Words count

in Musings

In November I ventured down to London to take part in #writerscrawl, a week long series of events organised by the Direct Marketing Association to celebrate copywriters and the art of copywriting. I attended Big Bang, an afternoon of insights from the best in the field.

I want to share just one of those insights with you. It was from Steve Harrison, copywriter and creative director. Steve was described by Campaign magazine as the greatest direct marketing creative of his generation.

He talked us through a history of advertising in five magazine adverts.

What was striking about them was the use of copy.

The earliest three adverts had a lot of copy. They were unlike any advertising we see today. The fourth advert looked even more familiar: one striking image and a single headline. The most recent advert took the trend to its logical conclusion: just a single striking image, with no text, no logo, no typography at all. (Once you knew who the advertiser was, it was possible to see that the composition and colours of the photo reflected the company’s logo.)

Steve pointed out that in the first three adverts we knew all about the products in question and why we needed them. By the last two adverts we knew only the scantest of things about the products although we could extrapolate how they were meant to make us feel.

Steve posited a theory about this. The rise in review websites such as TripAdvisor correlate with the death of text in adverts. It’s because people want to know about the products they are buying and if the advertisers won’t tell them, they need to go elsewhere to get the information they need. Of course, the danger of this approach is that you have no control over the information that’s out there and if your product is no good it will soon be found out.

The lesson as far as I’m concerned? Make good products, provide good services and be proud that you’re doing so. Then when you’re selling them, don’t take your audience for granted, underestimate their intelligence or their desire to be informed. Yes, your audience wants to know how your product will make them feel. But they also want to know what your product will do.

Read a summary of Steve’s talk (and see the adverts he discussed) on the DMA website.

If you liked this, subscribe to my newsletter and get my latest blogs delivered to your inbox once a month.

Share this article