Writers need to write copy, not advertisers

When Sanam Petri, associate creative director at R/GA, held a workshop for advertising students in London, she was amazed at their intelligent questions and discussions about creating good work, agency life in London, the opportunities of digital and social. They showed exceptional knowledge of the industry that was daunting considering most of them hadn’t been inside it.


But when she set them a brief to test the skill of the writers, the copy she got back didn’t sound like free-thinking young creatives.


“Do you have wish you could (x)? Well, now you can!”

“But wait! There’s more!”


It was clichéd, predictable, and mimicked ads on TV and radio. The more she read, the more she discovered the quality of the writing was poor. Even worse, for her, it reflected little passion or interest from the writer.


She wanted the originality, the unpredictability, of the fresh writer – not the formulaic, hackneyed ideas of the desensitised consumer.


Her agency, like most, delivers an end-to-end service to clients; to come up with the big idea and execute it. To dream up that award-winning revolutionary concept and scrutinise every line, space and comma – their copywriters do it all.


Ten, twenty, years ago the young creatives would learn the craft first. Then they would gain the years of experience necessary to think like a creative director. She says the previous generations got into advertising with “a talent for writing, drawing, or some other largely impractical skill, but no interest in starving for our art. Back then, advertising felt like an oasis; a place to write, draw, and have fun within the confines of a secure job.”


Today, though, the advertising world is so driven by awards that schools produce kids who want to come up with the next great idea, and think like a creative director, rather than the kids who simply love to write.


The most successful creative agencies, in Petri’s experience, are those with the diverse set of weird people:  “The web designer who moonlights as a furniture maker. The copywriter who started life as a children’s book author. Musicians, craftsmen, game designers, the passionate and the obsessive… these are the people we want filling our creative departments. People for whom ‘concepting’ is a constant state of mind. Kids who grew up studying comic books and albums sleeves, not award annuals.”


Those of us outside of the industry, those of us outside of communication school, we are those weird people. And with such high numbers of talented and/or graduate creatives unemployed and doing other things, the set is more diverse than ever.


And we have a choice: to read and muse on the industry, or to just create and write for its own sake. Petri concludes the latter developing their craft will no doubt have the great ideas, later on.


  1. Writers are writing advertisers? From your title I learned that copy writers need copy editors.

  2. Hmm… as I try to recall good ‘copywriting’ based ad campaigns, another salient point comes to mind actually – the shift away from ‘wordy’ ads in general.

    Most key audiences for ads these days are busy, place a high value on their time, and are inherently suspicious of ads, so ‘long copy’ ads are very rare. It’s more about the ‘idea’ – which of course still calls for creative thinking, just fewer words (sad news for those of us who love writing! AdLand has fewer and fewer places for us).

    In any case, here are some creative charity campaigns that spring to mind (none of them wordy but all of them powerful): http://funkydowntown.com/funny-and-creative-charity-ads/

  3. All very true (I’m in the industry, and yes – sometimes guilty of producing cliched crap as described above).

    The trouble is, ultimately it’s not the agency that signs off on the work, it’s the client or marketing manager – whose job depends on getting ads produced that shift stuff off the shelves. So they go with what they know – the copy lines that have been proven to work, the boring stuff that has been done a thousand times before. The students mentioned have been taught what sort of work tends to get ‘across the line’, but I don’t think that means they’re incapable of thinking creatively.

    There’s a good reason why a lot of award-winning and insightful work comes from charity advertising campaigns – it’s often done for free. With no money riding on success or failure of their ads, charities tend to give their creatives a lot more free rein.

    All part of the money-go-round ;)

    1. Interesting.

      I’m very glad you commented!

      I think so, students would indeed do what is expected to impress, rather than think creatively if they thought it wasn’t preferred.

      I will have to investigate charity v.s. non-charity advertising campaigns on this point – did you have some in mind?

Comments are closed.