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3 Key Copywriting Tips from Drayton Bird

Updated on June 25, 2014
Copywriters Should Get The Brief Right First
Copywriters Should Get The Brief Right First | Source

Successful copywriters, particularly direct mail writers are able to get under the skin of their readers. One of the ways in which they can do this is by studying the publication in which their ads will appear. As direct mail writers, they should know what is going through the recipient's mind when he reads their direct mail piece. Here is another of Bird's creative memos to Ogilvy & Mather offices worldwide.

1. What is the Context?

A lot of time is wasted by people who start the creative process by looking for an idea. Does that sound like a strange remark to you? Let me explain.

You all – quite rightly – want to produce something remarkable which will not only do a good job, but be seen as a splendid piece of work in its own right. Good enough, perhaps, to win the applause of your peers, and gain an award.

But starting by thinking along those lines is, in my experience, almost invariably a mistake. David Ogilvy quotes Mozart who said: 'I never tried to be original in my life.' What Mozart – like most great artists did was to try and do the job right. Not to write the most clever piece he could, but to write the best piece he could. The one most appropriate for the occasion.

This is what you have to do with creative work. Put together the piece that reads and looks like the best job for the occasion.

For example, our colleagues in Los Angeles have created a splendid commercial for 'Perform' petfood – the one that 'comes when you call,' because it's delivered to your home. The commercial is extremely simple. It's just a big telephone number on a bare set, with lots of animals walking around. Nothing actually happens, really. Yet it comes over as being extremely original, by setting out to do the simplest thing possible.

You will find that this is true of nearly all good communications – on television or anywhere else. "

David Ogilvy used to say, "It's not creative unless it sells." Yet there are countless advertisements and commercials that are vastly entertaining and yet no one remembers the name of the brand they are supposed to sell.

In the following section, Bird explains the ways in which the copywriter can put himself into the shoes of his reader.

Whether Direct Mail Or Ad Copywriting, Bird Has Useful Tips To Share
Whether Direct Mail Or Ad Copywriting, Bird Has Useful Tips To Share | Source

2. Where Do You Begin?

A very good place to start, if you want to be appropriate, is to think of the context of the communication. By that I mean, in the case of direct mail in particular, start by asking yourself what is probably going through the person's mind at the time when they receive the piece.

The same thing applies to an advertisement: if you look at the publication, it will give you a very good idea of what is likely to be going through the recipient's mind when they read that publication.

This means you will, if you are wise, adapt your advertisement to the context of the publication itself. That's why newsy ads do very well in newspapers; informative ads do very well in magazines; ads specially written or designed to fit in with a particular publication get higher response.

In all these cases, your message is attuned to the reader's way of thinking.

So, with a direct mail piece, you have to get in step with whatever is going through the recipient's mind. And a good parallel is to think of the way you react when you meet another person. Your brain asks automatic questions: 'Who is this?' 'Where do I know them from?' 'What did we talk to each other about the last time we spoke?' 'What do we have in common?'

In the same way, when receiving a direct mail piece, questions come up: 'Who is this who's writing to me?' 'Why are they writing to me?' 'When did I hear from them last?' 'What was my reaction?' These are the simple questions you're wise to answer.

Ed McLean many years ago wrote: 'If the list upon which I found your name is anything to go by, this is not the first, nor will it be the last invitation you will receive to subscribe to a magazine.' His mailing was exceedingly successful. It answered the unspoken question in the reader's mind."

The relationship between a copywriter and the person who handles the account he is working on is very important. It determines whether the client will buy the creative or not. Bird outlines the questions a writer must ask the account handler so that the brief becomes crystal clear. Great creative always begins with a great brief.

Direct Response Advertisement For Madura Coats Where The Creative Idea Is In The Visual
Direct Response Advertisement For Madura Coats Where The Creative Idea Is In The Visual | Source

3. Questions Answered Mean Success

When getting a brief, therefore, the first thing you should start asking your account handler is: 'Have these people heard from us before? If so, what did they receive? And how did they react?'

In my experience, this will almost invariably give you a very intelligent way of getting into the communication.

As a matter of fact, questions like that are so obvious that most creative people actually overlook them. Just as they tend to overlook the other obvious thing: to look at the publication in which an ad is appearing; or watch the channel on which the commercial will be seen."

Commonsense Direct Marketing By Drayton Bird

Copywriters Can Learn a Lot from Drayton Bird

According to Drayton Bird, the success of an ad or direct mail piece is determined by how well the copywriter is attuned to the recipient's mind. It is not determined by how clever the copy is, or how many awards it has won.


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