ContactPortfolioIllustrationsSTORIESWorkINSTAGRAMBlogsLinks

A Copywriter Writes

A Tumblr Blog
DAN WATSON

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.

Recent comments

Twitter Feed

  • July 16, 2013 10:00 am

    Five things people wish they did to get work

    I was the ghost-writer for SevenTwenty Career Partners and wrote this article giving Australian university students tips on finding work after they graduate. 

  • September 23, 2012 9:35 am

    My Favourite Ten: The Gospel According To Dan or, Twenty-Two Tips For Interns

    image

    A reblogging of my top ten posts since I started.



    NINE: POST #46 (25 May, 2011)

    Over time, younger ad kids coming out of university have talked to me about getting an internship. Some have asked for tips and other times I’m thrown my two cents at them like a passerby to a man in the street juggling hackie sacks.

    Either which way, during my time studying and working I’ve picked up a few tips and walkthroughs that I think can be very helpful to the clueless intern, the timid junior or even the unsure fish-out-of-water worker.

    Read More

  • April 17, 2012 6:00 pm

    My last project with Lucideas.

    In order to show the intricacies of the creative communication industry to young people in Malaysia, we created The Adprentice, a reality TV show where high school leavers take a crash course in advertising and pitch real ideas to real clients along the way. Their final challenge to to go head to head against a professional advertising agency (Lucideas) to win a full scholarship to IACT College and RM20,000.

    This was my favourite project by far.

  • 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.

    However,

    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…


  • August 23, 2011 3:01 pm

    Out of all the villains in all of the stories ever, my favourite is Harvey ‘Two-Face’ Dent, former District Attorney of Gotham City.

    I’m not sure what it is. The fact he was two minds about everything and tortured victims by letting his coin decide their fate made him unpredictable and cool. I had a definite interest in his menacing half, twisted into a constant snarl.

    Joel Schumacher entertained me as a kid with his rendition of Two-Face played by Tommy Lee Jones, which played up his dual personality character trait.

    But Christopher Nolan blew it out of the water for me. The story arc of Harvey Dent’s other half being burnt away and how that turned out was candy for my eyes. After seeing that, Tommy Lee prancing around in a half black, half hot pink leopard print tux is just… camp.

    So this is a tribute to that character, his unfortunate but incredibly awesome facial affliction and his deep, disturbing psychological damage that ultimately is the make up of his charisma.

  • August 17, 2011 2:11 pm

    "Believe in your fucking self.
    Stay up all fucking night.
    Work outside your fucking habits.
    Know when to fucking speak up.
    Fucking collaborate.
    Don’t fucking procrastinate.
    Get over your fucking self.
    Keep fucking learning.
    Form follows fucking function.
    A computer is a Lite-Brite for bad ideas.
    Find fucking inspiration everywhere.
    Fucking network.
    Educate your fucking client.
    Trust your fucking gut.
    Ask for fucking help.
    Make it fucking sustainable.
    Question fucking everything.
    Have a fucking concept.
    Learn to take some fucking criticism.
    Make me fucking care.
    Use fucking spell check.
    Do your fucking research.
    Sketch more fucking ideas.
    The problem contains the fucking solution.
    Think about all the fucking possibilities."

    - Brian Buirge and Jason Bacher, creators of Good Fucking Design Advice

    Two things I love about this:

    1) It’s laid out, in black and white, clear as anything, simple and straight to the point, all you need to know to do well in your creative career (not just for designers).

    2) I love the word ‘fuck’. A lot.

  • August 10, 2011 3:00 pm

    Lately, I’ve been keeping away from the sketchbook.

    This isn’t a poncey, artsy choice I’ve made, I just haven’t had time to sit down with it. So I’ve been drawing on what ever has been around.

    Grease-stained roti paper.

    I would recommend this. Grabbing a random piece of trash and drawing something on it. Not doodle or sketch, but finish and inked or whatever.

    Maybe it’s got something to do with the tyranny of the blank page; you see the perfect white page in your sketchbook and you have the pressure to draw something cool on it. But when it’s a piece of otherwise garbage, you relax. And when you relax, you produce something you like. Maybe that’s it.

    I dunno. I just like the look of it.

  • July 21, 2011 2:25 pm

    The Jack Daniel’s Virtual World Tour.

