Would you respond to this ad?

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. small wages. bitter cold. long hours of complete darkness. constant danger. safe return doubtful. honour and recognition in the event of success.”

Advert placed by Ernest Shackleton for the 1914 Antarctic Expedition

“Wanted. Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over 18. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.”

1860 Pony Express ad in California


The value of research

I knew I wanted to be a writer from about the age of 14. At that age, adults are always asking: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“I want to be a writer,” I told them.

One well-meaning neighbour challenged me: “Then why don’t you enter this writing competition?”

It was about the time the French and Belgian Congo was changing to Zaire (since then it’s more-or-less changed back again). And she gave me the competition entry details together with a copy of the National Geographic magazine about the area.

I read the magazine, incorporated some of the detail into my story, and won the competition. The whole experience taught me the value of research. And now, the more background information I have about a company – its products and services, clients and customers – the better writing job I can do for them.

But what has all this to do with advertising?

Well, there is a story in Alistair Crompton’s book ‘The Craft of Copywriting’ that says the MD of Rolls Royce was presented with a headline: “The loudest noise in this car is the clock.” He replied, “Hmm, must do something about that clock.” But the copywriter was only able to write that line because he sat in the car, drove it around, and researched it properly.

I’d love to do such thorough research for my new travel agent client – shame he doesn’t agree!


Love it or hate it? (Part 1)

Certain brands are brave enough to admit that some people don’t like the product.

Such as the Marmite ad, where the boy gets the girl on the sofa, she sneaks a bite of a Marmite sandwich, and he’s repelled when he tries to snog her.

It was once described in Campaign as ‘penis breath’.

But I still like Marmite!


Keeping it real

I do hope the new Sheila’s Wheels ads are successful for them. To me, they come under the ‘kitsch’ category – so bad, they’re good!

What’s more, they’ve recently s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d that long pink car to include real women, in pink spangly dresses, singing along with that catchy song.

I approve.

I might even get a quote from them, next time I renew my car insurance…


Too good to be true?

As a Christmas gift, Threshers (the off-licence chain) emailed a 40% off voucher to a selection of their suppliers.

Seems like a good idea.

But of course the recipients forwarded the discount details to all their friends.

Threshers website crashed with all the visitors trying to access the offer (they estimate half a million vouchers were printed), and their 2,000 stores were braced for a Christmas rush.

It could have been avoided if they’d simply added the words ‘limited offer’ to the voucher design.

Mind you, they received lots of media coverage as a result. And there is speculation that the whole thing was a marketing ploy – even at 40% off, they were not selling at a loss.



Waste of money?

Car ads could be the most expensive of all to make!

Take the new Citroen ad with the cars leaping through the ocean driven by dolphins, to the tune ‘Somewhere beyond the sea’.

I’m sorry, but I just don’t get it.



I rather like the new Shreddies ads, with the factory full of old ladies knitting each little square.

It’s unique to the product, it’s humorous, it sells, and it celebrates old folk.

How many other ads knit that many layers together?


GetTING the emPHASis wrong

The model in the new ad for L’Oreal hair dye starts by saying:

“In MY home, I love the light. I also love it in my hair.”

She should be saying:

“In my HOME I love the light. I also love it in my hair.”

Why should the writer be invited on set to brief the actors properly? Because we’re worth it!