I’m all inspired and fired up after a brain blazing day at Copy Cabana, the annual copywriting conference in Bournemouth created by Andy Maslen and Vikki Ross. Last year, I attended the first Copy Cabana after hearing about it at their Creative Digital Copywriting course, and I loved it. It was funny with great industry speakers. I was keen to come again.
Copy Cabana opened by the organiser Matthew Desmier from Silicon Beach wearing a fun blue summery rompsuit with bright blue loafers, and he introduced the hosts Andy in his multi-coloured brogues and Vikki in her silver sequined converse. Colourful shoes were the order of the day on stage. From the outset, there was laughter and jokes. The trio are great characters, and immediately there was a relaxed and humorous atmosphere in the theatre.
With sunbeams and a magical speaker, Sarah Topping, Creative Copywriter, Playing with Words, Copy Cabana 2017 had started with a bang. As the Voice of Puffin at Penguin Sarah had worked on splendiferous books, from authors like Raymond Chandler and Roald Dahl. It was wondercrump to hear her stories about writing the blurbs for book covers and the marketing materials for Roald Dahl books, the classics Mark Twain, Enid Blyton, through to conjuring up the copy for J.K. Rowlings’ Pottermore. I was spellbound listening to Sarah telling her story with her original childhood copy of Matilda signed by Quinten Blake. The best copywriting job ever. The A to Z of adventure and hufflepuff with Sarah Topping.
The Robots are coming had a powerful introduction with Glenn Sturgess, Head of Copy (and Crumpets) and Peter Stephen, the best-dressed Senior Copywriter at Ogilvy One Business with his purple loafers. They were full of energy and wit. Their topic was smart and well put together. “15-20 years until AI can take on copywriting briefs.” Wow, this made me think more about artificial intelligence and our working roles. If you think about it, 15 years ago there weren’t any Social Media Manager roles. Today, Social Media is embedded in our marketing strategy and advertising campaigns. AI can automate copywriting. But machines can’t be curious and ask the many questions we human copywriters ask. “Don’t be a Luddite. Copywriters have curiosity, courage, and generosity.”
Glenn and Peter shared some top advice from David Ogilvy “On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.” Why aren’t we putting five times more effort into our headers? We need to test our copy. “The best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible.” Glenn and Peter certainly gave a valuable and funny.
Kerry Thorpe, Communications Lead for Ben & Jerry’s Europe gave us the scoop on Ben & JKerry’s. Kerry has a wonderful sense of humour; by changing the J to a K in her interview got she the job. She fondly describes the founders as two hippy guys who met in the gym, threw cookie dough chunks into the ice cream for more taste and adapted a pizza restaurant business plan as their own by only changing the word pizza to ice cream. Their motto is ‘If it isn’t fun – why do it?’ Kerry’s perks include taking three pints of ice cream home a day and being able to take her dog to work and walk it around with other dogs in a parade pen in the office. It sounded like a fun place to place.
There is a flavour graveyard, the factory is the ‘Creation Station, ’ and everyone has an aka name. Everything is a pun with the copywriting, ‘Son of a ‘wich,’ ‘Spoon bending chunks,’ ‘Jerry Garica.’ Ben & Jerry’s are helping to tackle climate change with their clever message, “if it’s melted, it’s ruined”. Kerry was entertaining sharing how relaxed, caring and fun it is to write for Ben & Jerry’s. Perfect before lunch. While in the lunch queue, people were salivating from hearing about yummy ice cream, making puns and wanting to win a year’s supply. Two lucky people did win.
The afternoon kicked off with a surprise guest speaker Ben McKinney, Copywriter. Ben was running his window cleaning business for ten years. He became a copywriter eight months ago after taking Andy Maslen’s copywriting course. Ben was enthusiastic, and his humour was fabulous. Andy often tweets about his window cleaner earning more a day than a copywriter. Ben’s lines on why he’s changed his career to be a copywriter were spot on. As copywriters, you care about the customer. “You really care about that person reading that letter or email. I didn’t care about a window after I washed.” Carry on writing Ben; you are inspirational.
Sharon Tanton, Creative Director and Sonja Jefferson, Founder of Valuable Content presented a valuable, engaging and tongue in cheek speech. Their teamwork flowed. Content giant Google is a client. They run content marketing strategy pub school from their local; how perfect. They shared graphics on The Land of Content and the processes that businesses go through to produce content from: The Bay of Good Intentions to The Port of Quick Wins or Foggy Bottom or The Marshes of the Ill Prepared or Shit Creek or the Roundabout of Despair when the business is wanting to get to Bountiful Bay. These labels sparked laughter and nods of confirmation that it was all true. Fantastic analogies to use.
