When copywriting needs to take a reality check

Business owners need copy that doesn’t just talk the talk

On The Apprentice, there’s usually an episode where the candidates produce an ad or a piece of marketing. They’ll labour over something fluffy and creative, only for Sir Alan to throw it back in their faces because it, “looks pretty but doesn’t bloody-well sell anyfing”. And he’ll have a point.

It happens all the time, even in established creative agencies, and copy is usually the culprit. It’s frustrating, because copy is the sharpest tool in the box when it comes to selling.

Commercial realities

I work with a lot of business owners and they always have one eye on the bottom line. And that’s fair enough. They take risks, work late, manage staff and live with incredible stress; it’s their privilege to count every pound coming in – and to watch every penny going out. When it comes to marketing, they need ROI.

Simon Duce is the MD of ARPM, a successful lettings management business that serves the property industry: “Getting ‘bang for my buck’ is massively important. There are so many ways of marketing your business services or products these days; you want to ensure that you get good value for money and a return… I’ve run campaigns that have had no effect and it’s been very frustrating. A waste of money and a waste of time.”

Crash-test the concept

I’m not suggesting that every company takes the ‘ASDA approach’ and markets purely on price, but show me a business that can turn a profit from a TV ad with a drumming gorilla and I’ll show you 1,000 that can’t.

The commercial reality for most companies lies somewhere in between, and that’s where the creativity in copy comes in to play. It’s about finding new ways to get the message across within the constraints of a challenging brief.

Says Simon: “There are a lot of poor marketing approaches and campaigns that have not been thought through. And naturally these get low returns. I also find that the ‘less is more’ approach works for me. The fewer words you can use – but make them powerful and thought-provoking – the bigger the ‘hook’ you will have to generate enquiries. It is so easy (and we have been guilty of this) to just put too many words down on a marketing campaign which ends up losing its ‘hook’.”

Admittedly, I’ll often come up with a DM, advertising or marketing concept that I’ll feel smug about – it might even get a few high fives in the studio – but later I’ll take a good, hard look at it and realise that it just doesn’t sell. (And to be clear, as in life, selling is about much more than just closing.)

The bottom line

For business owners like Simon, marketing campaigns live or die by the quality of the concept and the power of the written word; a great idea that’s been well executed and carries a strong call to action is about as good as it gets.

There’s no shame in producing something that (essentially) says: ‘Here’s what we’re selling, here’s why you need it and here’s where you can buy it’. It’s my job to convey that message in all sorts of different ways for all sorts of different businesses. And thankfully for me, there’s no limit to imagination and the English language offers infinite possibilities.

Or in other words: I’ve got the tools to “bloody-well sell anyfing”.

Notes and disclaimers

1)  Of course, copywriting isn’t just about selling. Words are used to engage, motivate, inform, entertain, build relationships, and carry out all sorts of wonderful tasks.

2)  Yeah, that bit about the gorilla TV ad is trite, but you get my point.

3) Thanks to Simon Duce for his comments. http://arpm.co.uk/