Listen to the voices in your head.

Because they write good ads.

I have no qualifications to be a ‘writer’.

I have no degrees or diplomas, didn’t really pay much attention in school, and I don’t even read as much as I probably should.

Luckily, copywriting isn’t writing as most would define it.

Most writers have their ‘style’. For a copywriter, that’s the last thing you want.

If anything, what we do is talk. To an imaginary person or persons we’ve invented in our head. And not in any one particular voice, in hundreds, maybe thousands of voices. In a different time, we’d probably be institutionalised.

Part of the job is taking on different personas. Becoming different characters or personalities and speaking through them to the potential customer you want to attract. Like a mad wizard in a 80s fantasy movie that grows increasingly powerful the more souls they absorb. But then has to do timesheets.

If you’re an aspiring copywriter, one of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to forget everything you thought you knew about writing. Everything you learnt in school, most of what you might have absorbed from journalism (often painful to read), and ESPECIALLY everything you were drilled with in university. Academic writing is some of the most boring, overwrought windbaggery on the face of the Earth. The idea that astronomical word counts and overcomplicated language indicate a greater understanding of anything has no place in our business. (Planners, take note.)

Even Einsten once said (apparently) “If you can't explain it to a six-year-old, then you don't understand it yourself”, and I tend to agree. If you need 5 paragraphs to explain dishwashing liquid to me, I’m not interested. Try it in a sentence.

I gave this same advice to a talented young writer I hired straight out of AWARD School. A few months into the job, their copy still read like a university assignment. And you could feel it, like a boulder weighing them down. It took a little while to shake, but once free of the burden, they took off like a rocket. All of a sudden they were playing and experimenting and thriving in versatility over homogeny.

The post-industrial education system is all about bashing people into the one shape. Everything has to look like this. It must all sound like this. These are the rules. If you don’t follow, you get an X. Forget all that bullshit, fuck those rules.

You have to ‘become someone else’ to be a great copywriter. Sure, but how do I ‘become’ Kentucky Fried Chicken, Jess? Fair question. Short of rolling yourself in egg whites and flour, I’d think of it like improv, or acting. Invent a character, or channel one you already know. If you want a really dry, deadpan tone, then think of a movie character or someone you can imagine killing in that role. If you’re trying to draw on emotion, write as Morgan Freeman or some other master of the monologue. Look up clips on YouTube. Read or listen to interviews. Like, BECOME Morgan Freeman, and speak through him.

Sometimes, it might not be a famous person. You might have a friend or family member who has the perfect tone or delivery for this brand. It might even be the founder of the company.

Recently, I worked with Sweat, a women’s fitness app, to help them craft a voice for their brand. This was a great challenge, and I won’t lie, a somewhat intimidating one. I’m a tattooed, bearded, somewhat out of shape, metalhead, who now has to become the voice of a women’s fitness app.

So, I spoke to women. My wife, my mother, my friends, the marketing team, I gathered as many insights as I possibly could about how women felt about fitness. And not just about fitness apps and gyms, but about societal expectations, unhelpful stereotypes, the emotional aspects to exercise, the effects on their mental health, basically anything and everything that could help me really get inside the heads of fitness-focused women.

And then I had a couple of chats with the founder, Kayla. And that’s where everything really clicked.

Just the telling of the story of how and why she created Sweat, you could feel this swirling energy of passion and frustration and a relentless drive to give others what she felt she never had.

So I tried, as best I could, to take all of that on. I sat there and imagined what it would be like to feel all of those feelings, and then let it all out. I wrote, let’s call it a manifesto, as we all love a manifesto, designed to mostly be part of an internal guide for the rest of the team.

It resonated on such a level, that they turned it into a film narrated by Kayla, which was really cool to see. As manifestos often take a lot of energy to draw out, only to end up confined to a slide in a 90-page pitch deck, never to be seen again.

You can take a listen here:

As counterintuitive as it may seem, my advice for writers in our business is to not be writers. Be chameleons. Shapeshifting rogues. Morph from one character to the next, and channel a way to speak through them by engaging with whoever it is you need to persuade.

In short, don’t write at people. Conversate with them.

That’s how you connect in the real world, and it’s how you connect in an ad.


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