Why Being “Creative” Isn’t Always a Good Thing for a Copywriter

Mooooove Over!

Actually, being “creative” has very little to do with writing good copy.

These two types of writing–commercial and creative–are almost mutually exclusive.

Copy for advertising and marketing has one sole purpose in mind: to sell. Sell cars, sell soap, sell financial services, sell subscriptions. SELL! Not entertain. Not amuse. Not impress your reader with your sophistication, your intelligence or your incomparable ability to wield the English language like an artist’s brush.

It’s not about you and your creativity.

It is to inform them, persuade them, influence and motivate them to get off the fence and into your product or service (or idea).  It is, or should be, a call to action, to make a decision–presumably a BUYING decision–in your favor.

Creative writing is like art, for art’s sake.  To be appreciated, admired, indulged like rich food and fine wine.  Creative writing doesn’t feel the need to sell.  It doesn’t want to sell.  It just wants to . . . be creative.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Creativity and originality have their place in commercial/business copywriting.  But, especially for newer writers, the more important thing to do in composing a piece of copy for a client that is intended to generate business (and sales) for him or her and their company is not to be “original”, but to take a good, hard look what has already been done and proven to work, and COPY it!

In other words, save the originality for later.

Helmet Krone, art director for a very famous ad campaign for Volkswagen, said it this way:

“Until you know how to do better, copy.”

VW - Think Small

He should know.  When this ad campaign came out in 1962–the year I was born–a lot of art directors and copywriters who saw the smashing success that it was (bad choice of words when talking about an automobile ad!), took it as their cue to immediately go HOG WILD with their own fits of creativity and “originality.”

They forgot the main purpose of advertising and marketing with copy and headlines and graphics and pictures is, well, to SELL.

Marketing legend Drayton Bird said this about that:

Few people understood why the Volkswagen advertising was so good. They just noticed it was original.

It inspired far too many people to think that the secret of success was to seek originality at all costs – to be “creative”. This led to an outpouring of irrelevant tripe that afflicts us still.

Even Rosser Reeves, who invented the U.S.P. (unique selling proposition), said:

Originality is the most dangerous word in the advertiser’s lexicon.

Who knew some of the greatest minds in the world of copywriting and marketing could be so HOSTILE to man’s natural impulse of creativity!

But then Drayton Bird applies his veteran mindset of anti-originality within the broader context of business in general:

This does not just apply to creative ideas. It also applies to business generally. When you are trying to do something, start by looking at what other successful people are doing.

Put your store in a similar spot. Run your ads in the same media. Offer the same level of service.

Then try to improve.

This is not always true; nothing ever is. But a good saying applies: “The cowboys got the arrows; the farmers got the land.”

It doesn’t pay to be a pioneer.

Do you hear what he is saying?  Watch successful people and then do what they do.  There is method to their lack of madness.

There is a reason why Claude Hopkins spent years toiling in his career before writing his classic work and titling it, SCIENTIFIC Advertising.

Why John Caples, after years of tedious trial-and-error, observation and experimentation, painstakingly developed his approach and techniques and then, at last, called his book, TESTED Advertising METHODS.

Why Rosser Reeves gave his authoritative book such a mundane, “uncreative” title: REALITY in Advertising.

It is because writing copy for clients–for whom their very financial success stands or falls on the proven, measurable, transactional success of that copy–is serious BUSINESS!

P.S. Speaking of being “unoriginal” and a copycat, I wrote this article after reading an e-mail newsletter I received on this subject from Drayton Bird!


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