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A Copywriter Writes

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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.

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  • June 15, 2012 11:54 am

    Infuriating Meeting or, Knowing What’s Important

    Last year, Lucideas was asked to pitch for a new iced coffee brand that was coming into Malaysia. We were to provide new package design concepts for the coffee product and its other flavours.

    This was an incredibly exciting project. We wanted to do something completely different and look at where all other iced coffee brands were zigging, so we could zag.

    Because of strenuous timing, we requested an extension, which was fine with the client. We would be presenting to them a few days after the other agencies did.

    The designers spent hours, days, weekends researching, creating and applying designs and I spent an entire afternoon hunched over a brainstorm for possible flavour names.

    Finally, we came together with some concepts we were truly proud of and excited to show off. Just to add something extra (seeing as we had extra time) we had actual models of the cans made up.

    The client phoned and confirmed the meeting.

    Naturally, we were in a rush. Last minute alterations and such had us sprinting to the car while simultaneously buttoning shirts and fumbling with boxes and laptops.

    The traffic jam didn’t help anything.

    To pass the time and ease the stress, one of the designers, Nick, suggested we play Monopoly on his iPad.

    What turned into a passive/aggressively competitive game ensued. Nick seemed to be getting all the luck in his dice rolls. Maybe my mind was still on the upcoming presentation.

    The game had to be paused when we arrived at the client’s office, much to Nick’s annoyance.

    We got in, shook hands, talked about the traffic, the weather, the weekend, the client’s friend’s mother’s dog’s bronchitis and got on with the presentation.

    We walked them through the designs, the ideas behind them, our rationales, our defense for whether people would still associate these designs with iced coffee. We even discussed compromises to set the client at ease.

    The client talked bout what ones they liked, the ones they didn’t like, asked about the addition of extra logos, or alternative designs. Then they picked their favourite and said they would most likely go with that.

    But then, after a short lull, they announced they made the decision to go with the other agency’s design three days ago.

    Silence. People sat up. Eyebrows elevated. Mouths opened.

    "What?" Managed our Business Director.

    "Sorry." Said the client.

    "Why didn’t you tell us three days ago?"

    "Sorry."

    "We put a lot of time into this."

    "We’re very sorry."

    My feelings of infuriation were more of empathy toward the designers, who had put in ten times more into this project than I had.

    The other designer, Edwin, was sitting in his chair, staring at the table. The personification of dejection.

    Nick was typing something rapidly into his phone. Texting the office, no doubt.

    A very civil and polite argument laced with the rage of a thousand hells followed. I had zoned out by this point. Nick prodded me in the side and handed me his phone:

    I can’t wait to kick your ass in Monopoly later.

    At the time, I was dumbfounded by Nick’s lack of concern for the events that had unfolded in that board room.

    Now, I can’t stop laughing.

    Nick had it right. Sure, he’d sacrificed almost a whole weekend to perfect a design that ultimately led to nothing, but he could still let it go in a matter of seconds.

    In an industry as hectic and stressful as advertising, where mini tragedies such as this occur on a daily basis, you have to be able to let these things go and move on.

    I’m probably not so skillful at that as Nick; if I hadn’t decided to start shaving my head in 2010, the job would have probably made that decision for me by now.

    I’m reminded of what my lecturer at university, Dave Brown, told me this in one of his first classes:

    "Advertising is the art of accepting rejection."

    Too right.



    *That’s a shocking representation of Nick in the illustration, by the way. He’d probably want that on the record.

  • November 29, 2011 5:03 pm

    This Is What I Love or, The Kind Of Copy I Strive To Write

    One particularly sad fact about advertising is you don’t come across great long copy ads very often anymore.

    Sure, you see some astounding campaigns that gracefully utilise a plethora of relevant media and capture the imagination of consumers and invoke an unhealthy jealousy within industry professionals.

    But what I love is the reserved delight of finishing a long copy ad because the writer succeeded in keeping my eyes snagged to their words from the rhetorical question to the concluding thought.

    This writer did that for me and if I can write something as creatively conversational as this during my career, I will taste sweet life satisfaction.



    11HP/29” Snowblower
    Price $900.00
    Address Moncton, NB, Canada

    Do you like shoveling snow? Then stop reading this and go back to your pushups and granola because you are not someone that I want to talk to.

    Let’s face it, we live in a place that attracts snow like Magnetic Hill attracts cars, only that ain’t an illusion out there. That’s 12 inches of snow piling up and, oh, what’s that sound? Why it’s the snow plow and it’s here to let you know that it hates you and all the time you spent to shovel your driveway. Did you want to get out of your house today? Were you expecting to get to work on time? Or even this week?

    You gave it your best shot. You tried to shovel by yourself and I respect you for that. I did it, my parents did it, some of my best friends did it. But deep down inside, we all wanted to murder that neighbor with the snowblower who was finished and on his second beer while you were still trying to throw snow over a snowbank taller than you are.

    So, here we are. You could murder your neighbour, which could ensure that you won’t need to shovel a driveway for 25 to life, but there are downsides to that too. What to do?

