if I just had two projects. And if I could just focus on just one project at any one time, I think the work delivered will only get better.

writer@work
This writer is at home, so how would I work? Hmmm…

“But hey… you’ve been doing this for donkey years, shouldn’t you be able to work faster and maintain consistent quality at the same time?” Asked an asshole.

Yes, of course. If it’s the usual marketing drivel laden with mindless superlatives and catchy buzzwords, then yeah, I could whip something out with relative ease.

The thing is I’m fed up actually; fed up with writing junk, tired of BS layered over more BS and often feel sick reading stuff that I’ve written in a rush just to meet a deadline.

If only I had more time. Truth be told, these days, I do.

This is my fourth year of being a fulltime freelance copywriter, and I feel that I’m writing less, but delivering more value to my clients that I ever had in my career.

Firstly, I’m fortunate enough to work with clients that allow for the critical incubation period. And secondly, I have made a conscious choice to take in less work.

From an entrepreneurial perspective, it might sound downright counter-productive. But do my existing clients appreciate my dedication, incisiveness and insights? I sure hope they do.

I could be wrong though, some writers let-fingers-fly on intensive and continuous word-spill, and only then go on to pick what’s good and relevant to be included in a piece of work. I guess I’m just more deliberate and patient with my approach.

And to be honest, there’s no secret really. It just takes time, provided you’ve already done a bit of hard time in the industry to start with.

More or Less…

We’re well into the New Year. And everywhere I turn, the air of uncertainty smacks me in the face. I’m pretty used to uncertainties; freelance copywriting is full of unknowns, surprises and WTF-moments.

These days, the uncertainties are external. The impending GST, falling Ringgit and steadily ascending inflation have concocted an aura of economic doom and gloom here in Malaysia.

The signs ignored, voices hushed and belts further tightened.

The situation seems out of our control, with our captain-less ship at the mercy of global economic winds and undercurrents of mismanagement. We need to fend for ourselves; work harder, spend less and save more. Yes, I’m venting a little here.

But they say necessity is the mother of invention. In marketing communications, a flourishing economy and big budgets does not automatically translate to great work.

Less is More
Have less > think different > get results > put some clothes on…

I know, because I’ve worked on campaigns for big brands with big budgets; only to see the work often become needlessly complex and hopelessly off the mark. And when budgets are cut, it is used to rationalise ineffectiveness and less-than-desired results.

These days however, I work mostly for start-ups, entrepreneurial businesses and SMEs. They usually don’t have a marketing budget or even a marketing department. But what they do have is the willingness to try new things, allow creative incubation and exhaust all strategic avenues.

The money is then spent to expound and execute a good idea, and not to bombard the media with a scratched-up campaign hoping for a miracle.

Perhaps the economic doom and gloom presents an opportunity to revamp our preconceptions of marketing. In today’s marketing there are no set formulas, cure-alls or guaranteed results, brands need to spark conversations, have a social persona and navigate the wilderness of technology.

Budgets may be trimmed, but we’ve got to roll with the punches.

Less is more, more or less, yes?

The Call-ing

I got a call recently confirming a fact I discovered some time ago, something I knew about around the time I set off as a freelance copywriter.

The call I received was from one of the creative talent agencies. Yes, I was being headhunted, even though I have no idea how they have my details in their database.

Anyway, to have a talent agency contact someone who’s not been actively looking for a job for the last 4 years or so means either one of two things:

  1. They have absolutely no idea who they are calling, which from a talent agency specializing in advertising talents is in my book an epic fail
  2. The ad industry is really, really desperate for copywriters and have instructed their recruiters to go all out in search of candidates

To confirm the situation, I prodded the person on the other end of the call. “How’s the market for copywriters these days?” I asked. She replied, and I quote “agencies are looking left, right and centre for copywriters”.

The reply made me feel I had prophetic powers. I knew it, I knew it all along!

Copybox
So many things to write, so little copywriters left…

Yes, the lack of copywriters in Malaysia, especially good ones, has been one of the contributing factors in my relative success a freelancer for the last 3 years or so.

It is a trend that I noticed even when I was employed, gentle winds of change that has now culminated in an imperfect storm.  Imperfect for agencies, perfect for me… I’m actually in demand.

So let’s celebrate, yes? No.

I believe the Malaysian ad industry truly had this situation coming. In fact, a lot of people in the higher-ups knew about the scarcity of good writers, but just didn’t do anything about it.

Here’s some advise ala gratis to all agencies out there. Hey, I’m a 16-year veteran who has written for everything from TVCs to T&Cs, so listen up:

  1. Don’t treat our work as fillers to art. We are not just caption writers spoiling nice images with those ugly words. Yes, nice images attract attention, but solid and sometimes lengthy copy retains interest and helps convert.
  2. We may make it look easy, but it isn’t. While the demands of advertising have evolved, we copywriters still work with the basics; our thoughts and a keyboard. There are no apps, software or tools for us. Give us time, and respect.
  3. Don’t let us fly solo all the time. While there could be an art director and two designers in a team, copywriters are often left to fend for themselves. Dedicate more hands for copy development, two copy heads are better than one… right?

I feel copywriting has always been second fiddle to art direction, at least in the Malaysian context. Much emphasis is given to art; with art directors and designers enjoying better career prospects compared to copywriters.

Then there’s no wonder why the influx of copywriters have stagnated over recent years. Not many people can handle the merciless, under-appreciated and often underpaid nature of the profession.

But no disrespect to the art-based players in the industry. I’ve worked with many exceptional ones and truly believe they are creative wizards given the constraints, deadlines and demands of a fast-evolving ad scene.

I just wish – now that the year is drawing to a close – the decisions makers pay more attention to the development of great copywriting talents.

A rather cerebral New Year wish, but for the good of the game, I hope it becomes a reality.

Cheers to all the copywriters out there – employed or otherwise – you do it because it is your calling.

Happy New Year!

True Lies

“I love advertising, because I love lying”.

It wasn’t me, I didn’t utter those words. I’m not as bold and brazen as veteran comedian Jerry Seinfeld; who when accepting an honorary Clio – one of the ad industry’s highest creative accolades – spoke with brutal honesty about advertising.

Though the acceptance speech was meant to be a satirical take on the industry, you could just feel the audience’s amused yet disturbed reaction. For me though, it was 4 minutes of ROFL… a must-watch if you haven’t already:

Yes, I admit it. In my 16 years as a copywriter, I’ve done my fair share of lying. They may not be outright lies, but by Mr. Seinfeld’s definition…

I have duped innocent people out of hard-earned earnings to buy useless, low-quality, misrepresented items and services.

Sounds terrible when you word it that way, doesn’t it? But in true advertising traditions, you could also say:

I convince innocent people with relevant, timely information so that they spend their hard-earned earnings wisely on products and services that deliver the best value.

Or maybe something slightly more client-friendly:

I help consumers make smart purchasing decisions with appealing, compelling and concise information that allows them to choose the products and services that best fit their lifestyle.

Essentially, all of the above versions say the same thing. It’s just the wordplay that took Mr. Seinfeld’s observations and spinned it to something more, well, acceptable.

Same message, different interpretations, multiple executions.

But then again, there’s no substitute for honest, emotionally-driven, insightful communications that consumers will appreciate and eventually trust. If you ask me, that should be the only way to execute an ad campaign instead of the usual mumbo jumbo.

Overpromise
Thou shalt not lie in wait for customers... mislead them!

And to Mr. Seinfeld, we addies aren’t all that bad. We mostly just misdirect and sometimes hide the truth as opposed to blatantly lying to people’s faces.

Unlike this ridiculous promo for a movie you did some years ago…