Second-Hand Advice on Copywriting by Someone Who Isn’t Technically a Copywriter

By Matt Sebert
  • 07.11.18
  • 3 Min Read

This blog begins with a disclaimer – I am not a copywriting expert. I’m not even a copywriter. I am a copywriting intern. I can’t tell you about side-splitting TV commercials I’ve written or award-winning campaigns I’ve orchestrated. I would love to do those things, but becoming a great copywriter is a lot like building a road in Sioux City – it doesn’t happen in one day. What I can share is a few pieces of advice I’ve received and read on my quest to become a copywriting expert (or at least something close to that). What follows is mostly for writers but can apply to any young creative trying to work in advertising.

Ron Burgundy Meme
Ron Burgundy Meme

YOU CAN’T MAKE A LIVING OFF BEING COOL

In high school, I wanted to be the next Ron Burgundy. I had the traits of a newsman: flowing hair and clear diction. My mustache was coming in nicely*. I absolutely loved writing. The only part I didn’t like was when you interviewed someone and wrote what they said (a large part of journalism). Writing a fun story and getting a bland quote made me want to pull my hair out. So I made the quotes up. Shady? Yes. Fun? Absolutely. In college, I discovered advertising: a real industry that pays green money for people to make stuff up. What a revelation. There are no rules in advertising, right? Not exactly. No matter how cool, unique, exciting or revolutionary your idea is, it still has to work for the client’s strategy. Creatives are artists under the employ of brands and you’re in trouble if you ever forget that.

GET READY FOR THE VALLEY OF DESPAIR

Somewhere between the blank white page and client approval lies a barren, desolate land known as the Valley of Despair. Where confidence withers in the sun. Where doubt seeps in like water into the hull of the Titanic. It’s where you think: I’m a hack. Have I ever even written a sentence before? The Valley of Despair is a wasteland of anxiety that comes with any deadline-driven project. Get used to it. Don’t let it paralyze you – use that anxiety as motivation. Descending into the Valley of Despair usually means that you’ve tried all the easy methods and are getting closer to a big idea. The only way out of the valley is through it. Pack some Clif Bars and keep on hiking.

Spongebob Meme

LIVE IN A PINEAPPLE

Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? It’s a little corny, but the best way to learn is absorbing as much information as you possibly can – a lot like Spongebob. Ask questions. Question other questions. Look at the work of your mentors. Look at the work of your peers. Scrutinize everything from classic Volkswagen ads to current campaigns. Before you develop a voice of your own, it helps to learn how other people sound. I’m not saying you should plagiarize. But you learn a lot more by listening than talking.

LIVE AN INTERESTING LIFE

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? One of my favorite moments in advertising was the first time I heard creative used as a noun. Before it had only been an adjective, usually used by people who don’t possess a whole lot of it. How many times has someone with an inclination for imagination heard, “Oh you’re so creative! How did you think of that? Where does it come from?” We have no idea. There’s no magic potion or seven-minute ab workout to enhance creativity. Creativity isn’t only what you do, it’s who you are. The only way to be more creative is to live a life that makes you practice it. Read books, watch old movies, paint, draw, write, go outside, fly a kite – do whatever it takes to get your mind going. Creativity is hard. Creativity on demand is harder. Keep your life weird and it will be much easier.

 

*A biased opinion of debatable accuracy.