The Secrets of Successful Advertising Copywriting

Hey Whipple Squeeze This - A Guide to Creating Great AdvertisingAdvertising copywriter Luke Sullivan wrote a splendid book on the art that is ad copy and advertising a couple of years back. It’s called ‘Hey Whipple. Squeeze This. A Guide to Creating Great Advertising.’ I picked up a copy of the 3rd edition recently and can highly recommend it.

Not only is the book bright, funny and stacked with examples of wonderfully creative thinking it also reaffirms that copy can, and should, dare be intelligent. He’s a big fan of Bill Bernbach a man who founded his agency on the then radical idea that customers aren’t so dumb that they need to be ‘fooled or lectured or hammered into listening to a client’s sales message’.

He quotes the classic Bill Bernbach paradigm: ” The truth isn’t the truth until people believe you, and they can’t believe you if they don’t know what you’re saying, and they can’t know what you’re saying if they don’t listen to you, and they won’t listen to you if you’re not interesting, and they won’t be interested unless you say things imaginatively, originally, freshly.’

The book’s also stuffed with insight, experiences and sound advice. ‘Tell the truth and run.’  ‘Simple = Good.’ ‘Write like you talk.’ ‘Eschew obfuscation.’ ‘Wit invites participation.’ Nice one Luke.

Check it out.  It’s a class act. So’s he. Here’s a link to his Hey Whipple blog.

And here’s a little blue pill of an ad that Sullivan rates…

‘Imported from Detroit’ – masterful

He says on his blog: ‘The other spot that just KILLED me (the first being the VW Darth Vader ad) was the Chrysler spot. Damn. It was a bit of a “hybrid,” if you will, in that it started off as a copy-driven brand spot, then at about forty seconds it became a visual story, and at the very end, it’s a celeb spot, and then a product spot. W+K, I bow to thee.’

Jim Mitchum (thanks for the link Tom) tweets – ‘Imported from Detroit’ might be the tagline of the decade. #chrysler’ – He might be right.

And Luke Sullivan’s book? It might just be the advertising copywriting book of the decade too.

Read it? What do you think?

Image courtesy Comedy Central

As expected, U.S. entries to Cannes were way down this year given the recent Zombie Apocalypse.

Observers are surprised ad people continue to even exist given their worthlessness in a economy that now values productive trades like farmers, electricians, and mechanics. In fact, the few agencies still operating attribute their success almost entirely to being above the second floor.

“You’re not going to see as many TV entries from DDB this year,” remarked CD Jay Russell, speaking from the balcony over Whacker Drive. “The entire production work force of L.A. is infected and…” Russell’s interview was cut short as a horde of undead photographers’ representatives stormed the locked doors below, their withered purplish arms extended, still clutching portfolios and complimentary bagels.

Without television, U.S. agencies hopes at Cannes rest on a few out-of-home entries, including McCann’s boring “God help us” messages painted on sheets and hung from their Manhattan office windows. “There are a few decent headlines,” observed Creativity’s Theresa Nelson. “But most are the usual crap like, ‘Need water,’ ‘Need food.’ At least that one team was trying with the ‘John 3:18’ thing.”

A few agencies are breaking out with messaging designed to change the eating behaviors of the zombie hordes. But J. Walter’s “Eat Smart” backfired as zombies simply ate bigger brains. Tribal’s “Dot.Zom” experiment on Facebook failed because zombies can already  “like you” simply by eating your brains. And DDB’s campaign for a heart-healthy diet (“More Gra-a-a-a-a-a-ins, Less Bra-a-a-a-a-ains”) died after focus-group zombies crashed through the one-way mirrors and cracked the researchers’ skulls like rotten Georgia peanuts and ate their pulsing brains forthwith.

Agencies are now trying simply to survive. To divert the zombie hordes away from their agency on 17, creatives at DDB have hung posters in the stairwells positioning the JWT survivors on the 5th floor as “the other white meat.”

Well, I went 50-50 on my predictions for what would show up in the Top 10 of USA Today’s Ad Meter.

I guessed kinda right that a Bud Light spot would make it in. I guessed that another user-generated Doritos spot would make the top 10. That Weiden would a cool spot for Coke. That Pepsi would do something cool (the mind-reading one). And of course, the CareerBuilder monkeys would show up and win. And I was also right in guessing that Crispin (as much as I love ‘em and I do love ‘em) that Crispin would step in it with a misfire.

