understanding copy in the digital era

digital is where it’s at and where it’s headed. in this new world, information bombards potential prospects from every turn, and to adapt, they’ve become selective in what earns their attention. as copywriters, it’s our job to keep up and engage a new, slightly more distracted audience.

for pointers on approaching the digital realm, The Copy Lab invited copywriter and brand strategist jean railla to share her insight on digital writing techniques.

working with computer

copy should be short, specific and straightforward
you have as few as three seconds to convince a user to keep reading. it’s imperative that a site is easy to navigate and quick to scan. to-the-point heads and subheads, bullets, pull quotes and graphics are all effective techniques for enhancing scannability. display key messaging in the upper left, where the eye goes first, and congregate important points from the top down.

engage your brand’s “influencers”
great success has been had when brands interact online with the people who love them. know your voice and stick with it to strengthen the connection to your audience. no detail is too small: don’t underestimate the power of personalizing your site’s feedback or error messages — they could provide even more opportunity for branded wordplay.

copywriter = tour guide
there is no beginning or end to the web, which means users can (and will) enter a site from other than its homepage. it’s up to the copywriter (you!) to provide direction and make it clear where or what readers should do next. CTAs should be short and clear: sign up today; request more information; download now.

consistency is a must-do
if you call it a cart instead of a shopping cart, make sure it appears that way everywhere. put together a vocab list and pull from it as you write — it will keep your copy on brand and help orient the user. avoid outdated “click here to…” directions and opt for action-oriented “learn more” with a link.

the digital landscape moves quickly…the most successful copywriters will keep pace. connect with other writers and creatives at The Copy Lab’s upcoming speed-date networking event on tuesday, april 16. reserve your spot now. it’s an event not to be missed.

–meredith clinton bell

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guest post: quickly learn the lingo of brandspeak

perk up your work with a word list

perk up your work with a word list

work on any account and you’ll quickly discover that every industry has a language all its own. on top of that, you’ll notice that every brand has its own special way of saying things, too.

when you’re writing for an account for a while, both brand and industry lingo become second nature. but when first starting a project, the words and phraseology of that trade may not be so obvious. and if you’re presented with a looming deadline, you’re going to need to learn the vernacular fast.

whenever i’ve been thrown into this situation, i’ve devised a little trick to get “word savvy” and build creative momentum. before ever writing a line of copy, i create a “words & phrases list.”

quite simply, i scour both the client’s and competitor’s websites and marketing materials, and jot down 50 to 100 industry-related words, phrases, and expressions for inspiration.
for instance, i recently started writing website copy for a brand of coffee. to avoid using the word “coffee” a gazillion times, my research provided me with alternatives such as blends, brews, roasts, beans, and grinds that i could sprinkle in.

and while i’m sure the coffee is “delicious,” it would be pretty boring if i kept describing it that generically. some alternative adjectives I came across for my list included aromatic, bold, balanced, complex, decadent, delicate, exotic, flavorful, full-bodied, handcrafted, indulgent, lush, premium, rich, satisfying, smooth, and seductive.

because coffee was not top of mind prior to starting this project, would these words have popped into my head without doing this research? probably some, but not all.
another good way to find helpful terminology is to Google industry-related news stories, and to choose the “related words” options at rhymezone.com and the OneLook.com dictionary.

putting the list into practice

during my first week, when assigned to write emails promoting a $5 sampler offer, i pulled out The List. With a menu of coffee-related words at my disposal, the process of generating strategically-sound headlines became that much easier. here’s the result:

SIP, SAVOR AND SAVE.
Try these blends for just $5 each.

GET BEANS FOR BEANS.
Find new favorites for just 5 bucks.

New Perk for New Customers:
BUY & TRY FOR JUST $5.

while wordplay like this may be frowned upon by some brands, others just love it. so know your client.

beyond words, are phrases. and if you’re working on an established brand, chances are, they have an established way of saying things. as writers, we should all strive to develop original and inventive copy. however, some clients are loathe to veer too far from their approved terminology, which they prefer to use again and again to “reinforce the brand.”
so, if in your brand word audit you see the same expressions used over and over again, you may want to throw them in here and there to put a smile on the client’s face. for this particular brand of coffee, pet phrases i massaged into the copy included:

– Distinctively rich, smooth taste that’s never bitter.
– Make your life rich and flavorful every day.
– Experience a uniquely luxurious coffee indulgence at home.

once you’ve compiled your word and phrase list, you then have a database of thought starters you can refer to whenever you need inspiration.

something to keep in mind: the word list may not be the best approach for highly conceptual projects, which initially, are less about words and more about big ideas. but when faced with fast turnaround for a brand or category that’s new to you, the word list could be just the thing to quickly get your creative juices flowing.

what writing tips and tricks work for you? share them here in the Copy Lab!

by mitch lemus, copywriterMitch

over the course of his copywriting career, mitch lemus (www.mitchlemus.com) has written about everything from automobiles to airlines, fast-food to fashion, and technology to travel at some of new york’s top agencies. accounts include Wendy’s Hamburgers (The Kaplan Thaler Group), Ford (Razorfish), and Citibank (Atmosphere BBDO). mitch has also worked directly with Barnes & Noble, American Express, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Capital One. when not getting people to buy, he hopes he can get them to laugh — reading his short stories, parodies and social satires on Pen & Pixel.

