inside the mind of the copywriter

Who are copywriters? Inside the mind of the copywriter

Posted by Toby Knott
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We have written before about what copywriters do, but who is the copywriter?

According to Google users, writers – with the exception of the rather touching 'why are writers important to society?' – are fat, weird, lonely, sad alcoholics.

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And the DMA's 'Why your copywriter looks sad' book, the result of its 2014 census of 433 British copywriters, paints a similar picture, with one respondent replying simply: 'Copywriting is... SHITE'. And another describing themselves as a 'Track Changes accepter'.

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But we're not all doom and gloom. The survey shows that copywriters have a fierce loyalty to their craft, a real love for great copy and just want to do right by their clients:

We need to get in front of clients. We need to get to the factory, play with the product, talk to the clients, talk to the customers.

Here are some of its findings:

  • Most copywriters live in London and are under 40.
  • Poor briefs (68 percent), lack of respect for the value of copywriting (54 percent), and unrealistic deadlines (50 percent) were named as the top three barriers to good work.
  • Dave Trott, David Abbott, and Andy Maslen were the top three rated copywriters.
  • Most prefer to work on long copy.
  • 94 percent think that an emotional response is the most important marker of powerful copy.

But we're not all cut from the same cloth. The successful copywriter wears lots of different hats, adapting their tone of voice and style depending on the client and the audience, while still trying to retain something of their unique personality in their copy.

Let's get to know a few.

The spotter's guide to copywriters

 David Ogilvy – "the father"


Cutting his teeth in the kitchen of a French hotel, as a door-to-door Aga salesman and at George Gallup's Audience Research Institute, Ogilvy understood that at the heart of all copywriting lies hard graft, good salesmanship and meticulous research. No wonder he's frequently hailed as 'the father of advertising'.

Best work: 'At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in the new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock'

Words of wisdom: 'Factual advertising [...] outsells flatulent puffery. The more you tell, the more you sell.'

Andy Maslen – "the tradesman"

Founder of writing agency Sunfish and a specialist in business-to-business and direct response copy, Maslen takes a practical, workmanlike approach to copy – hard-working words, not artistry – and coaches others in his approach, running The Andy Maslen Copywriting Academy for that very purpose and penning five books on the subject.

Best work: 'For maximum results, insult your customer.'

Words of wisdom: 'To love copywriting means to love advertising. It means to love business. It means to love capitalism.'

Tony Brignull – "the decorated veteran"

The most awarded copywriter in British advertising, Brignull stresses the need to visualise the individual to whom you're trying to sell and channel the unique voice of the client. Copy, for Brignull, should be clear, beautiful and simple.

Best work: 'The attraction of some gold pens soon wears off.'

Words of wisdom: 'Great lines don’t have to be clever, they just have to speak to people.'

Dave Trott – "the mod"

Dave-Trott-240x300.jpgVia a factory apprenticeship in East London and a New York art school, Trott (or David Troff as he was billed in his first appearance in the D&AD annual) represented the new wave of 1970s and '80s advertising, injecting more humour, pop culture and verve into copy. He recently summed up his approach in Predatory Thinking: 'marketing, like war, is a zero-sum game. If you want something you have to take it from someone else.'

Best work: the Holsten Pils adverts.

Words of wisdom: 'The brief should be the floor, not the ceiling.'

David Abbott – "the gentleman"

Noted for his calm demeanour and principled outlook – he refused to work with tobacco companies and censured French Connection's 'fcuk' campaign – Abbott's work, influenced heavily by ad genius Bill Bernbach, was wise, witty and filled with humanity.

Best work: '"I never read The Economist." Management Trainee. Aged 42.'

Words of wisdom: 'Use your life to animate your copy. If something moves you, chances are, it will touch someone else, too.'

Copywriters: who do you think you are?

So we're not all fat, weird alcoholics, not glorified proofreaders and not relics of the Mad Men era.

Copywriting and content marketing is evolving and copywriters are evolving right alongside – we blog, develop email campaigns, and write web copy, social media posts, industry reports and everything in between – yet the essentials never change. We're lovers of writing, hacking away at business problems with a sharp mind and a strong pen.

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Hat tip to Mediafest for the photo of Dave Trott.

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