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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