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The most difficult people to find are those that have the capacity to become good copywriters.
1. Naturally Curious
“They [copywriters] give evidence of exceptional curiosity about every subject under the sun.”
The life of an advertising copywriter is usually one of extreme variety. In the morning you can be writing a radio spot for a breakfast cereal targeted at children, by lunch you’re scripting a TV commercial for Erectile Dysfunction and before you go home you know everything there is to know about the history of the Panini.
2. Sense of Humor
“They [copywriters] have an above-average sense of humor.”
Every advertising copywriter I’ve ever met has had a great sense of humor. No, it’s not requirement but there’s a powerful connection between making your friends laugh and selling a toaster. Many of my favorite copywriters work in stand-up comedy or improv. Making people laugh requires a very similar skill set to writing great ads. Comedians are adept at timing, quick-witted, and understand how to appeal to certain audiences. If you can kill it at a crowded nightclub on a Friday night, you can probably kill it as a Mad Man.
3. Be Enthusiastic
“They have a fantastical interest in the craft of advertising.”
Truly great advertisers love what they do and have the capacity to get excited about anything. The best copywriters can get excited about anything, but especially the products and services for whom they’re advertising. If the copywriter isn’t interested and excited about the product, why would anyone want to buy it. That’s why many great copywriters are by nature curious about the world around them. That curiosity translates into telling other people about their clients’ products.
4. Gain Life Experience
“I used to think that nobody could write good advertising before he was thirty. Then one day, on a visit to Frankfurt, I asked to meet the author of an exceptionally good campaign. She was eighteen.”
Advertising copywriters come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. I think that David Ogilvy believed good advertising came with age because it takes years to understand people and the craft of advertising. Today there’s so much information at our fingertips that this learning curve can be mitigated for a disciplined student. Years of experience in the advertising industry doesn’t necessarily guarantee success either. A quick way to start writing great ads is to study and practice.
“I marvel at the ability of some copywriters to keep their creative juices flowing year after year.”
Effective advertising copywriting takes years of practice. Unlike most careers, copywriters come to work every day having no idea what their work will entail. The anxiety that comes with copywriting, and advertising in general, isn’t for everyone. That’s why it’s so important to keep the creative juices flowing. Because advertising demands fresh ideas, the interior of agencies are usually designed to foster creativity. You’ll see advertising agencies with everything from ping-pong tables to half pipes.
6. Cultivate Good Taste
“Islands of good taste in an ocean of vulgarity.”
Copywriters understand people and what they want. If you’re a client producing a TV commercial for your product you want it to be in good taste. But good taste isn’t something that’s learned overnight. David Ogilvy suggests, “until you’ve got a better answer, you copy.” Not every copywriter starts out with excellent taste, but it’s important to be able to recognize good taste when you see it and recreate it as best you can until you’ve got it.
7. Learn to Research
“You don’t stand a tinker’s chance of producing successful advertising unless you start by doing your homework.”
Ogilvy is famous for requiring extreme amounts of research before writing an advertisement. When Ogilvy first got the Rolls-Royce account he spent three weeks reading about the car. One of Ogilvy’s most famous ads came as a result of that research.
8. Big Ideas
“Unless your advertising contains a big idea it will pass like a ship in the night.”
Big ideas are what make advertising memorable. It’s the cows at Chik-fil-a, the most interesting man in the world from dos equis, and Marlboro’s smoking cowboy. The big idea is what makes the consumer pay attention to your advertisement/campaign and it can come in any form. Sometimes the big idea is how well the spot is written, or some over the top humor. The legendary adman David Ogilvy said that 1 in 100 campaigns contains a big idea, and he only came up with about 20 0ver the course of his career. According to Ogilvy a solid big idea will last 30 years.
9. Stay Hungry
“Few copywriters are ambitious. It does not occur to them that if they try hard enough they might double their client’s sales and get famous. Raise your sights!”
David Ogilvy started an advertising agency with $6,000 in his bank account. He believed the best way to get better clients was to do great work for existing clients. When David Ogilvy passed away, it was in his castle in France. He’s listed in the advertising and business halls of fame, and the advertising agency he founded is one of the largest in the world to this day.
Quotes used in this article come from Ogilvy on Advertising–It’s widely considered one of the most influential books on advertising written by the father of modern advertising, David Ogilvy. if you have any interest in advertising you should read it.