Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses Yearning To Make A Mark In Advertising

I like being a copywriter, but lately I feel like it is a bit of a lost art. An afterthought. Something the client supplies, or God forbid, the design team.

This is not a positive development for copywriters, nor is it for clients and their customers who will ultimately judge the work (harshly by ignoring it completely).

Sanam Petri, an associate creative director at R/GA London, writing in The Guardian reminds us that there’s not exactly a capable pool of talent waiting in the wings to reinvigorate the business with fresh ideas and the crisp clean writing skills needed to execute them.

Regarding a class she recently led in London, Petri reports:

The writing is cliched and predictable, a mimicking of the drivel absorbed from years of sitting in front of TVs and radios. The more I read, the more I discover that the actual quality of the writing is poor. And what’s worse, it reflects little passion or interest on the part of the writer. This isn’t the writing of writers. It’s the writing of advertisers.

I appreciate her criticism, but we all start out as mimics. Novelists mimic their favorite prose stylists. Musicians their favorite guitar player or drummer or reed player. Same with the people charged with making ads, we look to awards show books and each other for a false standard of what is good, and what is worth ripping and remaking. The real standard for what’s good is so much simpler. Did it knock your socks off, or not?

I can’t remember the last time an ad campaign knocked my socks. Granted, I am jaded from massive overexposure to the medium. Nevertheless, I feel we are not reaching high enough as an industry. To merely win and maintain profitable accounts is not a big enough goal, not for me. I want us to make beauty and meaning in the world.

Brands need content, they need positive PR and WOM and social sharing. None of these things are an issue for brands when they provide beauty and meaning. Sure, it’s New Age. But let’s not degrade the idea on those grounds just yet. Whatever age we’re in, the need for utterly compelling work remains. The need for craft remains and the need for all the misfits who would apply it remains.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.