Mark Duffy has written the copyranter blog for 10 years and is currently an unemployed but freelancing copywriter with 20-plus years of experience. His hockey wrist shot is better than yours.
I get asked this a lot these days, especially by young “content” managers: How do you do that mysterious “concepting” that you old-school ad guys do, Mad Man Copyranter?
Drink rye, smoke Camels and write on an IBM Selectric? Lazily piggyback onto any and every trend and hashtag? No. Sit around a room with everybody in the company including the Chief People Officer because you don’t want to hurt his/her feelings and “brainstorm”? Hell no.
Here’s how: It’s my proprietary Copyranter Creative Process Disruption Talk™. You “content” people will now learn the closely held secrets of traditional (as in, superior) ad creatives.
Think “outside the box,” the box being your precious digital content machine. Get a writing utensil and something to write on (if your office is “paperless,” write on the table/walls/floor), and get the fuck away from your computer; use the software located in your head. You might think of an actual original thought or image that isn’t a riff off of someone else’s unoriginal digital thought/image.
I know this sounds like torture to many of you. Too bad. Creating great ads (sorry, content) is hard work. It always has been. It always will be until the robots take over. There’s no getting around it, no “hack.”
Group conference room Kumbaya “there are no bad ideas” brainstorming is creativity’s No. 1 killer. But if you’re an ad (content) copywriter, if possible, work with an art director/designer, and vice versa. You do need an idea bouncer-off-er with complementary skills.
Think of the most ridiculous, unsellable ideas you can. I mean, really go insane. Like if you’re selling tampons, write down ad visuals that would make women want to kill you. This process can be very effective for creating good ideas because they often materialize when you pull back from the insanity. Weed is recommended.
After your analog “ideation” session, return to your digital master. Hopefully, you have at least a couple of microbes of an idea. If not, have you considered tonguing client taint for a living?
Take your microbes, and plug them into Google Image search. This seems unoriginal, but you’re not looking to reuse an existing image. You’re looking for that moment when the light goes on. If you’re a good creative, you’ll know it when you see it. If you’re a content manager, you won’t. But keep doing it, and after about 100,000 times, you might experience that satisfying aha! ad moment. It is a great moment.
This process gets you thinking visually, because that’s where the best ideas come from, and that’s what will stop and captivate a reader — I don’t care if your brief is for a native ad post, a Vine or a matchbook cover. The unexpected interplay between copy and visual is the magic of advertising. Repeat the same process with YouTube.
Look at lots of old (10 years and older) ad awards show annuals — Communication Arts, D&AD’s The Book, etc. This serves the dual purpose of informing you how much you suck and also implanting good ideas into your memory banks.
In your spare time, practice making fake ads (content) for real clients, better if it’s clients you’d like to work with. If this sounds like “busy” baby work to you, then maybe you shouldn’t be a creative because many of the top creatives in the world do this constantly. And this is exactly what goes on in the classrooms of the Miami Ad School, the School of Visual Arts and every top ad school in the world.
“Think long, write short” — George Lois. I know this isn’t always an option in today’s “real-time marketing” world, but time is the best weapon for killing your shitty first ideas. Unfortunately, being fast — and shitty — seems to be the goal of every single social media manager today.
“Creativity is like washing a pig. It’s messy. It has no rules. No clear beginning, middle or end. It’s kind of a pain in the ass, and when you’re done, you’re not sure if the pig is really clean or even why you were washing a pig in the first place.” That’s Luke Sullivan, author of “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This.” Buy it, read it. Sullivan has created a shit-ton more good ad content than me and certainly you. It’s a clearly written and fun guide on creating great ads (content).
If you can find a copy, get “When Advertising Tried Harder,” a great collection of the best ads (content) from the 1960s.