A Copywriter Writes

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Kiwi copywriter.

Illustrator on the side.

This blog is filled with stuff that simply comes to mind that's too long to tweet.

It's mostly my observations as I try to make it in the advertising industry. It keeps me writing and, hopefully, gets you reading.

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  • September 30, 2011 2:36 pm

    That Damned Client or, Stepping Up Your Game

    It seems that there is a new reason to quit the advertising industry each week.

    It could be you’re fed up that at the end of the week, there were more days than hours sleep you got.

    It might be that nagging Account Executive has brought the deadline forward for the last time.

    Maybe it’s the fact that if you’re not talking about advertising when with your friends, you’re not talking.

    A lot of the time, as far as I’ve noticed, it’s the clients.

    They can be real bastards sometimes.

    Between demanding the work be done yesterday, cutting the budget and wanting the logo to be large enough so that the magazine ad will be noticed by the guy walking his dog 500 meters down the street, dealing with clients can be taxing.

    A lot of the time, these people don’t seem to be in tune with what people like and respond to, or what will make their brand stand out from the thousands of others they battle for attention each day.

    They cower at any idea that is remotely controversial, or unique and insist we tailor their communications they way everyone else is doing it or how they’ve always done it since the business started in 1946.

    They are the reason we don’t get to do cool work.

    If you agree, you just activated my trap card.*

    "Cool work gets done because of cool clients."

    This is a common mistake that most junior creatives tend to make. I shake my head in disappointment to think I strongly believed this once.

    Yes, I suppose there are exceptions where there is a friendly and trusting relationship, like Leo Burnett Malaysia shared with Petronas.

    But I have a theory.

    Every single client in the whole world is shit to deal with.

    Yes, even the one you just thought about with really cool advertising; yes, the Skittles, the Old Spices and the Coca Colas of this world are all crap and wouldn’t know an really creative and awesome idea if it crawled in their ears and introduced themselves.

    There’s no getting away from it. Those marketing people were simply not taught to think like those at an advertising agency does. They think about making money and selling product. That’s why ideas get whittled down.


    The agencies they work with bust themselves to give them work that is so phenomenal, that even when it’s whittled down to something a little less that the client can deal with, it’s still diamond-studded gold.

    I like to think that Wieden+Kennedy pitched something far more fantastically creative to Old Spice than 'Old Spice Guy: The Man Your Man Could Smell Like', but when the client had a go at it, rejected some of the more outrageous ideas and changed a few things, they were still left with a piece of creative treasure.

    That’s what happens when the only thing the client has to choose from, is quality or more quality.

    My theory may not be right, and Old Spice might be on the same page as W+K and a dream to work with, but that’s the picture I prefer to paint.

    I’ve been in numerous presentation situations where the strategy was to present a really good idea and a safe idea to under sell and make the good idea look better. Then everyone gets pissed off when the client chooses the safe idea.

    That’s easy to solve. Don’t give them a choice between a good idea and a bad idea.

    Clients don’t think like you. More times that not, they’ll choose the idea you think is bad.

    To further illustrate:

    Last year my art director, Kishan and I were working at JWT Auckland. We were doing a small job for Nestle as part of a campaign for Milky Bar to search for the next Milky Bar Kid.

    Our task was simple: do up some concepts for an internet banner ad to inform people that the top 10 kids who auditioned were chosen and it was time to vote for the winner.

    We did a whole bunch, naturally, and two were put forward. One was a bland concept with straight copy using the stock campaign imagery. The other was a neat little animation about a classic western ‘baddie’ dressed in black coming out of the saloon, looking around and then jumping into a nearby barrel and the line comes up:

    The Milky Bar Kid is gonna be back in town.

    and then,

    Choose who it’s going to be here.

    Or something to that effect. 

    Also, there was little budget for this so, the illustrations I did would have to be used. The concept was funny, it was likable, and it meant that something I drew could get on the internet.

    I was excited. The Account Director happily took it to sell.

    She came back and said the client bought the safe, bland one.

    A good client can recognise a cool idea.

    A better suit can sell a cool idea to a hesitant client.

    The best creative can work around a client that still says no.

    *Yu-Gi-Oh reference. Anyone? No? Ok…

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