“Content without strategy is just stuff.” Sonja and Sharon take their clients to pub school for exploration. They use three strategy acts that are beautifully detailed as infographics to get clients to Bountiful Bay. “Act 1 is an exploration phase to uncover the company’s vision and purpose. Ask the big questions, talk to real customers, define the goals and create your content plan. Construction is Act 2. Stick to your plan. Act 3 is the Party. Launch your content on the world. Shake up the perfect cocktail for your customers and keep it coming. Refine it over time and build your community. Step-up and take a more strategic role. Writers help businesses think and act quickly.” Sonja and Sharon have written an award-winning book ‘Valuable Content Marketing: How to Make Quality Content Your Key to Success.’ They are witty and high on content.
Rishi Dastidar, Head of Verbal Strategy, BrandPie, Poet, and Copywriter. Rishi’s words poured out eloquently while he read ‘Ashes for Breakfast’ by Durs Grünbein, and poetry from his book ‘Ticker-tape.’ “It can take up to a year for a poem to be finished, which for a poet is apparently quick. The phase was hanging about on a piece of paper, then a notebook until I found the lines. Poems oscillate.” Rishi said that Plato viewed poetry as limiting. Rishi told us a story. While he was in a client meeting, he was introduced to a CEO as Head of Verbal Strategy and also a poet. The CEO looked him in the eye and said, “No arty, farty shit.” Another time, he went to Paris for an urgent project, and the CEO there enthused, “I hear you are a poet. At last a proper writer.”
Rishi shared a quote from William Maynard of the Bates agency, “most good copywriters fall into two categories. Poets. And Killers. Poets see an ad as an end. Killers sees an ad as a means to an end.” The secret Ogilvy reveals, “If you are both a killer and a poet, you get rich.” My favourite quote from Rishi was, “You can write something that can be read in 500 years in time.”
The Wine Show TV Presenter and Wine Expert, Joe Fattorini was hilarious sharing his stories from working at The Herald in Glasgow in the mid-90s with plying the homeless with expensive wine. Joe asked them what they thought of the wine. They had a social class preconception that wine was too good for them as they were homeless. Joe showed how most wine writing is flowery ‘macerated red cherries, crème de cassis, crushed violets and cedar wood’ and lines like ‘It is extraordinarily long and persistent in the mouth.’ Is this about wine? This copy appeals to about only 5% of the wine-buying population. “We can only taste a maximum of three things. If you describe more than three aromas, you are lying.” Joe dished out science to explain the three types of taste buds and asked us if we like different types of coffee. I discovered I was a Super Taster for not liking coffee or tea. Another person learnt due to having a very sweet tooth that he needed to apologise to his mother as there was a 96% chance he’d given his mother terrible morning sickness.
“A quarter of the population only like full flavoured wines.” Joe introduced the wine aroma wheel invented by Ann C. Noble. Ann thought that wine shouldn’t be described as elegant or fruity but to use the aroma wheel to write about wine. Joe told us that when he was asked about presenting The Wine Show, he thought about how to make it work on TV. Joe explored research. Google images show groups of people out drinking wine together. His research found that most people drank wine at home to relax in front of Netflix. “Wine is a wank in a glass.” Best quote of the day! “Wine is still used to mark the most important times in life.” Joe said that through knowing these insights, they were able to successfully communicate ITV’s The Wine Show to appeal to their audience. It is all about knowing your audience. Joe brings science into wine writing. A very engaging and entertaining presenter.
Karen Allonby, Senior Marketing Officer from World Vision UK spoke to our hearts with touching cases studies of How emotion works in fundraising. There was silence in the room as everyone was intently listening to the verbal pictures that Karen was evoking with their personalised emotional thank you letters. These letters told the story of how the sponsor’s money has helped the child they sponsor to get an education and how they are getting on with their life and what it means to them. World Vision UK are building trust and engagement. They receive happy letters back from their sponsors showing their appreciation for the communications. Karen’s speech was very thought-provoking and beautifully delivered.
Nick Parker, Comedian, Writer and Language strategist opened with “Tone of Voice is Bullshit, isn’t it?” He used to write for Viz, and their Green Form contract even had humour in it. “If you are registered for VAT…If you aren’t you don’t want to be, I can tell you. (It’s a bigger pain in the arse than piles).” Reading this made him want to write like this. “Clients all want their copy to be good, cheap and delivered fast. Only two out of this three are achievable. They can’t have a unicorn.” Nick spoke about the national boat naming competition that ended up with the winner being Boaty McBoatface. If the media team had given the nation a brief, they would have ended up with a name more fitting for the boat. Nick had hilarious examples of great copy and appalling copy. An example of Skype and Booking.com’s copy as good and clear copy. His son noticed a company had inconsistent product naming for their dog food flavours ‘Chicken, Fish, and Puppy.’