    I was one of the copywriters for this project when I was back in New Zealand last year. Easily the most fun I’ve had while in advertising to date. Working hard and laughing hard.

    JWT Auckland is a great agency to be a part of. A few of them have very cool Tumblr accounts:

    Pete Ogden, Executive Creative Director

    Sam Schrey, Interactive Art Director

    Mike Tran, Interactive Art Director

    Steven Halliday, Account Manager


  • May 26, 2011 5:09 am

    The Gospel According To Dan or, Twenty-Two Tips For Interns

    Over time, younger ad kids coming out of university have talked to me about getting an internship. Some have asked for tips and other times I’m thrown my two cents at them like a passerby to a man in the street juggling hackie sacks.

    Either which way, during my time studying and working I’ve picked up a few tips and walkthroughs that I think can be very helpful to the clueless intern, the timid junior or even the unsure fish-out-of-water worker.

    ONE

    As soon as you’re settled, find the appropriate person and ask for a list of the agency’s clients. As an intern, there’s a chance you won’t see a lot of work for a first couple of days as you’re introduced to the agency and its culture. In the meantime, pick a client from the list when you have nothing to do and come up with some ads for them with your own SMP. This shows that you have initiative and you add value to the agency. Paul White told this to me toward the end of 2009, and I’ve lived by it ever since.

    TWO

    Any proactive work you do during the week, compile together and show the Creative Director at the end of the week. You’ll look amazing if you can make this a regular thing. This shows the CD directly that you’re always thinking and don’t waste time. If any of it is good, you’ve got some work to go in the portfolio (GOOD), or gets run (AWESOME) or may even be award winning (CRAZY AWESOME).

    THREE

    Before doing proactive work for the agency’s clients, do a quick round of the creative department and introduce yourself (if you haven’t already) and ask if you can get in and help on anything anyone else is doing. An agency appreciates a hungry intern. It gets you more relaxed and familiar with the other creatives too and you become more approachable to one another.

    FOUR

    Be talkative, smile and be approachable. Make sure people know you’re there. A small agency I once worked for took in a couple of interns who kept to themselves most of the time. After a month, the CD still didn’t know their names. In an agency with only 6 people in creative department, that’s awkward.

    FIVE

    As an intern, NEVER (without permission) drink the last beer/wine/spirit from the bar (if you’re lucky enough to get into an agency that has one). Psychologically, people tend to dislike whoever takes the last of something. Also, it can be perceived as a bit of a smart-ass thing to do. I found this out the hard way. I once drank the last of the whiskey at one agency and this news was quickly spread and was received with mild distaste. The senior copywriter even went as far as to make it a new rule and wrote an amendment to the agency induction document.

    SIX

    Unless work is beating down on you like a drummer in an African tribe, always take up the invitation to join people from the agency for lunch or after-work drinks. Get to know everyone outside of the office. Who knows? You may make some industry friends and (if you’re a swell person) some solid contacts for later in your career.

    SEVEN

    Get comfortable, but not too comfortable. It’s great if you’re one of those people who can easily adapt to a new environment, but careful not to rub others the wrong way with it. There’s a fine line between a cool intern who’s settling in nicely and cocky shit new kid on the block. One time, I was playing pool with the agency Managing Director and we were giving each other banter, as you do. He made a stab at me being fired if I won the game and I, in jest, made a remark along the lines of

    "Please, you need me." 

    To which he replied after a pause:

    "Sorry, who are you?"

    This was also a joke, but with serious undertones. Got me thinking. Always pack yourself a slice of humble pie for lunch.

    EIGHT

    When invited to sit in on meetings, contribute. ‘Sit in’ generally means sit there, listen and learn about what’s going on and you’re not really expected to speak up. Show your enthusiasm by diving into the work and getting involved.

    NINE

    Know that you’ll be working long hours. Expect it. Be pleasantly surprised if they let you go home at 6pm. It helps to inform your family, friends, boyfriend/girlfriend.

    TEN

    A rule of thumb with most workplaces if you’re interning is to be there before your boss and leave only after he/she does. Special circumstances aside.

    ELEVEN

    If it’s 6pm and there’s nothing for you to do, stay. I mean, this job is mostly about long hours, you may as well start practising. Pull out that client list.