    Here’s the deal. I have a snow blower and I want you to own it. I can tell you’re serious about this. It’s like I can almost see you: sitting there, your legs are probably crossed and your left hand is on your chin. Am I right? How’d I do that? The same way that I know that YOU ARE GOING TO BUY THIS SNOWBLOWER.

    I want you to experience the rush that comes with smashing through a snowdrift and blowing that mother trucker out of the way. The elation of seeing the snow plow come back down your street and watching the look of despair as your OTHER neighbour gets his shovel out once more while you kick back with a hot cup of joe (you don’t have a drinking problem like that other guy).

    Here’s what you do. You go to the bank. You collect $900. You get your buddy with a truck and you drive over here. You give me some cold hard cash and I give you a machine that will mess up a snowbank sumthin’ fierce. I’ve even got the manual for it, on account of I bought it brand new and I don’t throw that kind of thing away. Don’t want to pay me $900? Convince me. Send me an offer and I’ll either laugh at you and you’ll never hear back from me or I’ll counter.

    You want a snow blower. You need a snow blower.

    This isn’t some entry level snow blower that is just gonna move the snow two feet away. This is an 11 HP Briggs and Stratton machine of snow doom that will cut a 29 inch path of pure ecstasy. And it’s only 4 years old. I dare you to find a harder working 4 year old. My niece is five and she gets tired and cranky after just a few minutes of shoveling. This guy just goes and goes and goes.

    You know what else? I greased it every year to help keep the water off it and the body in as good as shape as possible. It’s greasier than me when I was 13, and that’s saying something.

    You know how many speeds it has? Six forward and two in reverse. It goes from “leisurely” slow up to “light speed”. Seriously, I’ve never gone further than five because it terrifies me. I kid you not, you could probably commute to work with it dragging you.

    You know what else is crappy about clearing snow in the morning? That you have to do it in the dark. Well, not anymore! It has a halogen headlight that will light your way like some kind of moveable lighthouse (only better, because lighthouses won’t clear your driveway).

    Oh, and since it’s the 21st century, this snow blower comes with an electric starter. Just plug that sucker in, push the button, and get ready to punch snow in the throat. If you want to experience what life was like in olden days, it comes with a back-up cord you could pull to start it, but forget that. The reason you’re getting this fearsome warrior was for the convenience, so why make it harder on yourself?

    By this point, you’re probably wondering why I would sell my snowblower since the first snowpocalypse is upon us today. I’ll tell you why: because I heard it was time for you to man up and harness some mighty teeth and claws and chew your way to freedom, that’s why.

    This is my snow blower. Make it your snow blower.


  • July 22, 2011 7:00 pm

    The Writing Rules or, The Only Commandments I Recite Each Day

    The job I hold currently at Lucideas, I took from someone else.

    I say take, I mean offered. My copywriter friend, Alan, was working here before me and decided to move on. So he called me up in NZ and asked if I wanted to take over his job and three months later, I arrived in Kuala Lumpur.

    I was clearing Alan’s desk and making it my own when I came across a little gem Blu-Tacked to the wall at the desk’s corner.

    It was a simple piece of A4 computer paper. And on it, was a list. Scrawled quickly and without ceremony in what looked to be an black inked Artline with a 0.6 tip. There was no title, just eleven points.

    Any other writer would also not need a title.

    Its instructions were quite clear:

    1) Have something to say.

    Otherwise, why are you writing? If there’s no purpose, then it will show and people will stop writing.

    2) Be specific.

    You’ve worked too hard to have some Joe read your piece and not be able to recall exactly what you were talking about. Be sure to mention exactly what you’re trying to say.

    3) Choose simple words.

    With most people, simple words are what we all know and love. The message gets across clearer. It’s nice to fiddle with English and explore its nuances, but if you come out looking like a douche, then there’s no point.

    4) Write short sentences.

    Short sentences are easy to read. They’re more punchy too. Biff.

    5) Use the active voice (SVO).

    Sentences sound better with an subject-verb-object (SVO) structure. It’s more active and quicker to say and read.

    'Joshua plucked out his grandmother's teeth' rather than ‘Joshua’s grandmother’s teeth were plucked out by him.’

    6) Keep paragraphs short.

    Keep to the point. Short paragraphs can get a reasonably long piece of writing read rather quickly. Long paragraphs look intimidating; the look of your writing will scare people before they read it.

    7) Eliminate fluff words.

    These are words that we tend to add to our copy that don’t actually need to be there.

    Quick examples:

    "He said that his father helped do his homework." Take out ‘that’.

    "We need to utilize his skills." ‘Utilize’ doesn’t do what ‘use’ can’t. 

    Some more examples in this article.

    8) Don’t ramble.

    Especially in ad copy. You’ve got 2 seconds to grab someone’s attention and 4 seconds to keep it.

    Your girlfriend’s father give you 15 seconds to convince him why he should let you take his daughter out. Do you stick to the relevant points, or prattle on about how you’re making a portrait of her using all the photos she’s tagged in on Facebook?

    9) Don’t be redundant or repeat yourself.

