Last week we had an excellent day out by the seaside. Not so much fish, chips and deckchairs, but word-nerds and er, Hawaiian shirts. This was the annual gathering of copywriters at the pun-tastically named ‘Copy Cabana’, run by the brilliant Andy Maslen, Vikki Ross and Matt Desmier. Thirteen speakers, a pad thai eaten precariously while trying to shake hands with hundreds of like-minded people and a LOT of cake later, these are a few highlights…
Among the glittering line up of speakers was the esteemed Steve Harrison, winner of more Cannes Lions in his discipline than any other creative director in the world no less, who reminded everyone not to slip into laziness when it comes to writing headlines. The best example? ‘The Art of [insert name, product, business here]’. You wouldn’t believe how many ‘things’ can become an art, if we copywriters are to be believed. A slide share of around 50 examples had the audience in stitches, with everything from ‘The Art of tailoring’ to ‘The Art of Coffee’ to the ‘Art of the Sublime’ to the ‘The Art of Guttering’ (I kid you not though I question the client that briefed ‘make our guttering artful’). The point being, Steve said, that lines like this may make the client feel good but they do nothing to solve the customer’s lifestyle problem, only the client’s marketing problem. Headlines which arouse curiosity, that are newsworthy, and that answer the customer’s question ‘What’s in it for me?’ are where it’s at. Artful advice indeed.
The march of the bots
Elsewhere, Glenn Sturgess and Peter Stephen of OgilvieOne Business scared us slightly (before making it okay again) about the rise of the copybots coming to steal our jobs – which is absolutely going to happen. AI is rapidly advancing to the ‘point of singularity’ where machines become conscious, but until then, it’s pretty likely that in the next 15-20 years, robots will very easily be formulating the perfect headline to drive better traffic (I’ll help you out here copybots, it’s not ‘The Art of’). However, all will be well for humans, since we possess such things as common sense, empathy, creativity and context. We can dream, robots can’t, and all this means we can work with the robots to develop compelling copy that appeals to the human emotions, leaving the bots to do the slightly drier, data driven work.
Is your writing sexist?
That was the question posed by Elle Graham-Dixon of BBH who got us all questioning our ingrained prejudices with this riddle:
“A father and son are in a horrible car crash that kills the dad. The son is rushed to the hospital; just as he’s about to go under the knife, the surgeon says, ‘I can’t operate – that boy is my son!’ Explain.”
Got it? If you guessed the surgeon is a woman, nice one. But don’t worry if you didn’t, this is a piece full of masculine words, leading most of us to think the boy has two dads at best, or subconsciously, to be completely stumped since we simply still don’t think of women as surgeons. A few feminine tweaks to the piece and studies show we’d all guess differently. It shows that diversity is as much in the hands of a writer as it is in the HR department.
That’s a snippet of just three of the brilliant and thought-provoking talks given. We were also treated to the Top 10 tone of voice types by the hilarious Nick Parker; got the inside scoop on copywriting for Ben and Jerry’s from Kerry Thorpe; heard poetry in motion from the inimitable Rishi Dastida and words of wine wisdom from Joe Fattorini and somewhat randomly, met organiser Andy Maslen’s window cleaner, who – turns out – is turning his hand to copywriting, and pretty nifty he is too! Phew! We’ll be back next year…