    TWELVE

    Know that agency life will be exciting and magical for a first weeks, maybe, if you’re awesome, it’ll last a month for so. But sooner or later, the cherries, rainbows and fairy bread will dissolve and it’ll be crunch time and there’ll be tension and a sea of shit to swim through. But there’s always land ahead.

    THIRTEEN

    Always check and confirm all meetings, no matter how minute, with your CD. For one, it’ll show that you’re on top of things and you’re proactive about your work. Also, a CD’s schedule is dramatically hectic and dynamic. Don’t be surprised if the number of times a meeting is postponed gets into the double digits.

    FOURTEEN

    You’re never too busy. Having said this, be sensible. Take on all work opportunities that come your way, but there’s a point where you go from juggling multiple briefs to being ridiculous. Plus, as an intern (and in some cases a junior), you’re hardly in any position to turn people away.

    FIFTEEN

    The receptionist is the gatekeeper of all things in the agency. She orders the new stationary, she keeps the taxi coupons in her top drawer and she picks the beer brand and biscuits to stock the fridge and fill the jar with. She loves gossip, talking about her (and your) day and dogs or cats or horses or possibly all three. And she loves doing favours for people who are nice to her. Most importantly, she is not, by any measurement, below you in any way. Give her the respect she deserves.

    SIXTEEN

    Some of the more stressed workers in the agency (usually the creatives) would argue that it is not in fact a good morning or something that even resembles a pleasant evening. But wish them one anyway.

    SEVENTEEN

    If you’re going to complain about trivial tasks you are asked to do as part of being an intern, don’t trust this to someone within the agency. It’s never a good look, no matter how much they empathise with you. Always be modest in this respect. And never, NEVER describe a task as “tedious” when someone has the gentle kindness to inquire how you’re doing.

    EIGHTEEN

    The pay will be shit. Deal with it. In my opinion, this is a test of your passion (and budgeting skills). If you can’t survive on the paycheck you’re getting, get a part-time weekend job.

    NINETEEN

    Sooner or later, you’ll hit the metaphorical fork in the road where you decide whether or not to get involved in the office politics. Try to avoid for as long as possible. If you do, remain as impartial as possible.

    TWENTY

    Office gossip: collect as much as you want, just don’t be the source of it. It’s fun, I’ll admit, but not worth the crappy consequences. You’ll be surprised at who’s loyal to who and who’s connected to who.

    TWENTY-ONE

    Attitude is everything. A smile when people enter your office is loved. A groan or a sigh when brochure/mailer work is given to you is not.

    TWENTY-TWO

    Careful about the bosses you try to impress. You’ll have two. The Creative Director and the Managing Director. In a large agency, you’re probably not going to have much to do with the MD but in a small agency, you’re likely to run into him/her now and again. These two people will have different work ethics. Example: one CD once told my Art Director and I that he didn’t care when we came into the office, as long as the work got done. This led to a couple of times where we sauntered into the office around 11am. The CD didn’t care, but the MD raises an eyebrow to this stuff. Bottom line: who actually does the hiring?

    TWENTY-THREE

    Always give them more than they asked for. If they want 20 concepts by Friday, go for 40. I once heard about a intern creative team who went into a major car brand creative meeting with one idea. Try not to impale yourself on that end of the spectrum. 

  • April 19, 2011 1:41 am

    Judge An Ad School By Its Ads or, Getting Schooled Again


    Is that an eagle wearing a trencher? Christ…

    My agency, Lucideas recently did some work for a new client, a local advertising school which had some God-awful stuff trying to cram 27 messages into one print ad.

    My Creative Director, Zac Labang said that this was one of those blatant opportunities to do something cool and award-winning. I suppose you can’t ask for much better when the client themselves ask for something award-winning, not to mention the client is an AD SCHOOL; one of the best kinds of clients.

    I instantly lit up. I felt like I was back at university, getting briefed and, like all university ad briefs, there were no rules; no brand guidelines, no sponsor’s message, no Facebook pages or Twitter accounts.

    Just a simple idea to go on a page in the newspaper.

    Rather relaxing, compared to what is usually asked of an ad campaign these days.

    And like university, I found myself being schooled once again in things that you really ought to remember when creating advertising.

    Having said that, we’re always re-learning stuff. Droga5 Creative Director, Guy Roberts once said to me before giving me advice,

    "Here’s something I was taught when I was 17, and again when I was 19, and again at 21, and when I was 25…"

    What I re-learnt this time:

    SMASH THE CATEGORY.

