Category: Creativity

CopyCon rambles #3: Web project woes

January 6, 2016

OK, these really are my final thoughts from last year’s Copywriting Conference

UX marks the spot

One of the most practical talks I heard all day was by Tim Fidgeon, Digital Marketing Trainer and Consultant. It was all about user experience – or UX, as those in the business like to call it – and what it means for great digital copywriting. It’s a big issue now that more of us work online. We writers need to think: how do we write in a way that takes readers on a simple and successful digital journey?

Anyway, the talk was full of fantastic insights, all based on proper research and data. For instance, did you know that it’s harder to read text that is centred, rather than aligned left? (I obviously only learned this after I’d finished my own homepage. Ahem.) And as well as words, Tim also taught us lots about the way design affects UX.

Creativity… at the expensive of usability

So, Tim wasn’t exactly shy about sharing his frustrations when it comes to web design. He worries that designers are too often in thrall to that paragon of brand identity: Apple. And so they do lots of Apple-y design things, like grey text on white background – and while these things look lovely, they actually make it harder for people to take in information.

I think it raises some interesting questions about how writers and designers balance their creativity with the practicalities of working for web. And it’s something I’ve come up against in my own projects…

A cautionary tale: web project woe

I recently helped create a website from scratch. I worked with a team of designers, who came up with some design layouts – which were absolutely fantastic. I wrote copy to fit the layouts. And then our web person started to build everything, according to the designs.

And that’s where the problem started to appear. Some elements of the designs looked amazing on paper, but really didn’t work well online – for instance, big image panels with text overlaid, that worked brilliantly on desktop and iPad but not so well on mobile. A blog layout that looked super clean and tidy, but that actually made it quite tricky to scroll through the content.

My advice: get your heads together

In my experience, people running these projects often divide the work up into chunks: they want the design bit first, then the copywriting, and then the web build. One after the other. But it’s crucial to get all the different parties together, so that they can each spot potential problems that others might not notice.

Build time into the process for people to collaborate: let designers and writers talk about site architecture and messaging together, so that the right messages can sit in the right space. And let them collaborate with the web builders, so that they don’t spend ages creating something beautiful that just isn’t practical.

And, best of all: get some clever UX people involved, right at the start. And tell Tim I sent you.


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CopyCon rambles #2: I swear, by the moon and the stars…

October 15, 2015

Before  I forget, just a little more from last week’s Copywriters’ Conference

The last talk of the day came from Doug Kessler, Creative Director at Velocity Partners. He talked about brands who successfully use swear words in their marketing.

Not awkward cringey swearing like this (eugh). But funny, memorable – and actually clever – swearing. Like the fcuk campaign, which genuinely made people do an Exorcist-style head swivel when it came out on billboards back in the 90s. Like the Kmart ‘ship my pants‘ ad, which does faux-cursing in a delightfully silly way.

(I would at this point make some joke about Doug’s post being f*&king funny, but i) I would be about the five-millionth person to do so, and ii) I am actually too frightened that my mother-in-law might read this post. She’s a sweet, softly-spoken Irish lady and if she ever so much as uttered the word ‘crap’ I think she might turn to stone.  I’ve even gone and used ‘asterisk cheating’ in the first sentence of this para, just to avoid offending her eyes, an option Doug describes as ‘flat-out lame’ and ‘for total p*ssies’. Hi Oonagh. Sorry Doug.

My own mother? Oh, she’s got a mouth like a docker.)

Anyway, I highly recommend Doug’s blog on the subject. Not interested? Well, you go fudge yourself.

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CopyCon rambles #1: What does Twitter mean for tone of voice?

October 13, 2015

How come some brands’ most successful tweets are, in many ways, completely off-brand? And what does that mean for us writers who create tone of voice guidelines for clients?

At last week’s Professional Copywriters’ Conference, I heard a talk by David Levin: a social media shaman whose company That Lot writes fantastic – often hilarious – tweets for big-name brands. He gave some tips on how to write shareable content that customers really respond to.

One thing really stood out for me: many of the star tweets – the ones that earned lots of retweets and new followers – were, arguably, off-brand in terms of the brand’s tone of voice. Yes, they were funny and clever. But, technically speaking, they shouldn’t have got past the brand guardian and their guidelines. Let me give you an example:

Argos: a sick case study

David showed us an example from Argos. It began with a tweet from the enigmatic Immy ‘Badman’ Bugti, who said:

@Argos_Online YO wen u gettin da ps4 tings in moss side? Ain’t waitin no more. Plus da asian guy whu works dere got bare attitude #wasteman

Unfazed, the Argos team replied:

@BadManMugti Safe badman, we gettin sum more PS4 tings in wivin da next week y’get me. Soz bout da attitude, probz avin a bad day yo.

