When you’re trying to solve a problem, do you just work on it flat out, come up with a solution, then move on to your next challenge?

Probably not if you’ve got time. If you’re not under pressure to crack it, you’ll think about it a bit. Then put it to one side while you work on something else. Then come back to it later.

Why? Because you know that, given more time, you’re more likely to come up with a better solution.

It’s the same with creative work, whether that’s producing concepts for an integrated marketing campaign, or just writing copy. Whoever you give your brief to, the more time you allow them, the more chances they’ll have to create a brilliant solution. That’s been my experience either when creating my own work or watching others create theirs.

But giving your creative people more time means greater cost to you, doesn’t it? Not necessarily. It just means planning ahead.

Here’s what’s currently happening

Cash-strapped marketers and agencies are briefing creatives at the last moment to produce work quickly. So they book us for a set amount of time – two weeks, for example. The work begins almost immediately. And the days worked are almost always consecutive.

Here’s what would be better

Book your creatives for the same amount of time, or same project rate, but spread the booked time over a month. Let them work on your project in bits, between their other jobs, and you’ll see better results. It’s during the breaks from your assignment – the time you’re not paying for – that the magic happens. After your brief has been knocking around in the depths of their subconscious minds, your creatives will come up with some of their best ideas. And when your copywriter revisits your copy-in-progress after time away working on something else, they’ll be more likely to improve it. They’ll create a more striking tone of voice, a stronger headline, or a more effective way to describe your product.

I saw it work like that last summer. A beer client, Lee, asked my creative partner and me to come up with more ads for an existing campaign. We agreed to spend three days working on the project and give him at least three ads for a set fee. Lee also agreed to let us spread the work over one month. During that time, we came up with many good concepts. In the end, one particular concept stood out as the best – the very last one we came up with, after almost 30 days.

Clearly, if you plan projects to give your creative people flexibility with deadlines, you’ll get stronger work at no extra cost.


Isn’t there a lot of talk about storytelling these days? Marketing gurus stress its importance. Apparently, 80% of UK adults want brands to tell stories as part of their marketing. There are now annual surveys of the Best Storytelling Brands. And a recent forecast on Campaign Live, The Year Ahead in Creativity, predicted that, once again, ‘the best story wins’.

So what’s new? Brand advertising and DM copywriters like me have been telling stories for decades. All the best commercials have a narrative structure. Many are like a good joke: an intriguing story followed by a surprise ending.

What seems to be driving the talk about storytelling is the proliferation of online content. We are all overwhelmed with information. And the best way to stand out in this sea of content, and interest your audience, is to weave your facts and figures into stories – narratives that involve people, contain drama, and touch emotions.

Shinola: a fascinating story in a rather dull sector

Some friends of mine are preparing to launch a clothes brand, and they want to make their start-up story the best it can be. So I recommended they study a company that’s done a great job telling theirs: a watch manufacturer called Shinola. Now, there are quite a few watch brands, aren’t there? And unless you’re a real horophile, they tend to blur into one big mess. There are exceptions, such as Rolex, which runs all those ads about famous rich people who own one. And Patek Philippe, which has a long-running and, in my view, excellent campaign about its watches being heirlooms that are passed down through families. Also, last year Apple launched its watch, which is fundamentally different from traditional watches that just tell the time. By and large though, not many watch brands left an impression in my mind until I heard about Shinola.

In essence, Shinola’s story is this: a mechanical watch made in Detroit. Now, there’s something that stops you and makes you think. Detroit is, of course, famous as the city that used to be America’s car-making capital, Motor Town, but went into seemingly terminal decline. In recent years, we’ve heard of attempts to revive the city. Still, Detroit isn’t a place you’d expect watches to be made. Which makes Shinola interesting. It draws you in to find out more.

Watch Shinola’s inspiring story below:


Now you can understand why President Obama was proudly showing off his Shinola watch to reporters last week – in itself another fascinating story:

President Barack Obama points to his watch as he leaves a tour of Shinola, a domestic manufacturer of watches and other goods, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, in Detroit.

President Barack Obama points to his watch as he leaves a tour of Shinola, a domestic manufacturer of watches and other goods, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, in Detroit.








Less is more?

