My one-time boss, John Salmon, exasperated by the lack of ability being exhibited by some of his copywriters, once remarked that he’d be better off hiring writers from market stalls, rather than out of college. He may have had a point. The line about peaches came not from one of London’s top copywriters, but out of the mouth of a market trader in Islington’s Chapel Market. It’s more original, more persuasive and more vivid than any advertising line I’ve seen or heard for years. And, not surprisingly, the peaches flew off the trader’s stall in response to it. All of which brings me to an event that I attended recently.
Last Thursday, at the Ham Yard Hotel, the Direct Marketing Association hosted part of their Great British Copywriting Campaign. I was invited to join a panel on the stage of the hotel’s theatre to discuss the demise or otherwise of copywriting. The question that underpinned the evening was this: Is the art of copywriting dead?
D&AD’s most-awarded copywriter of the past 50 years, Tony Brignull thinks so. He appeared, with other luminaries, including John Salmon, in a short film called Madmen versus Mavens, shown before the discussion. In essence, the film featured two contrasting lunches; at one, Mad Men (and one woman, Barbara Nokes) rued the decline in the art of copywriting; at the second lunch, a younger generation of writers made known their views. The second group seemed less convinced that copywriting standards had faltered, displaying great enthusiasm for their craft.
Patrick Collister, former copywriter and now Head of Design at Google, chaired the discussion, asking the panel for our opinions. It was a lively discussion, made livelier by the fact the audience eagerly joined in, and none of us held back. A recurring comment was how little time is allowed for writing these days.
Maybe. But like Tony Brignull, John Salmon and Barbra Nokes, I am convinced that current standards of copywriting are dire. So much so, that I had already taken the decision to write a short booklet about how to write copy. I intend to publish it on this site. So watch out for it.
In the meantime follow this link to learn more about the DMA’s Great British Copywriting Campaign. And, going back to my earlier point about market traders, do you know how the late David Abbott began working life? He ran his dad’s carpet shop in Shepherd’s Bush Market. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that he is one of three writers whom Sir Frank Lowe has described as the greatest British practitioners of the art. By the way, do you know who the other two are? John Salmon and Tony Brignull.