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!

 

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.

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!

It’s a Miracle

We copywriters are often miracle workers.

I’ve written for cars I never drove, audio systems I never heard, beverages I never drank and even places I’ve never been to. I suppose it’s the same for pretty much every copywriter out there.

The days of getting up close and personal with the product are truly gone.

I remember when I started out as a novice – which was far too long ago if you’re wondering –  that clients actually sent their products to the office so we may check, test, use or just fiddle around with them.

Services are a bit tricky. It would be impractical to get into a huge debt just because you need to write for a new mortgage plan. But clients still took the effort to send over market insights, strategic reviews, target market analysis, competitive analysis and the works.

CopyGoogler
Yes, I Googled this image... what?

These days however, our work really does require us to create something out of nothing, especially in the last decade. Google has become the primary source of information on virtually any product or service. ‘Just Google it’ is a phrase that now replaces ‘do you have enough information?’.

While I often admire a client’s confidence in our resourcefulness, how are we as marketing writers to develop a unique tone-of-voice based on materials sourced from Google? Indeed, Google is a great resource, but it is a vastly generic resource. And when the work delivered is not insightful or outstanding enough, the finger-pointing begins.

But there have been bright sparks. As a freelancer, I’ve met clients whom are genuinely focused on creating communications that are compelling, insightful and truly unique.

Well how are they different you ask? Here you go…

They Care
Their brand is their lifeblood, they live and breathe it. They are intrinsically wired to the growth and development of their brand. They care enough to provide relevant, insightful material along with reasonable lead time to exhaust all possibilities.

They are Transparent
Every aspect of their business open to scrutiny. They give copywriters no-holds-barred access to the inner workings of their organisation, creating the possibility of uncovering unique business traits that can result in the much coveted ‘aha’ moment.

They Work
They know the ins and outs of their business, and willing to work to translate that knowledge into a solid brief. You won’t hear the words Catchy, Punch or Juicy from these guys. They know what they want as much as knowing what they don’t want.

A Breath of Fresh Ads

What happens when you invite a bunch of people, let them sample your product and allow them to speak their mind? Let’s see…

This month marks my third year as a fulltime freelance copywriter. And if you add the 13 odd years I was an agency-employed copywriter, you can say I’ve seen many groundbreaking campaigns.

From the era of experiential marketing and digital 2.0 to current industry buzzwords such as disruptive marketing and hashtag-strategies; the ad game has evolved to the point of mutation.

But no matter what you do, people will continue to form their own opinions – be it positive or otherwise – about a product or service.

The blind ‘taste test’ for Laphroaig (don’t ask me how to pronounce it) reveals an important aspect of consumer behaviour.

They prefer to think for themselves.

We as advertisers can only mould consumers to think a certain way via a concept, proposition or message. But often have no control of how they might interpret our messaging or imagery.

In the case of Laphroaig, they embraced the opinions of their focus group – made up of people who may or may not have consumed the product previously – and went on to create print ads without filtering even the negative comments.

Laphroaig Ad Hospital
How would a burning hospital taste anyway? Intrigued I am...
Laphroaig Ad Kerosene
Yes, this is a real ad. I did not make it up...

Now, that took some balls.

Granted the product is an intoxicating beverage and there is a certain degree of creative freedom afforded.

But come on… ‘tastes like burning hospital’ as part of a headline? You got to give the people at Laphroaig some props. There are more versions of the print campaign actually, which I urge you to check out.

And the best part, the agency’s copywriter didn’t even have to think of a catchy, punchy and juicy headline; the consumers did it.

Now I want to do a focus group-inspired campaign too… anyone?

Loyalty is Overrated

When I receive communications from brands that begin with ‘Thank you for being a loyal customer bla bla bla…’, I feel like strangling the copywriter who wrote that opening.

But I am a fellow copywriter too, so perhaps just a smacking will suffice.

If I can’t find Coke, I’d probably drink Pepsi. No Pringles? Yeah okay, Mr. Potato will do. When Maxis sucked, I moved on to Digi.

Like most consumers, I’m hardly loyal. And I’ve repeatedly cheated on the brands that think I am their loyal customer. There is a significant difference between being loyal to a brand and being loyal to something that influences your life such as a loved one.

That difference is called emotion.

Mind of a Consumer
Brands can never ever evoke true loyalty, there's always room for cheating

Brands try really hard to make an emotional connection with their customers, but often fail miserably. There is just no way for a brand to replace what really matters; like family, friends, career and all other attributes that make up our personality.

So I feel annoyed at the capacity of brands to assume that I am loyal to an entity that is purely after my money. But the truth is:

I am not loyal, I have no choice.

I would end my relationship with you the moment someone offers me a better deal, and as long as I have nothing to lose by moving on.

Yes, the caveat is ‘if I have nothing to lose’. Which is why, mortgages have a ‘lock-in’ period that charges a hefty sum. Also the reason behind why telcos have contracts that impose a penalty upon termination.

And then they have the cheek to call me loyal!

If brand communications were truthful, then that letter would say ‘thank you for not going to our competitor, we really need your money to pay our inflated corporate salaries bla bla bla…’