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.
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!
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.
“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.
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:
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
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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…’
Look, I believe in advertising, especially since I’ve toiled in the industry as a copywriter for the past 15 years or so.
But I also believe some things should not be advertised. While most products and services can benefit from incisive communication strategies coupled with compelling creative executions and targeted message dissemination; I believe those in the ad industry itself should not be advertising themselves.
In recent months, I’ve seen newspapers proclaiming that ‘print is the way to go’ and radio stations promising ‘increased sales’. And the fact that they are advertising in their own pages and airwaves seemed rather desperate.
Advertisers (or clients) will naturally go where there is a large audience. I think media owners should work on strengthening their audience base rather than proclaiming that their medium is a cure-all for communication conundrums.
It’s so obvious that the digital and social revolutions are giving traditional media – especially Print and Radio – stiff competition in terms of ad revenue. These traditional players must begin to realise that they cannot remain unchallenged and must improve on content and engagement, whilst embracing the future of communication.
It will take more than just advertising in-own-media to pry the ad Ringgits that are increasingly being channeled towards online advertising. And we all know that advertising a substandard product will only make it fail faster.
But then again, here are some interesting bits to chew on, based on a 2013 Global Survey of Trust in Advertising by Nielsen for Malaysia:
72% of consumers in the country trust newspaper ads
Credibility of traditional advertising remains high compared to online paid media
Trust in digital ads such as online banners and social media hover at around 50%
Confidence in online advertising is swiftly growing, with ad spend forecast to touch US$34 billion in Asia Pacific by 2015
Word-of-mouth still remains the best form of advertising, at 86% trust level
So, while traditional advertising still plays a major role in ad campaigns and strategies, online advertising is fast catching up and cannot be ignored any longer.
Traditional media owners have realised this, hence the desperate attempt to advertise themselves. Only time will tell how long they can remain profitable while clutching to fading hopes.
And in case you didn’t notice, word-of-mouth is still and will always be advertising’s top performer. Maybe it’s wise to spark conversations rather than pour money down the media drain.
If you’re a guy that’s currently trying to woo the love of your life, then you would know that your attempts are ridden with challenges.
In addition to convincing your potential suitor that you’re not a serial rapist, you must also appeal to her heart, mind and soul. Easier said than done, especially when women have the uncanny ability to sense jerks and see through fakery.
Women get hit on more times than we guys can even imagine; so more often than not their initial reaction is to seem disinterested or be wary. Much like how we consumers think that every piece of promotional message – be it in ads, sales calls or e-mails – are too good to be true.
So before she switches off for good, here are a few tips based on copywriting essentials that could help you close the deal, or at least improve your chances:
1. Open with a Bang Before you get the wrong impression, let me set this straight. In copywriting, the first words the consumer reads or hears are critical. Better yet, if you are able to weave in a benefit at first contact, such as a headline that answers the question “what’s in it for me?” In the case of courting, don’t just ask her out, instead find out what she enjoys and propose an outing with specifics. Example: do you want to join me for a sunset picnic this weekend?
2. Be Persuasive But not pushy. There are certain words we copywriters use to subtly influence consumers in their decision making process. I’ve written about these power words in a previous post that you may want to check out. In the same vein, courting is also about using subtle influences to compel a desired outcome. Not only in words, but gestures, confidence and mannerisms… just take it easy or you risk looking pushy.
3. Highlight What’s Worthy Nobody reads, and this is especially true today where people just scan through text in search of only the interesting bits. That’s why copywriting these days involve heavy use of subheads, crossheads and bullet points to highlight the more compelling points. In the same way, you’ve got to appreciate her attention and get to the interesting bits of the conversation quickly. No two hours stories about your grandma, please.
4. Maintain Authenticity Believe it or not, we copywriters tend to be as genuine as possible when crafting our prose. We may misdirect but never mislead or overpromise, because we hate it ourselves when promises fall flat. So while courting, stay true to yourself and most importantly be believable; women are as likely as consumers to smell the rat.
5. Focus on the Relationship Ideally, copywriting is the art of making a sale. But before consumers can part with their money they must know, like and trust you. It is a long-term process that emphasizes on building relationships than just making a sale. So before a woman parts with her heart, mind and soul, you must endeavour to work on the relationship and build trust. It takes time, but the rewards will be worth it.
And in case you’re wondering, this doesn’t apply for courting guys, we’re easy… aren’t we?
Yes, I admit it. Since the time I started this copywriting blog in 2010, I’ve never been as laid-back as this year. My posts have been too few and far in between, and I feel like a disgrace to bloggers everywhere.
But as with all things, every downside has a reason.
You see, the momentum I built in my first full year as a freelance copywriter in 2012 spilled over rather kindly to 2013. That meant more time working on projects rather than soliciting for work.
So let’s just say I took the foot off the blogging accelerator just a tiny bit and now the New Year is staring cynically at my face.
Ah yes… another reason for my lack of posts is also because I was busy preparing for my matrimonial plunge for the most part of the year. But this is hardly the space to talk about it, so I shall leave it at that.
Two years ago, with no serious planning whatsoever, I decided to become a full-time freelance copywriter.
24 months, that’s a pretty long time to go without a pay cheque. And the fact that I’m still standing is a miracle of sorts… almost too good to be true.
But it was not like I didn’t have to work my butt off to get to this stage. Obviously finding clients was among my major headaches when I started. Eventually, this blog (yes, this very sorry excuse for a blog) became my number one lead generator, and still is.
Now, all my clients I work with and the projects I handle are the direct result from the enquiries I get from this website. Of course, I still had to convince these leads to become clients, which wasn’t easy nor was it always successful.
Sometimes, I get a barrage of enquiries within a space of a week, which is great. The downside to this is that I can’t work on turning all these leads into clients, without creating a backlog. And recently, I had to let go many opportunities that came my way.
This is something I hate to do. It feels like I’ve let myself down.
Being a self-employed copywriter, I tend to wear multiple hats. Often the writing itself is only a small portion of my daily routine because there are meetings to attend, clients to lunch with, brainstorming sessions to go to, materials to pick up and quotes/invoices to send.
There is only so much I can handle without compromising my quality of my copy, which is often how I’m judged on.
It’s a case of keeping existing clients happy vs. bringing in new business. I suppose I’m a loyalist rather than a capitalist.
Anyway, I would like to thank all my clients and readers for making the past year a great one. I’ve learned so much over the year that no book, classroom or even job can ever teach.
Finally, for those of you who enquired about my services, and in turn received a very polite message saying that I was very busy, please accept my sincere apologies. I truly hope our paths will cross again.