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Copywriters are a different breed. We don’t have to attend art school, business school, or give a bunch of exams with acronyms that sound like various animals/planets/political organizations. We could, of course. And if we did, it would still help us a great deal.
The reason for this, I think, it because once you scratch away the clients and the jargon, we’re writers. Writers are influenced by practically anything. This is why a lot of people believe they can do it. Because it sounds so easy.
“Write? Hah! Of course I can write! Anyone can write! I mean, it’s English, right? I speak it all the time! So why can’t I write the damn thing?”

The truth is, everyone can’t. When I say writers are influenced by practically anything, I mean that anything can inspire us to write better. Anything can spark off an idea and then we never look at it the same way again. And since this doesn’t sound particularly difficult, everyone else believes that it can work for them, too. I’ve had designers tell me, “But it’s just a line! How long can that take to come up with?” Longer than you think, buddy boy.

Copywriters are often accused to being elitist, of turning down their noses at everyone else because they think they’re too well-read. Too knowledgeable. Too cocky. I take offense to that assumption. Honestly. We’re not any of those things. And those who are are probably just cocky people.

I design as well. So I know how grueling it is to work for six hours on a layout and having it look incomplete because the “stupid line hasn’t been finalized!“. But it’s just as important, and believe or not, sometimes, the stupid line can take six hours, too.

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I am a huge fan of the E*trade baby commercials. I have been ever since I saw one of them up on Grey Worldwide’s lovely website. And, no, it isn’t just because of the cute baby.

As someone who has been asked to write copy for some dreadfully boring products, including insurance, wealth management, and textile order management software, I can say from first-hand experience that it can get incredibly tough to liven them up. These products are automatic sleeping pills. And to get people interested in them is a lot tougher than if you were selling a bottle of floral-fragrance shampoo. There are also a lot of limitations. You’re encouraged to “make them interesting” but you can’t go too far out, either. Doing so makes your audience distrustful, your brand loses credibility and risks sounding juvenile. Of course, you’ve heard all of this before. And this is exactly why I love the E*trade baby campaign. It’s relevant, re-watchable and so far away from boring that it’s probably on another planet.

Here’s how it probably sounded on paper:
So we have this baby, right? And the baby TALKS! In a grown up voice! BOO! And then he tells you all about E*trade. And then we get all his baby friends along. Who doesn’t love babies, right? And they all talk in grown-up voices. Bada bing!
I can practically see the skepticism radiating from the client’s face. In fact, it would have been strong, it would have probably wafted out the window and disturbed the air around the hot dog vendor on the street. I don’t know what happened that meeting, how hard Grey must have fought for this idea, how many cups of coffee, lunches and conference calls that must have taken. (If none of this happened, then they should never ever let this client go and name all their children after him)
An idea that was almost laughable on paper was brought alive using great execution (kudos to the voiceover artist. Really, really bang up job, there). And we all know how amazing it is when that happens.

Here’s the latest commercial. The views and comments speak for themselves.

There are a lot of times when you hit a creative brick wall. Everyone has their own ways of dealing with this. Some people listen to inspiring speeches or read books which insist that the next great idea is “right around the corner!”, take a nap, drink way too much coffee or a combination of everything and some other stuff thrown in for good measure (some voodoo, perhaps?). My recipe for this infamous problem is opening my copy of The art of looking sideways and visiting some very creative sites that haven’t ever failed me. And what’s the point of creativity if you can’t share it, right? We’re all in this together. So here you go.

Toxel
Toxel.com is one of my favorite sites in this vast, endless universe we call the internet. It assaults you with ideas from all directions, and features everything from ambient advertising and cool new tech products to fascinating gadgets from creative people all around the world (did you know somebody actually designed a homemade flying hovercraft? I KNOW, right?) and whatever is in between. The site is incredibly easy to navigate – the ‘Popular Posts’ sidebar on the home page is proof of that. Think of Toxel as being the site where all those old-school email forwards featuring those cool USB Drives originated from. Plus, it doesn’t have the incredibly ugly Comic Sans typography, which is always a good thing.