    Repetition is a language device, true. But most of the time it’s not used consciously. It’s annoying enough when people say the same thing over and over. It’s no different in writing. Sometimes, it can be used in a clever way in your writing, but most people don’t use it like that. Don’t you hate it when people repeat themselves all the time to you? You turn off, don’t you? Same goes for writing.

    10) Don’t over write.

    A lot of writers tend to have a thunderous need that comes from deep within their creative soul to express their thoughts with such great and wondrous illustration and elaboration, that it completely loses the reader in a jumble of articulation and eloquence. We would be wise as the oldest sage to be mindful of such a atrocious risk.

    11) Edit ruthlessly.

    Wow, that’s a really well-written sentence. Good use of adverbs. I see that it doesn’t really do anything for your message, though. You’ve grown attached to it? Aw. Get over it. It happens.

    If I have to condense them, the rules simply state when writing copy, keep it short and to the point, but not without your own bit of zazz. 

    Maybe Alan wrote this list, maybe it was up on the wall all along. Nevertheless, these commandments were delivered to me (much less dramatically than certain dudes that live in the clouds) and I plan to uphold them the best I can, like any good copywriter should.

  • April 12, 2011 12:32 am
    helloyoucreatives:

Breasts are born to grow together. Part of the Pink Ribbon series.

I never know what to think when I see a breast cancer ad with a topless woman as the visual.
Sure, it’s the subject matter and it’s one of the only times a topless woman is appropriate, but I can’t help but think that it’s an ‘easy’ way to get attention because it’s essentially a topless woman.
Also, I realise that my point of view is very male. I saw this ad, I thought ‘nice tits’.
Having said this, females (or just more mature people in general) may see this and see the beauty of two breasts, symmetrical, paired, together and healthy.
Putting the copy over the visual ensures that the copy gets read. Good move. Otherwise the ad begins to liken itself to most centrefolds in men’s magazines.
As for the copy itself, I love it. The treatment is very readable (it could be the illustrative typography that I love, but it works). The idea that breasts deserve to grow old together is nice and struck a small chord in me.
Maybe others will see it and will buy Pink Ribbon Magazine to support this very idea.
Or maybe, guys will buy the magazine secretly hoping it’s full of more topless women.
Either way, magazines get sold and money goes toward breast cancer, I guess.  View high resolution

    helloyoucreatives:

    Breasts are born to grow together. Part of the Pink Ribbon series.

    I never know what to think when I see a breast cancer ad with a topless woman as the visual.

    Sure, it’s the subject matter and it’s one of the only times a topless woman is appropriate, but I can’t help but think that it’s an ‘easy’ way to get attention because it’s essentially a topless woman.

    Also, I realise that my point of view is very male. I saw this ad, I thought ‘nice tits’.

    Having said this, females (or just more mature people in general) may see this and see the beauty of two breasts, symmetrical, paired, together and healthy.

    Putting the copy over the visual ensures that the copy gets read. Good move. Otherwise the ad begins to liken itself to most centrefolds in men’s magazines.

    As for the copy itself, I love it. The treatment is very readable (it could be the illustrative typography that I love, but it works). The idea that breasts deserve to grow old together is nice and struck a small chord in me.

    Maybe others will see it and will buy Pink Ribbon Magazine to support this very idea.

    Or maybe, guys will buy the magazine secretly hoping it’s full of more topless women.

    Either way, magazines get sold and money goes toward breast cancer, I guess. 

  • 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.

  • January 19, 2011 11:24 am

    Nothing Like A Short Story or, I’m Kind Of A Hypocrite.

    Ok, I know I posted an article recently about how the best way to communicate is the old fashioned way of the bard; storytelling in person. Although it is infinitely entertaining and much more interactive, something more concise can be just as interesting.

    I’ve heard this following quote come from so many writers, I have no idea who actually said it. I was told Mark Twain once wrote to a friend:

    "I’m sorry for writing such a long letter for I did not have time to write a short one."

    I suppose I should Google that, but who said it doesn’t matter at all. It means that it’s a lot more challenging to write something in fewer words. Give a (bad) writer all the freedom he wants, and he becomes verbose as hell.

    To be able to sum up complicated ideas and thoughts into a mere sentence or even a handful of words is damned skillful.

    And graceful.

    Not to mention admirable.

    And actually kinda sexy.

    Which is why I squealed to myself in geekish pleasure when I came across this wonderful website: Espresso Stories.

    Like the name implies, this site contains thousands of stories that are 25 words or less (the time it takes to read them and drink an espresso are roughly the same). All submitted by writers* from around the world.

    It’s phenomenal what people can tell in just a few words.

    Other times, it can be frustrating as hell:

    "Hi there! How was your trip backpacking through Europe?"

    "Yeah, it was good."

    Some of my favourite stories:

    'This Is Ned' - Zac Petrich


    'Blood Sucker' - Jiminy Rockerfeller Plaza


    'Perspective' - Vijayendra Mohanty


    'Doubtful Wishing' - Elisabeth B


    'The Point Of No Return' - Colin Fraser


    This is my most favourite:

    'Illiterate' - Lorenzo Trenti


    *I say ‘writers’, but that just means anyone, really. Ever written a status update or a tweet that people have particularly responded to? It could be a best-seller on Espresso Stories.