    Zac reiterated what Paul White first taught this to me a couple of years ago. It’s the ‘zig when everyone else zags’ principle; it’s part of what Paul Arden meant when he wrote ‘Whatever you think, think the opposite’. Simply look at the competition and go in a different direction to what they do.

    Looking through the newspaper at all the colleges’ ads ‘persuading’ students to come to their open days, the first point was to do an ad that was simple and uncluttered. The sea of stock photography of smiling students said to us that an actual idea in our ad would make it stand out.

    This was too easy. The above ‘zagging’ is what you should be doing anyway. The fact that schools boasting effective communication courses were not doing their ads like this to begin with is embarrassing.

    SHOW, DON’T TELL.

    Again something you learn right off the bat in any ad school worth its salt. In this case, we saw one ad in particular that sang out amongst the bullet points, text boxes, sponsor logos and the other three headlines (no joke) that they ‘develop you to be an industry-ready communicator’. How? By showing exactly what not to do? Talk about irony.

    Don’t state the claim, simply prove it in the way you do an ad ESPECIALLY if you’re an ad school. I mean, shit, practice what you preach.

    Helps cut back on the body copy too.

    Speaking of which…

    TELL THEM WHAT THEY WANT TO HEAR.

    In your communication, there could be a slight chance that the reason you think you’re hot shit means nothing to the consumer.

    A student looking for a good college isn’t trying to compare their ability to equip them with global skills in a borderless world nor is interested in the fact that the university has leading research intensive facilities.

    Research does come in handy when figuring out what your audience what’s to hear. If you know what they want, then talking to them will be just like drinking through a straw without tipping the bottle up: simple enough, but if you still have trouble, then you’re kind of retarded.

    Finally…

    KEEP REFERRING TO THE BRIEF.

    You can make kick ass ads, but if they don’t say what needs to be said, the they’re about as useful as a mesh condom.

    When coming up with the initial concepts, I read the brief once and went to work. Each half decent thought was quickly drawn up and stuck to the wall, by the time it was time to meet, I went in with about 20-odd ideas.

    More than anyone else who came to the meeting.

    All of them off brief (by a smidge).

    Yep, felt like I was back at university. 

  • April 15, 2011 8:40 pm
    The Copywriter’s getting into design now… Jeez, I suppose I better write something next week.
Just a poster concept I was mucking around with the other day. I want to print it on poster paper and hang in my office. I like it’s simplicity. It’s probably been done before, but I don’t know. What do you think? View high resolution

    The Copywriter’s getting into design now… Jeez, I suppose I better write something next week.

    Just a poster concept I was mucking around with the other day. I want to print it on poster paper and hang in my office. I like it’s simplicity. It’s probably been done before, but I don’t know. What do you think?

  • April 6, 2011 8:03 pm

    Agency Relationships: An Analogy

    Agency relationships are like growing up with brothers and sisters:

    You fight over your toys, you argue and scream at one another and you make each other cry. Then you all go outside together and play.

  • April 5, 2011 6:42 pm

    The Copywriter Does ALL The Writing?

    Account Exec: We need some copy to go in the place where they agree to the Terms and Conditions before submitting.

    Copywriter: What do you want it to say?

    Account Exec: Like, ‘I agree to the Terms and Conditions.’

    Copywriter: There you go.

    Account Exec: What?

    Copywriter: That’s the copy. Right there.

    Account Exec: ‘I agree to the-‘

    Copywriter: Yes, yes. What you said.

    Account Exec: Ok, cool.

    Copywriter: Do you need me to write it down and email it to you?

    Account Exec: No, I should be fine.

    Copywriter: Great.

    Account Exec: Sweet. Good work.

    Copywriter: Sure.

  • March 25, 2011 10:25 pm
    I finally managed to colour this in between work. Hope you like. View high resolution

    I finally managed to colour this in between work. Hope you like.

  • March 22, 2011 3:06 am
    Not much work on this afternoon, So I whipped this up.I’ve gotta start taking internet Photoshop tutorials to learn to colour well.  View high resolution

    Not much work on this afternoon, So I whipped this up.

    I’ve gotta start taking internet Photoshop tutorials to learn to colour well.