CL snapshot: sophie donelson

Image

a flash interview with sophie donelson

editorial director, C. Wonder & Monika Chiang

three words that sum up your job:

deadline is today. (or, collaborative, challenging and super-fun.)

C. Wonder's first New York Times ad, 09/12

C. Wonder’s first New York Times ad, 09/12

the highlight of your career (so far!):

despite spending almost a decade as an editor and journalist for national magazines, the return policy on the C. Wonder receipt is probably my widest published and most-read “work” and therefore a highlight. but opening the C. Wonder store last fall and seeing my work simultaneously splashed across The New York Times, taxis, tv and billboards was a crazy and memorable high.

the best advice you’ve ever been given:

don’t kiss up, kiss down. (i.e. it’s your intern, not your boss that’ll give you a big break one day.)

if you weren’t a creative, you’d be:

happier. just kidding. probably a zumba instructor or a d-list cable show tv host. <– not kidding.

when i say i write a lot for c. wonder, i mean i really do write it! this is me on opening day of our soho flagship.

when i say i write a lot for C. Wonder, i mean i really do write it! this is me on opening day of our soho flagship.

copy or campaigns you admire:

i’m always delighted by the inventive copy penned by Kiosk, the soho (and online) shop. they tell funny, honest stories and never let fancy language hinder the message. it’s a remarkably effective sales technique. and Journelle. it’s hard to spin lingerie in a fresh way almost every day and they do it with elegance and verve. and i like the way Land of Nod and Boden include thoughtful messages on collateral like e-com packaging.

best two reasons to attend your Copy Lab event:

1. high probability you or your employer (and probably both) will make money off some of the ideas i’ll share. 2. you’ll probably laugh a bit. i’m prone to using inappropriate language and telling off-the-record stories. sign up now    more details

billboards: big potential for interactive creativity

if you have a fertile imagination, billboards present an irresistible challenge because they’re a flexible platform.  you can:

  • have material blow in the wind
  • grow something on them
  • utilize the rain and other elements
  • feature strategic lighting, strategic cutouts, mirrors, odd shapes, things moving, spinning, dripping, flashing, twinkling, or smoking.
  • create interactive billboards with cameras (as in Times Square)
  • waft a fragrance

as Luke Sullivan pointed out in “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This!” if you create a mediocre billboard, it’s going to be mediocre on a grand scale, so it has to be  interesting.

McDonald’s had greens growing on a billboard to advertise its fresh salad bar offerings, and created a round egg billboard that cracked open every day to advertise breakfast meals.

if you can think of a way for people to interact with your billboard, then you’re golden: they can text in a response to a question or game, or stand before a camera to be blown up onto a big screen. maybe readers could pick basil leaves off a billboard for Primavera Spaghetti Sauce, or capture bubbles spewing from a billboard for Mr. Bubbles. birth announcements posted on the Target Baby Facebook page were translated to a billboard in the los angeles Kodak Theater, then a picture was taken to pass along to the proud parents, as an example of interactivity from Wieden + Kennedy (portland).

highway billboards should be eye-catching and inspire comment or action. drivers typically have 8 seconds to read them, unless they’re stuck in traffic for hours, in which case, an interactive billboard would be perfect for whiling the hours away.

check out these incredible billboards, and let us know your favorites: 50 extraordinary and attractive billboards.

by
kim taylor

for more information on our membership and events, visit The Copy Lab.

show my portfolio and have my ideas pilfered?

this question is asked with trepidation by copywriters, and by anyone who shares creative work: scriptwriters, authors pitching books, inventors, app developers, fashion and graphic designers. it’s a question of trust, and the answer is obvious. you must share your ideas or they’ll gather dust, and someone else will think of them eventually anyway — or something very close that will arouse your suspicion.

there are precautions you can take. you can password-protect your online portfolio (you need an online portfolio) or you can send a pdf of your work, but the best defense is to forge a good working relationship with anyone who wants to view your portfolio. the idea being that the real thing (you, hired) is so much more prolific and reliable than a one-off cheap theft, even if you’re simply kept in mind for a later hire.

also, your attitude should be “help yourself — there are 50,000 more where that one came from” because if you’re a working copywriter, then you’re in the business of generating endless ideas. you’re an idea fountain, tapped into an eternal flame of creativity.