Scaryideas and Adsoftheworld
Both Scaryideas and Adsoftheworld are updated daily with innovative, interesting (and sometimes downright bizarre) advertising campaigns from all over the world. While Scaryideas is a fairly basic site with only the work posted up, Adsoftheworld has forums and a blog. Both these sites are invaluable if you’re in advertising. Bookmark them now.

Creativity Online
In my opinion, the best thing about Creativity Online is its newsletter. Unlike other newsletters that are filled with a whole lot of clutter are hardly any substance, the Creativity newsletter carries some of the best recent work from around the world. The site itself not only showcases creative work, but also has some very interesting news and features. It is in collaboration with AdAge.com, so when you sign up for the newsletter, you can opt in for the AdAge newsletter as well.

Colourlovers
Although this site will probably hold a lot more interest for you if you’re a designer, don’t pass on it if you’re not. If its delightful user-interface doesn’t pull you in, the pretty colours will. Colourlovers features the latest in colour trends, so if you’re into web design or need ideas for a colour palette for your ad, you’ve come to the right place. Once you sign up, you can create your own colour palettes, patterns, or even your own colour! Haven’t you always wanted to do that? I know I have.

So get to it! Now you have no excuse not to.

When you work in a field that depends heavily  on subjectivity, like advertising, you hear a lot of opinions flying around. Everybody seems to have one, and everybody wants everybody to know it. It doesn’t matter if it’s not informed, it doesn’t matter if it isn’t relevant. All that matters is that you’re right. Which is kind of ironic, because that goes against the very grain of what an opinion is.

It wouldn’t be so bad if opinions were stated, and then left there. People could then choose to use it to improve their work if they saw fit, or politely ignore it and proceed along smoothly. But we all know that that is never the case. An opinion is like the One Ring from JRR Tolkien’s wonderful ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. Just like the One Ring wants to be found, an opinion wants to be heard. It will refuse to go unnoticed, will bog you down with the sheer weight of its malice, and if not handled carefully, will be your downfall. (Okay, maybe it’s not so dramatic, but you have to admit it’s a good analogy)

Opinions can range from snotty (Really? Brown? It’s not exactly a sophisticated colour, is it?) to threatening (I wouldn’t make that logo any smaller if I were you) to ones that will make you pull your hair out and scream into a pillow (I guess this is a good  line, but like, why do we need a headline, anyway? People hardly read these days).

In my experience, though, the worst type of opinion is the vague opinion. And when it comes from someone who is in charge of approving your work, like your boss or a client, it can be a creative death knell. Here’s an example to explain what I mean:

COPYWRITER: Here’s the print ad me and the designer worked on. *places board with ad on boss’ table.*

BOSS: *stares at it for five minutes* Hmm. I don’t…get it.

COPYWRITER: Would you like me to explain it to you?

BOSS: No, that’s not what I meant. See, it doesn’t have that ‘WOW’ factor.

COPYWRITER: … Wow factor?

BOSS: Yeah, it’s not… *gestures with hands like he’s conducting an orchestra* WOW, you know? It needs to be more – edgy. Have more ZING!

COPYWRITER: In terms of copy or design?

BOSS: I don’t know. Maybe one. Maybe both! They should speak to me! Reach out and engage. And right now it’s not doing that.

COPYWRITER: *mental facepalm*

See, it’s understandable that sometimes it’s hard to articulate what exactly you’re feeling. The phrase ‘something’s a little off’ was created for such occasions. But when you use jargon and buzzwords to pick holes in something that didn’t need any – that is far more difficult (and infuriating) to deal with.

Speaking of corporate jargon, here is my list of my top 10 most-hated words/phrases:

1. Touch-base

2. Impactful

3. Meet Offline

4. Incentivize

5. Prepone

6. Interfacing

7. Bandwidth

8. Key Player

9. Proactive

10. Re-invent the wheel

And, as a bonus, here is something that I’m sure everyone in advertising has heard at least fifty-seven times: “Think out of the box”. How many of you would like to send that box out of the window into the nearest trash compactor?