A Dutch friend asked Nick how would he explain tones of voice to a German bank.
Nick came up with The Ten Tones of Voice.
- Playful Children – Ben & Jerry’s and Innocent’s style of copy.
- Simplifiers – Help Remedies.
- Foolbiscuits – Mad and idiotic nonsense copy.
- Rebels – Not caring and doing their own thing. The Adventurists T&Cs.
- Ronseals – Tell it straight. Ronseal and Net App.
- Big Friendly Giants – Skype and Booking.com.
- Purposeful – Tech firms.
- Energisers – The shit hits the fan situations like Tesco’s response to the horse meat fiasco.
- Storytellers – Brands like Jack Daniels.
- Impersonators – Soap & Glory, mixing it up a bit.
Nick produced some cards with personality traits on them to help with defining a company’s tone of voice to give to his friend. He also decided to make himself up some inspirational cards to use every day, they all had the same message – “Get the fuck on with it”. We were in stitches with laughter. He said that they work every day, even though you know what it is going to say. Nick was hilarious.
There was much laughter and learning to take away already.
Elle Graham-Dixon is a Strategy Director and Partner at BBH. Elle uncouples the stereotypes from the insights. Elle uses a simple process of looking at the problem then looks at the insights to solve the problem. She passionately showed us how we could subconsciously respond with a bias by the language the copy had used. By focusing on the insights and rewriting the copy with ‘equality is for everyone’ in mind, we can change these stereotypes. She suggested using The Bechdel test when writing. Great to think that coming from this position when writing we can help to change stereotyping and put diversity at the front of our thinking. Elle’s commitment and passion were evident.
Steve Harrison, Creative Director and Copywriter who’s won more Cannes Lions in his field than any creative director in the world, while at his agency HTW, delivered ‘How to write something interesting,’ with excellent insights on his techniques. “Establish the customer’s problem and write clear for their customer’s problem. Client’s often ignored the customer’s problem. Instead, they want the creative you produce to directly address their marketing problem. It could be the fact that:
- 60% of customers haven’t signed up to pay by direct debit
- like-for-like sales are down 5% this first quarter
- no one can recognise the pack on the supermarket
- customers are redeeming investments because fund performance is poor.”
“You don’t care about the client’s problem. You care about the customer’s problem.”
Steve has much knowledge and experience to share. It felt like everyone was hanging on his every word. He quoted Dimitrios Tsivrikos, Consumer and Business Psychologist, “Receiving novel information activates the brain’s reward pathway, which leads to a continuous cycle in which we are compelled to seek out more and more information.” Headlines arouse our curiosity. Steve shared John Caples, “Even today you can look through almost any consumer or professional publication and find headlines that possess not a single one of the necessary qualities, such as self-interest, news, or curiosity.” A successful headline combines curiosity with the imparting of news.
Steve educated us on Howard Gossage the print adman of the 1960s, “People read what interests them, and sometimes it is an ad.” He explained that Gossage used printed adverts with coupons to get the reader engaged in a conversation. Like how people use Facebook or Twitter, but it was 50 years ago in print. He was ahead of his time. Gossage was the first person to put a face on a sweatshirt in the Beethoven, Brahms or Bach sweatshirt ad. Steve ended by sharing an extensive collection of adverts all over using the headline ‘The Art of.’ These writers had not done their research. I laugh to myself as I’m writing this, Pocket trends have highlighted a wired.com article ‘Zen and the Art of Hedge Fund Management,’ that writer needs to read Steve Harrison’s book ‘How to write better copy.’
In the evening, there was a private viewing of ‘Howard Gossage: Changing the world is the only fit work of a grown man.’ Steve wrote the biography about the 1960s adman, and he wrote and directed a full-length feature documentary about Gossage. It was enlightening to learn more about Gossage, his thinking and how he’d worked. Howard was hired by Scientific American to increase the amount of advertising the magazine received from airline accounts. The 1st International Paper Airplane Competition ad drew entries from around the world. That campaign helped establish the magazine as a viable place for air and travel advertising. Howard looked beyond advertising he looked at the bigger picture. He saw advertising as a dialogue between the advertiser and the customer. To learn more about Gossage watch Steve Harrison’s complete interview on Howard Luck Gossage.
It has been an educational and funny copywriting conference. I’m already looking forward to going to the third side-splitting Copy Cabana, in 2018.
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