You can read all about it on USA Today’s Ad Meter page. Here’s their Top 10.
1. Bud Light “Dog Sitter”
2. Doritos “Pug’s Revenge”
3. Volkswagen “Darth Vader”
4. Doritos “Grandpa resurrected”
5. Pepsi Max “Can to girlfriend’s head”
6. Career Builder “Chimps return”
7. Pepsi Max “Reading thoughts”
8. NFL “TV show clips of fans”
9. Bridgestone “Beaver pays back good deed”
10. Coca-Cola “Border crossing guards”

I spent the entire game screwin’ around on Twitter and pretty much had a blast watchin’ the game with thousands of other ad geeks. (Best two tweets, both below, were about how bad the half-time show was.)

I had one eye on the spots and the other on a Twitter feed that was scrollin’ faster than the movie-credits on a late-night rerun. Since I pick the people I follow, I think my Twitter buddies picked pretty much the right spots; at least compared to the spots chosen by that august group of judges, the Ad Meter council.

Here’s my thing about the Ad Meter. It’s basically a big-ass focus group and we all know what happens in those sad windowless rooms with their plastic plants, M&Ms, and mall shoppers, people who were paid a small amount of money to feel temporarily in charge of something.  If I may get even more elitist here for a moment, here’s what one of their “judges” had to say about her criteria.

“I just like it to be funny. Sometimes I don’t even pay attention to what the ad is about, just that it is funny,” says Brenda Moore, 51, of Bakersfield, Calif., an Ad Meter panelist. She has reason to want to laugh. There are rumblings about cutbacks at her company. “My philosophy is pray on it and hope things turn out your way.”

Yes, I’m elitist. And I will be an elitist until the day I die. Because I simply refuse to adjust everything downward to appeal to what passes for the “common man,” which in America is basically anyone who watches Fox News. I can’t do it. Won’t do it. I don’t believe hitting people in the crotch with a can of Pepsi is funny. If that’s elitist, sue me.

But I can’t be that elitist. I laughed when the chimps wrecked that guys car in the CareerBuilder spot. Still, I wasn’t one of the many online goin’ on about “Man, all the Super Bowl spots suck!” Dude, … the half-time show? That sucked. Or the local commercials that ran during half-time, they sucked. In my opinion, spots on every Super Bowl are generally a little better than what plays the rest of the year. (Why clients and agencies try so hard for the Super Bowl is a mystery I wrote about in a previous posting.)

In America’s defense I was glad to see there wasn’t the same high level of sophomoric humor this year. Nothing as puerile as the “farting horses” (from Bud Light  a few years back), nor was there any poop humor or pee-pee jokes. I was also heartened to see the Ad Meter judges correctly put that annual national embarrassment of GoDaddy at the bottom of the list.

My personal top two picks were both from VW. Damn I loved that kid in the Darth Vader costume; such a good physical actor he was. And the animated “Beetle” was also stellar. (Ex GSDM-er Mark Peters did that one.) They tied in a great YouTube page takeover that was also pretty cool.

The other spot that just KILLED me was the Chrysler spot. Damn. It was a bit of a “hybrid,” if you will, in that it started off as a copy-driven brand spot, then at about forty seconds it became a visual story, and at the very end, it’s a celeb spot, and then a product spot. W+K, I bow to thee.

The Secrets of Successful Advertising Copywriting

4 Responses

  1. Classic! And one of my favourite books on the biz. You can learn something new every time you read it. I think the part that has always hit home for me, is no matter how good you are at being creative, you’re only going to produce something as good as the brief. It all comes down to the brief.

    Steve Kellas February 17, 2011 at 4:02 pm #
  2. Hi Steve, to be honest I’m surprised that so few UK copywriters seem to have read it. Could it be the U.S. centric title? It kind of put me off in away. Glad I found my way to it in the end though. Inspirational.

    Can you recommend any other good reads?

    And you’re dead right about the brief. Nailing it is so important. Extracting the right info out of clients and getting to the heart of the project is vital. ‘The only dumb question is the one not asked’ and all that 🙂

    Martin February 18, 2011 at 6:59 am #
  3. Aren’t ‘Tell the truth and run’ and ‘Wit invites participation’ somewhat conflicting? In the sense that being witty requires some rhetorical devices, whereas truth-telling is more factual and unvarnished?

    Mike Cormack February 19, 2011 at 7:18 am #
  4. Hi Mike. No, I don’t think they conflict.

    Isn’t ‘Tell the truth and run’ wit that has invited particpation? Does that make them complimentary even?

    I enjoyed your web site btw and found myself on Laowai Times reading your ‘How to Rate an Ex-Pat’. Very good. Much respect for your success in China.

    Martin February 21, 2011 at 7:24 am #

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.