As I had mentioned in an earlier post, The Little Ones, advertising gets a lot of flak. In fact, as part of my course curriculum in college, a professor had given us copies from the pages of a book whose name I can’t remember for the life of me. It was written by a women (who didn’t have a very memorable name, either), and you could practically feel her seething as you read it. Her hate for the subject was so strong, that it almost radiated from the scathing lines she wrote, and I was worried that she was going to suddenly appear out of nowhere and start spewing discourse on why advertising is the bane of us all. She presented examples from campaigns advertising jeans, perfumes, shoes, washing powder, nappies even, and tore each of them apart with admirable aplomb. I’m sure she has her reasons, and I’m sure she sold a whole lot of copies, but even as I was reading those pages two years ago, I felt defensive. I was an eager 20 year old, who had never worked in the industry, and I realized was protective of advertising. I was surprised to feel that way, but it strengthened my conviction, and suddenly, deciding to make advertising my career wasn’t as scary. I’m sure that wasn’t Ms. Whatshername’s intention.

But, I digress. The point of this post, is directed towards something that she said. And it is something that a lot of people say. Not just about advertising, but about the media in general. It is that media targets impressionable young girls and women, and projects an “unrealistic perception” of beauty. That the oodles of Photoshop, post-production and parade of skinny celebrities make the girls turning the pages of Seventeen magazine insecure. So, is that the true story? Now, this is a pretty heavy topic, and it’s not one that I want to get into deeply here in this post at 11 o’ clock on a Monday night. But for many people, this is pretty much an open-and-shut case, and I’d like to present something that challenges it.

Dove did a campaign called ‘Real Beauty’ a couple of years ago. It featured ‘regular-sized’ women, posing happily in their skivvies. They appeared to be carefree, and without any inhibitions about their bodies whatsoever. Their faces and bodies were splashed across billboards, and they were touted as being “real women”. Heck, Oprah even did a whole show dedicated to them, complete with insane whooping by her all-woman studio audience. The campaign was seen as something of a revolution, and the buzz in newspapers and magazines was that it was changing the way women were going to be represented in the media. There were a number of people who went around interviewing people on the street, asking them their opinions on the campaign. A lot of them said they loved it, of course. But there were a fair few others who said things like “Those women are too fat to be on billboards,” or “It’s disgraceful and unattractive” And a lot of these opinions came from people (yes, even women), who weren’t exactly swans themselves.

There you have it. Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.

Maybe the media’s just a born loser when it comes to moral jigsaw puzzles. And advertising is just one of the pieces.

Ambient media has come such a long way, and it’s fascinating to watch the many different ways advertising finds to use it.

I came across this elevator door promoting Maybelline’s Lash Blast.

I think it’s genius.

My exposure to promotional activity from Maybelline’s has been limited to glitzy “Maybe she’s born with it” television commercials and fledgling wannabe models on ‘America’s Next  Top  Model’ trying to say “Life’s a blast, so lift those lashes with Lash Blast” without getting tongue-tied. This, however, is nothing like either of them.

It’s always refreshing to see advertising for cosmetic or beauty products without showing a flawless face and a head full of shining hair to make a point.

Great idea. Great execution.

Well done, Maybelline.

A favourite college professor of mine had told my class about 4 years ago about a book called ‘The Art of Looking Sideways’ by Alan Fletcher. He refused to describe it, and said that it is a book that you have to read, to really grasp what it is about. He said that if we ever came across it in a bookstore, we must buy it immediately.

I signed up for an Amazon account a few months ago, and the first item I ever added to my shopping cart, was this one. With a shipping cost that was more than half the price of the book itself, it was delivered to my house on the 18th of December (its estimated delivery date was new Years’ Eve). And when I proudly wrote my name on the first page (sideways), I let out a squeal of glee.

It is a book about everything. Anything. Nothing. Every page is a piece of art; every chapter is a treasure chest of inspiration. It doesn’t matter if you start reading at Page 1. It doesn’t matter if you stop reading at Page 1. (You won’t, though). There are pictures, quotes, ramblings, anecdotes, stories. It changes your perspective, takes you on many journeys, makes you think, opens your eyes. And, in the two-odd months that I have owned it, it has become one of my most prized possessions.

I’ll now leave you with some of my favourite excerpts from the book.

