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July 21, 2015Stop listening

The ‘B’ in DDB, Bill Bernbach, once said:

“We are so busy measuring public opinion that we forget we can mold it.”

As I sat and watched five days of focus groups tear into the scripts I’d spent the last six months crafting, I wondered how much this was true.

In the golden age of above the line advertising, it was easy to ‘change the conversation’, as Don Draper put it, in the stroke of an ad.

The Smash Robots made potatoes seem old fashioned all of a sudden. Benson and Hedges got people talking about tobacco with a series …

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April 19, 2015Don’t become a freelance copywriter

“Give up. You’ll never make it.”

That was the advice offered to me a decade ago, on the first day of my creative writing MA. Actually, it was the advice offered to the entire class.

And while a couple of my classmates did, eventually, have books published, they didn’t make any money out of them, let alone become household names.

These days, I sometimes check my inbox to find an email from a well meaning student or first year copywriter asking me to tell them how to crack the business.

Well, I don’t want to put you off, but ‘give …

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March 31, 2015Can you learn creativity from a book? …and should you?

I stopped over to the suits’ corner of the office I was freelancing in last week. I’m used to seeing creative ‘bibles’ ranging from The Copy Book to Ogilvy on Advertising on the desks of fellow creatives — the sort of book you can open at any page and be inspired, giving you an idea that will jolt you back into action.

But I was surprised to see one of the best reference libraries I’ve ever seen in an office sitting on the desk of a planner. I immediately picked up a copy of Hey Whipple and flipped it to …

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January 4, 2015A few thoughts on why the “American Psycho” luxury flat ad sucks

A friend of mine tweeted a link to this ad for a luxury block of flats. “This looks like an outtake from American Psycho,” I said on watching it. Which was pretty much everyone else’s response, judging from this Independent article today (you can watch the ad, too).

Ad creatives around the country are probably groaning, and this is such a particularly bad example that it’s unlikely it’s made by any of the bigger London shops. In fact, it may well have been put together by an in-house marketing team.

Yet the ad industry needs to face up to …

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December 10, 2014How do you work with a client who keeps you guessing?

I think it’s happened to every copywriter at some point. The client who knows exactly what they want. But they can’t put it in words. Or rather, they probably can put it in words, they just won’t. Instead, they make you play a guessing game. Because you’re the copywriter. You should know.

It’s the exact opposite of the pixel-pushing backseat designer (or “hovering art director“) who watches over you constantly “suggesting” adjustments. What do you do when you get a client who knows exactly what they want but won’t tell you, insisting ‘you’re the copywriter, you should know’?…

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November 24, 2014The secret ingredient that makes a writer good…

What makes a good writer? You could say it’s experience. You might say it’s how they were taught. Or how much they’ve read.

But while these are the ingredients of what makes a good writer, they’re not what makes a writer good.

That’s something that can’t be learned from a book. Or from a blog like this.

(But don’t stop reading just yet).

The thing that makes a writer good is the same thing that makes an actor good, a singer good, a sportsman good, a professional poker player good.

It’s confidence.

That’s what makes the difference between ordinary and …

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October 12, 2014Why I’m making music again

OK, there’s actually few good reasons why I’ve started making music (after taking a five year break).

Firstly, I spent way too much money over the summer (doesn’t everyone?). Staying at home and writing tunes keeps the bank balance in the black.

Secondly, I’ve seen some pretty inspiring stuff lately, from the new Nick Cave movie to the excellent Fort Process festival on the south coast, a day filled with experimental art and sound and noise.

But the real reason? Because I’m terrible at it.

And no, I’m not particularly trying to get better, either (although you’d hope that the …

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August 25, 2014Fail harder. Never be afraid of failure.

When you’re young, summer is supposed to be fun. But somehow between adolescence and adulthood it turns into a time of terror — the time of dreaded exam results that supposedly determine the rest of your life.

If you’re a teenager and you’re reading this, stop right now and pay attention to these words: your exam results do not define you. What you get, ultimately, doesn’t matter.

In ten years time, you won’t even remember.

You won’t remember 90% of what you learned in school. And 99% of it you’ll never use.

The only time anyone ever asked what I …

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June 28, 2014And now a word from our sponsors

I will admit it. I am one of life’s moaners. Partly, it comes from being an obsessive perfectionist. I will get upset if a comma is out of place, I will be unhappy if a concept isn’t executed exactly as I planned it. When it comes to my work, I’ve always insisted on perfection.

But perfection isn’t always possible. And so I’ve developed a reputation at the places I’ve worked as someone who’s never quite happy. There’s a certain value in being an obsessive perfectionist, but I’ve started to think it’s led to people thinking I’m never satisfied, never happy …

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June 2, 2014Five rules for being a better creative

It’s far easier to destroy than to create. Anyone who’s ever kicked over a sand castle on the beach knows this to be true.

And like the proverbial bully who kicks over the castle that the other boy has spent hours perfecting, when you’re a creative, it can be just as easy to kick apart an idea just as it’s taking shape.

Partly it stems from a sense of creative frustration. It’s easy to take the page you’ve written and tear it in half, or press delete. All creatives are perfectionists. We have a vision of how it should look. …

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