And Twitter loved it: at my last count, this reply had more than 6,000 retweets and more than 3,000 favourites. Even Badman was pretty impressed, and tweeted once more to declare that Argos was ‘safe’.

Now, I love what Argos did here. But if their brand has a tone of voice document, I doubt it gives staff licence to apologise using words like ‘soz’. It’s much more likely that an individual at Argos with a sense of humour took it upon themselves to have a bit of fun – to be a bit imaginative and break the rules.

Your voice or mine?

This reminds me of another piece of communication that went viral a while back. Three-year-old Lily Robinson wrote to Sainsbury’s, confused as to why their tiger bread was so named when it patently looks more like a giraffe. Customer Manager Chris King melted our hearts when he wrote back to her, saying that renaming the product ‘giraffe bread’ was ‘a brilliant idea’, and offering her a gift voucher for some ‘sweeties’. It was a great response from him – and and a social media hit for Sainsbury’s.

But again, the interesting thing: he’s not using the Sainsbury’s tone of voice. Not even close, in fact. He’s just using his brains, and responding to the letter-writer in her own language. He’s following his own voice, not the Sainsbury’s voice. I agree with this blog – and many others – which argued that it worked because it was a less ‘managed’ response to the customer.

So what now for tone of voice?

All this it begs the question: when we create tone of voice guidelines for clients, how do we leave room for these special comms cases, where an individual’s personality creates something that stands beyond the brand? How do we help teams to write in a consistent way, without stifling the imagination and creativity that really connects with people?

Do tone of voice guidelines really work any more?

Stay tuned for another blog which asks whether tone of voice is really your problem or your priority…

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Lessons in creme pat, cream horns – and creativity

October 8, 2015

Before we start: this post contains spoilers about the finale of the Great British Bake Off. So, for those of you haven’t seen it yet, for the love of god DO IT NOW.

And for everyone else…

I hope you were as thrilled as I was to see Nadiya crowned champion of the Great British Bake Off 2015. Honestly, that lady is as delightful as a Tunnocks teacake. As well as being supremely talented and deeply humble, she’s the only contestant who has ever been able to rival Mary Berry in the field of dramatic facial expressions.

Also, like other GBBO winners, she made amazing progress throughout the series. And this reminded me of an important truth about creativity. Allow me to explain…

In week one, Nadiya came last in the technical challenge when the icing on her walnut cake ended up being grainy (we’ve all been there, right guys?). When in week four the contestants had to make a Spanische Windtorte, Nadiya was forced to confess that she ‘produced what they wanted, just the ugly version’. Her penchant for wacky flavours like bubblegum and cream soda was at times dangerously left-field, and her early bakes just didn’t shine as brightly as her competitors’ – they were eclipsed by bobby dazzlers like Paul’s lion / Mick Hucknall bread, which practically broke the internet.

But at week five she started to look like  a serious contender. She was named Star Baker, partly thanks to a cracking ice cream roll, partly thanks to the gluten-free pitta pockets (erm, yummy?) which placed her top of the leaderboard in the the technical challenge. She topped the technical again in week seven, with a smashing set of mokatines.

There’s no real secret to how she made this happen. Like other champs, she just worked ruddy hard, refused to give up – and became a deserving winner. It all makes me think of the famous Ira Glass interview, in which he talks about the tough early stages of creativity – the time where there’s an initial, inevitable ‘gap’ between a creative person’s ambitions and their ability.

Glass explains that creative people have good taste – and so they’re quick to recognise that their own work is flawed. From here, they can either convince themselves that they have no talent, and just give up. Or they can plough on, and keep producing work until the works starts to shine. Pretty much every creative goes through those early days, when their work just seems a bit underwhelming, or even a bit crap. And it’s the people who just get through those days, who simply keep working and producing stuff, who make it in the end.

The interview has been turned into some nice videos

It’s funny, isn’t it – none of us viewers would expect a baker in week one to be turning out a perfect religieuse a l’ancienne (a choux pastry tower in the shape of a nun, presumably dreamed up by a cook who had foraged the wrong kind of mushrooms). But, as creatives, we punish ourselves when we fail to produce D&AD winning work IMMEDIATELY.

And when we punish ourselves too much, we shut down our creativity altogether. So end up producing nothing at all.

Maybe we should all take a leaf out of Nadiya’s book, get our game faces on, and tell ourselves as she did: “I’m never going to say I can’t. I’m never going to say maybe”. And, in time – like the best souffles – we will rise to the occasion.

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