In the second part of our ‘Copywriting do’s and don’ts’ here,
rather predictably, are five copywriting don’ts. Actually
there are six (which ironically probably breaks the most
important rule: Follow the brief!
Oh well, rules are there to be broken.
DON’T: SETTLE FOR THE FIRST
THING YOU THINK OF.
Depending on which copywriter you talk to, the
general advice is to come up with somewhere
between fifty and a hundred ideas before you even
begin to think about working one up in more detail.
And even when you get an idea you really like, don’t
settle for it as it is. Push it further. And further still.
Then move on to another one because you can
always come back to that ‘good’ one later.
Sure, between fifty and a hundred sounds like a lot
but you’ll be surprised at how much stuff you can
think of when you really try. Just scribble headlines
down on a big sheet of paper, doodle or draw
pictures, whatever it takes to translate what’s going
on in your brain into something readable.
The thing is, anyone can come up with a headline
that sounds nice or has a double meaning. Everyone
has accidentally stumbled on a word play that they
thought would be perfect for such and such a
product. They briefly feel like a copywriter. But the
real copywriter takes that neat word play and asks:
“Is this saying what I want it to say?
Is it getting across a message?
And (most importantly) will it make people want to buy?”
One more thing. When your job has finally gone to print or has been put online at last (or whatever) try
thinking back to what your original, first thought was. Then invariably you’ll see it for what it really was.
DON’T: USE CLICHÉS.
It kind of goes without saying that clichés are bad things. But
why exactly? What is wrong with using language that everyone
understands? Well, here’s the thing. Clichés are clichés because
they have been overused. And because they are overused they
begin to lose their impact – if not their very meaning.
Clichés are clichés because they have been
overused. And because they are overused they
begin to lose their impact – if not their very
meaning. When someone reads “It’s like water off
a duck’s back” or “It’s easy as falling off a log” the
actual meaning of the words no longer register in
their mind. Instead there’s just a vague feeling of
“easiness” but phrases like this don’t conjure up
evoke an actual image of droplets of water rolling
like mercury over oily feathers anymore.
And if your words aren’t working hard you’ve got a problem
because generally you need to get your message across as
quickly as possible and in as few words as possible.
Redundancy just slows things down. It’s so much better to
come up with new ways to express common ideas. It not
only makes your writing sound fresher but will keep the
reader on his or her toes. By forcing them to use their
imagination you are getting them to really engage with the
copy and, after that, they’ll be like putty in your hands.
DON’T: MISS DEADLINES.
Any piece of advertising whether it’s an ad, a brochure or a radio
script has to go through a lot of stages from conception to
realization. One delay tends to cause another and before you
know it the whole project is way over budget and everyone starts
looking for someone else to blame. So do your bit by doing what
you said you were going to do when you said you were going to
do it by.
DON’T: GET UPSET.
The trouble with writing is that everyone thinks they
can do it. So clients feel very comfortable criticizing or
even changing a copywriter’s work in a way that they
wouldn’t dream of doing with the art director’s efforts.
Most people can’t draw so they’ll leave that up to the
‘expert’ but the words, oh, that’s a different thing all
It’s not just the final deadline for a client presentation we’re
talking about here. Get into the habit of meeting internal
deadlines in an agency or even the personal deadlines you set
yourself as a freelancer. Actually, there’s nothing like a bit of
time pressure to get you thinking more clearly so they can, in
fact, be a blessing in disguise. Many’s the time when a job with
the proverbial “crazy deadline” ends up with a cracking idea
simple because everyone was forced to up their game.
You have to learn to deal with it. If you say No to every change
you’re going to seem inflexible and difficult to work with which
isn’t good for a long term working relationship. But, on the
other hand, there’s a reason why you wrote the copy the way
you wrote it so sometimes you need to pipe up and explain
why that certain word or sentence has to stay. See it as a
trade-off. Let the things that don’t really matter go but be
prepared to dig in your heels on the important ones.
Generally, advertising is a terribly subjective business which
often comes down to personal opinions (or personal
prejudices). So when you present work to either a suit, a
creative director or a client you’re opening yourself up every
time to criticism. Remember: It’s not personal, it’s business.
Although it can hurt a bit to have your ideas rejected that’s just
the name of the game and it happens to everyone. You can’t
afford to get upset about it. Just move on, keep positive and
get back in the saddle.
DON’T: FORGET TO GET WORK
It’s so important for every copywriter, whether freelance or in
an agency, to build up a portfolio of work they’ve done. It’s
their ticket to more or better work in the future. But it’s all too
easy to lose track of projects – especially as a freelancer
who isn’t on site all the time. Once the copy is approved
there’s still a long way to go to final artwork or publication by
which time you’ll be busy with other work (hopefully!).
It’s a good idea to keep a list of work in progress and
regularly remind the account exec that you’ll need a sample
when it’s ready. Ideally you want to get pdfs too so you can
email samples to prospective clients/employers in the future.
(Handy tip: ask whoever’s making the pdfs to remove the
crop marks and to give you a clean copy of the work.)
It’s ‘ad’ or ‘advertisement’
but never ‘advert’. ‘Advert’ is what your mum
What do you think of these ‘Don’ts’? What things would you never do as a copywriter? What things do
other copywriters do that drive you up the wall? Go on, tell us what you think below.