Lessons from a master copywriter

by Tom Albrighton 9 May 2011 Copywriting

This hyperlocal outdoor campaign, recently deployed at a high-traffic location near my house, has got a lot to teach us ‘experienced’ copywriters:

Lost cat poster

My cat Merlin pure black No coller missing since friday if you see him please contaaer [contact] my mummy on [phone no] we realy miss him and want him back thank you.

Making a few allowances for spelling and grammar, here are the key strengths of this creative:

  • Straight to the point. Not a word is wasted. Even verbs that aren’t necessary have been excised (‘[has been] missing since friday’). There really is (cough) no pussyfooting.
  • Simple, direct language. Fewer than 30 words, no words longer than two syllables. A child could understand it. Why complicate things?
  • Engaging tone. Two instances of ‘you’ keep the focus as much on the reader as on the writer.
  • Strong call to action. If this ad is relevant to you, you know exactly what you should do next.
  • Congruence of form and function. Format, typography, copy and graphics are all in perfect harmony. The overall effect is completely cohesive and utterly convincing. No extraneous imagery or fancy tone has been allowed to muddy the waters.
  • Emotional kick. ‘We really miss him and want him back.’ Feel that? That’s genuine emotion being evoked by words. Can you say, hand on heart, that you’ve definitely achieved that with your copy? Cos I can’t.

OK, I know what you’re thinking. Horses for courses. This is cute, but it would never shift any Old Spice or iPads. People are sophisticated.

My point here is that if your idea won’t work in pencil on A4 paper, it won’t work in an online gamified viral campaign. Get simple before you get complicated. As Picasso said, ‘It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.’

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  • I really hope the kid gets that cat back. Damn that heartstring-tugging call to action…

  • Feeling for the kid.

  • @Andy, @Martin – Indeed, I hope they do find Merlin.

    I should add that if anyone’s reading from my local area and they do see him, drop me a line and I’ll let you know the number to call.

  • On a professional note – I do think the ‘childlike’ voice can be really powerful. It’s used to brilliant effect in anti-smoking campaigns and NSPCC adverts.

    Could it be that someone had the same epiphany as you, Tom?

  • @Andy

    Maybe. I’m all for a convincing childlike voice. What I’m less keen on (and I know you are too) is the faux-childlike, sub-Innocent Drinks voice, which is actually the voice of the patronising parent talking to a child, or talking to an adult as if they’re a child. It’s interesting to see, as here, how children actually write – unselfconsciously.

  • Nice post. Totally get your point – that’s definitely something to think about. I know I sometimes get so hung up on trying to do something ‘clever’ that I forget about just keeping things simple. Anyone else do that?

    Get home soon Merlin!

  • Enough of this copy-blather. Just give me my cat back.

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  • Merlin update. We saw a cat fitting his description this morning, and I phoned the owner, who told me that he has returned safe and well.

  • awwwww……even a happy ending!

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  • Hi Tom, LOVED this post, and just posted a link and comment on this post on my blog:

    http://stephenscreative.com.au/lessons-from-a-master-copywriter/

    I would love your permission to insert a copy of your image.

    Regards, Phil Stephens

  • @Phil

    Glad you liked the post. You’re welcome to use the image – thanks for asking.