05 More than words can say: The power of good copywriting

By Tara Crean, Writer and Media Consultant

Two words changed the face of the London Olympics in 2012. Games Maker.

When advertising agency McCann was tasked with galvanising armies to give their time pro bono to help the 2012 Olympic Games run smoothly, it knew that sending out plaintive requests for volunteers would fall on deaf ears. But those two simple words cut through and people signed up in their droves.

It was motivating and made participants believe that without them the Games wouldn’t happen. After the Closing Ceremony, one poll showed that 44% of people questioned wished they’d taken part. Now it’s part of the common lexicon, with events organisers asking for Tour Makers, Race Makers, Rally Makers… And McCann picked up a D&AD award along the way.

Red Setter went up to D&AD HQ in London’s Shoreditch on Monday 8th October to attend a panel event on the power of good copywriting. Called How to Write Award-winning Words, Mike Reed of Reed Words, Fiona Thompson, of Wordspring, and creative-writing tutor, Elise Valmorbida, made up the panel.

Great copywriting can be many things and all kinds of projects have won accolades at D&AD, they told the audience of 100+. For example, the copy strategists at award-winning Gov.uk took a tangled mass of impenetrable government jargon, thousands of pages of the stuff, and made a succinct, easy-to-navigate site. It was a huge editing job and demonstrates that great copywriting is not all about “whizz, bang, wallop,” as Reed put it.

Creating a strong emotional bond is often an effective way to reach in and stir up a reaction, said Thompson. Brighton Women’s Centre got her vote because it used real women who had experienced myriad problems to bring home its message. BWC’s ‘Meet Elena…’ campaign was honest and created a strong connection with the onlooker.

Two copywriters who won awards for self-promotion were Joe Coleman and his increasingly bombastic website, and Simon Griffin, who wrote a book called Fucking Apostrophes. Both writers came up with unique concepts that made them stand out from the crowd – and raise a laugh.

There are a few pointers that all of us wordsmiths should remind ourselves of now and again, though, no matter how long we’ve been putting pen to paper.

Know your concept, be original, be honest, target and tailor words for your audience, and communicate a memorable feeling. It’s also important to surprise your reader occasionally. And make sure that you edit and proof thoroughly.

Big turn-offs? Typoos, clichés, in-jokes and words that have been seen before, words that have been seen before. Also, said Reed, don’t mistake flowery for creative, and be consistent.

Valmorbida had a final nugget for the crowd: ‘Whatever you do, don’t try to be a ‘great writer’…”

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