July 20, 2015

When copywriters write headlines, endlines and slogans, we normally try to keep them brief. Our thinking is that short lines are more likely to grab the reader’s attention than long ones. And like a small snack, short copy is easier to digest than a mouthful of words. Short is simple. Less is more. That’s why we try to chop every unnecessary word from our copy. But . . .

Less can be less

Sometimes, writers are just too brief. I recently saw a tagline for a personal cloud storage brand that just said “Absolutely”. That’s all. It was simple, I’ll grant you, but rather ambiguous (Absolutely what? You could take the word to mean a number of things).

And then there are ads with one-word headlines. In my view, they rarely work. One word, big and bold, is  likely to catch your attention. But it needs to be unusual (e.g. one you’ve made up) or shocking, like an expletive. Otherwise it won’t draw you in to read the body copy where you’ll learn what the ad is about.

The following print ad, from Uruguay, doesn’t have any words, other than the logo:

Art Director: Rafael Ramírez (no copywriter credited)

Art Director: Rafael Ramírez (no copywriter credited)









Do you understand the ad above? I didn’t. But then I saw the following version, with words:

Hyundai with copy (Medium)

Translation: “Don’t lose control for a message.”









Don’t you think it’s better with words? I think the earlier version, without any copy, while simpler, doesn’t communicate as effectively. It’s a case of less is less: less copy, less effective communication.

Of course, ads with no words at all can work very effectively, as the following example, from Mexico, shows:

Copywriter: Abraham Quintana

Copywriter: Abraham Quintana







And more can be . . . more

The other day I stumbled upon the following headline for a clothes shop:

Screen shot 2015-07-20 at 10.58.40



Great line, don’t you think? Most clothes shops wouldn’t bother with the second sentence. And some designers would want to get rid of it too, because they’re obsessed with the notion that less is more. But that headline is an exception to the rule. The second bit makes me smile. It forms a connection between me and the shop owner. It makes me want to go in and check out the sale. In this case, more is definitely more.



Why Maths Men need Mad Men

May 25, 2015

Data and technology help you reach your audience. But are they enough to convert them? Google knows you’re reading this. Amazon is about to recommend the boxed set of Mad Men, the final season, to you. And Facebook has decided the name of the child you’re having next year (just kidding on that one). Isn’t […]

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How to avoid a £9 million copy mistake

February 14, 2015

What is the letter s worth? About £9 million according to recent news. That’s how much Companies House has to pay out to settle a law suit. Apparently the government agency mistook Taylor and Sons, a previously financially-sound, 124-year-old Cardiff company, for Taylor and Son, a firm that ceased to trade six years ago. The […]

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How well do you know your audience?

January 18, 2015

As good marketers and their agencies know, there are two essential bits of information copywriters need before starting work: 1.        A description of the people we’re selling to (your audience or market) 2.        What needs to be said to those people (your proposition) Pretty basic, you say? Well you’d be surprised by a lot of […]

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Why can’t B2B be more like B2C?

January 28, 2014

Think of a consumer ad campaign, current or past, that you like or maybe even love. Easy, isn’t it? Now think of a business-to-business one you have similar positive feelings about. That’s harder, wouldn’t you say? Apart from IBM campaigns over the years, there are few b2b brands that have made an impression on me. […]

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How to give your direct mail piece a fighting chance

September 2, 2013

There’s so much talk about digital these days, you might think traditional (paper) direct mail just crawled away into a corner and died. But, like radio after TV came along, paper DM is still here. If my letterbox and workload are anything to go by, there’s still plenty of DM landing on Britain’s doormats. I […]

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Four things marketers can do to make their lives easier

February 13, 2013

Ever heard of Hutchison Whampoa? It’s not the catchiest name for a brand. Especially for one that arrived late in the UK mobile phone market. So when the Hutchison Whampoa company launched a new mobile brand here, they had the good sense not to use their name. They knew they needed to stand out from […]

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Could a copywriter have saved HMV, Blockbuster and other high street chains from bankruptcy?

January 24, 2013

Creatives don’t think like chartered accountants. Most of us don’t know how to run a big organisation. We don’t know what management consultants know. Even so, we can and do see things that so-called business experts don’t. Coming from outside a client’s business, we have a fresh perspective. We get to know their business and […]

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