David Droga, chairman of Droga5, recently wrote an article, Sweating Ad Copy Like ‘Mad Men’, for The Wall Street Journal about the “totem pole of ‘real’ writing” for ad agency copywriters. What constitutes good writing from the bad when it comes to advertising? Some headlines and taglines are written with such simplicity and clarity it could be considered poetry, while others can leave you cringing from cheesiness or scratching your head in confusion.
I think that what really separates great writing from the rest is the ability to get out the most essential message in the least amount of words. Most billboards have 8 words maximum -how can we trigger action in 8 words or less? The answer to that is creativity. As writers, me must delicately finesse and distill our copy to its most simple and captivating state. As Droga5 mentions in the article, some of the advertising’s most memorable lines have been as short and sweet as, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” “Where’s the beef?” “A diamond is forever.” or “Got milk?”
Clients will give you a myriad of features and benefits they want the copy to convey, and your job is to decide what actually needs to be said in that first, powerful line of headline copy or those precious 30 seconds of airtime. Remember: information overload is a turnoff for consumers, too many messages will just distract. Brainstorm about what speaks to your audience–what inspires them, moves them? And live by the mantra that less is more.
I think great writing is minimalist writing. Strong. Powerful. Simple. And when executed properly it really is an art, moving people to think and act differently. It takes time, endless brainstorming and lots of rejection to get the perfect line, but it’s worth it.