A lady visited Matisse in his studio. Inspecting one of his latest works she unwisely said:

‘But, surely the arm of this woman is much too long.’

‘Madame,’ the artist politely replied. ‘You are mistaken. This is not a woman, this is a picture.’

*             *             *

A grapefruit is a lemon that had a chance and took advantage of it.

–          Oscar Wilde

*             *             *

‘How delightfully the fishes are enjoying themselves’, exclaimed Soshi.

‘You are not a fish’, commented his friend. ‘How do you know that the fishes are enjoying themselves?’

‘You are not myself’, answered Soshi; ‘how do you know that I do not know that the fishes are enjoying themselves?’

–          Taoist dialogue

I sat for my IELTS examination last week. For those of you who don’t know, it is an English language test that is mandatory if you’re applying to a country where English is the primary means of communication. It comprises of four modules – Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. And, in a strange but pleasant coincidence – in my Writing exam, I was asked to write about 250 words on whether advertising targeted towards children is a good thing or not. I had a field day with it, and tried my hardest to not exceed the word limit by too much. I’ve been thinking about it since, and thought I would write about it here in further detail.

Advertising gets a lot of flak for a lot of things – objectifying women, increasing consumerism, false promises, and more. But those are to be dealt with another day. I have discussed this point with a lot of people, and one of the first issues that people have with advertising that is targeted towards children is that it takes advantage of innocent, supposedly naive minds who just don’t know better. And here is where I think they’re wrong. Children aren’t as naive as we think they are. Things aren’t what they were ten years ago. For instance, a cousin of mine bought herself a Macbook Pro a few months ago. Unfamiliar with OS X, she was helplessly clicking around when my 10 year old nephew came in. His hands flew all over the keyboard and before she knew it, her problem was solved. Kids are smart. The main reason advertising talks directly to them is because they understand. They’ll look at the specs sheet of a computer and know what the technical terms mean – as opposed to their parents who would probably ask the salesperson for his assistance.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that they’re not gullible. There’s a good chance that they will be taken in by a commercial with their favourite idol (what else explains the otherwise baffling phenomenon that is Hannah Montana?) or one that tells them to go buy something because “your best friend probably already has it!” But that’s when their parents need to step in. Let’s be honest here – if you have a child who’s used to getting whatever he or she wants in every other aspect, you can’t really blame the advertising, now can you?

I ended my essay by saying that yes, misleading advertising does exist. It is targeted just as much towards adults as it is towards children. But the key to dealing with it is having good judgement, and not believing everything you’re seeing. And then, to teach your kids to do the same thing.

I joined Twitter last week. Despite telling myself that I never would. That it was pointless. That it made no sense because WHY would you want an entire site made of status messages? And WHY would anyone want to read what you have to say? On some level, I still think those things. But I won’t deny that I have been enjoying it (much to my grudging surprise). I would post the link here (because who doesn’t want more followers, right?), but I want to see how long I can maintain an anonymous blog. Then maybe I can get my movie deal. But that’s another story.

ANYWAY. The point of all this is that I got a very interesting Youtube link from Ben Stiller’s Twitter feed. Who, in turn, got it from Ryan Seacrest’s Twitter feed. Which, I reposted on my Twitter feed. And now I have typed in ‘Twitter feed’ so many times it has lost all meaning. Here’s the video:

It’s one of the most entertaining things I have watched in a while.

Stuart ain’t so little any more, huh?

It’s funny how time always seems to pass by incredibly quickly when you’re not sure what you’re heading towards. Times when you’re waking up every morning, listless and jaded, waiting for the day to end before you’ve even gotten out of bed. Then it does end, and so does the next one, and the one after that. And all of a sudden, months are flying by, and you have no idea where they’re going. To what place they’re taking you.

Right now, my life mirrors the anti-thesis of that situation. This is my last month on the job. The end of January marks the beginning a new period in my life – one that I am absolutely itching to get to. And, right now, the days can’t pass soon enough. The child in me wants to mark off each day on the calendar. The frustrated adult in me wants to tear apart the calendar altogether. ANYTHING. Anything that will make the sun rise gloriously and as fast as possible  on the 30th of January. And set to a peaceful evening, replete with celebratory champagne.