if someone does steal your idea, feel sorry for that pathetic person with such a limited imagination. it’s better to have an endless bounty than to be the empty shell of a person who grubs around for someone else’s ideas.  but keep in mind that people really do come up with eerily similar ideas – i’ve seen it happen often in classes.

i once sent a script to a friend at Paramount, and a year later a movie that was clearly my script was released with a virtually identical plot, and the same beginning and ending. flabbergasted, i researched the screenwriter and discovered that “my movie” was actually based on his own book, which was conveniently published well before i had ever written the script. so sometimes ideas are just in the air.

don’t worry about someone purloining your unique concepts, worry more about presenting them before someone else does.

have you ever had someone lift your idea? if so, what did you do about it?

by
kim taylor

for more information on our membership and events, visit The Copy Lab.

creative brief for VisitMexico.com

the client:

a coalition of 12 high-end mexican resorts, 4 of the country’s best restaurants, and the Aeromexico airline is financing a campaign to reassure luxury travelers that Mexico is a safe, often opulent, and uniquely fulfilling cultural destination and experience. they’ve created a website to that effect –www.VisitMexico.com

the client’s target:

upscale travelers (people who appreciate spas, fine dining, historical sites, art and culture)

the creative challenge via alternative advertising:

find a unique way to appeal to the client’s targets

benefits:

  • Mexico is sunny, warm, welcoming – lots of natural beauty and ruins
  • the cuisine is fresh, distinctive, delicious – both local and global influence
  • architecture, art, music, theater, film, dance and other cultural offerings are unique and sophisticated; world class restaurants, spas and resorts

alt advertising challenges to resonate with client’s targets and draw people to VisitMexico.com.

choose any that appeal:

  1. create a coffee sleeve for VisitMexico.com: what would it say?
  2. if you were going to create a scavenger hunt for Visit Mexico, where would participants go, what would they do, and what would they find?
  3. if you set up a Visit Mexico bus in times square, what would you put inside of it that had an interactive element?
  4. Visit Mexico wants to do something in the lobby of the MoMA to attract upscale travelers, and wants to partner with another brand or brands.  what can be done in that space, and which co-brand(s) would be a perfect fit?
  5. brainstorm a visit mexico cab top in any weird shape imaginable with copy and image.
  6. imagine a bus stop shelter presentation for Visit Mexico, which can incorporate scents, mirrors, odd shapes and architecture (example: for Visit China it could be a pagoda shape).
  7. what kind of fill-in-the-blank print ad can you imagine for Visit Mexico? (example: a Crunch gym print ad could let the reader draw in his or her ideal arms, abs and legs in Fitness magazine).
  8. what kind of Visit Mexico app or phone-based game can you imagine that would resonate with the targets?
  9. just as Honest Tea set up a street “experiment” to see which U.S. city had the most honest residents — by leaving bottles of tea out to grab and expecting payment on the honor system (with a nearby hidden camera) – what kind of experiment could Visit Mexico conduct?

by
kim taylor

talking shop with jenna livingston

we’re very excited for our october workshop led by R/GA’s stellar senior copywriter and Webby honoree jenna livingston. as she prepares to share her knowledge about the world of alternative advertising this wednesday, here’s a little background on the woman behind the words:

CLwhat do you love most about working in advertising as a copywriter?

JL: i love going on production and seeing many months of hard work come to life. casting is really fun too. i like making things from start to finish. it’s like giving birth. I think.

CL: if you weren’t a copywriter, what’s your career plan b?

JL: i’d do something with kids. their imaginations are limitless and you have to be creative with them. you always have to be thinking of different ways to make them laugh and keep them entertained.

CL: where do you get inspiration for your more unconventional campaign ideas?

JL: i look for holes in culture and try to fix problems that have yet to be solved. like with Starbucks Spelling, for example. it’s a user-generated Tumblr i created that collects horribly misspelled names on Starbucks cups. before that people were just uploading photos of their misspelled cup. i created a central place where everyone can share their cup, and laugh at other misspellings.

CL: what are some of your favorite websites? who are you following these days?

JL: i like sites where i can learn something. Business Insider, Huffington Post, and Fast Company are all good. The New York Times is great when i have some quiet time. but usually, i get my news from Twitter. i enjoy following comedians and other writers and people with a good sense of humor.

CL: do you have a favorite app?

JL: swackett is currently my favorite app. it’s an unusual, unexpected way to get the weather. and it tells you what you should wear for the day. saves me 20 minutes. i also like Dark Sky. it tells you exactly when it’s going to rain and when it will stop.

CL: what’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

JL: only put in your book what you love.

by
kendria smith

for more info and to sign up for jenna’s alternative advertising workshop, visit The Copy Lab.