The craft of copywriting

Posted: March 30, 2016

The other day, I was asked to give someone a couple of tips on the ‘craft’ of copywriting and as I didn’t really know what that meant, I looked it up:

The online Merriam-Webster defines the word craft as “a skill in making things with your hands” … “ a small boat” … or “skill in using craft or guile to gain an end”.

Now I’m fairly sure that in advertising we’re just a crafty bunch doing what comes naturally, but it did get me thinking about things that young copywriters might find helpful when they’re trying to close the deal.

Number one is: Make the brief your ‘beeatch’.

The acronym CICO (crap in, crap out) probably originated in advertising and nothing puts the kibosh on good work like a bad brief. So because you are conscientious (and definitely not OCD), mind-map the brief, create a hierarchy of information, understand all the strategic imperatives and then choose a lateral entry point that will hopefully lead to great ideas. (The ability to do this last bit is why you’re paid the big bucks.)

Then (presuming a great idea is on the table) think about how much copy you need to do the job properly.

If you’re writing short copy there are two approaches that come in very handy.

The first is absolute clarity. Tell people why they want what you’ve got. Luckily, here there’s a handy formula which everyone learns their first week on the job: desired end result + customer needs + extra push. Like the classic headline: Hot pizza to your door in 30 minutes or it’s free. (The same formula can be applied through headline, body copy and closer.)

The second is to tease or provoke someone into feeling human (it’s harder than you think). Pity. Empathy. Joy. Nostalgia. Curiosity. But also greed, lust and envy … the ‘Seven Deadly’ are always good for a bit of a read.

Long Copy

Treat long copy differently. Spend at least 50% of your time on your intro. Torture it. Weep over it. Make sure the next paragraph is irresistible. Then break the copy up in unexpected places, leaving your audience naturally wanting more. Think visually. Imagine you are writing for scanners as well as readers. Close beautifully. Don’t just dwindle off into obscurity. Lastly, and you’ve heard it a million times, read your copy aloud. Feel the rhythm.

Now that I’ve started, I can think of a lot more things that could help your copy so perhaps it is a craft after all. Watch out for our copy workshop coming soon, we’ve called it: The Art of Boat Building. (For more info mail tricia@radar.co.za)

Trisha Snowball

Tricia Snowball

Tricia is ECD at RADAR which she enjoys because she is surrounded by lovely, extraordinary, uniquely talented, people.