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Wednesday, 9 February 2011

“Don’t tell my mother I’m in advertising – she thinks I play the piano in a brothel"

I think that title, from Jacques Seguela, is the most entertaining of any book about advertising, closely followed by Jerry Della Femina’s “From those wonderful folks who gave you Pearl Harbor”.

But when I inveigled my way into the ad business, hardly anybody was interested in being a copywriter, because hardly nobody knew what a copywriter was and nobody cared. Indeed, one of my late friend the very talented Bill Jayme’s many good jokes was, “Have you ever been able satisfactorily to explain to your mother exactly what you do for a living?”

But I am stunned and shocked by how many people today either are copywriters or want to start on this self-destructive path, paved as it is with unspeakable horrors like Compliance Departments, Art Directors who think 50 words is long and clients who think any fool can write a letter - and proceed to give a live demonstration .

All that preamble leads me to an email I got two days ago from Johnny Cullen who said he was compiling a report called “What makes top copywriters tick (and why)?”

He excluded the obvious answer, which is "other writers". That made it a challenging question. Here is my reply – far less entertaining than the two titles above, but you may find it interesting. Since I was as usual too damn busy I dashed it straight off and was surprised to see it made sense.

I am inspired by:

Desperation --- the knowledge that I HAVE to come up with something.

Fear --- that this time I will fail (and I sometimes do).

Fascination --- with new things and people. Every time I learn something new or meet someone interesting it makes me happy and starts me thinking.

Example --- whenever I see someone who does something well, even if don't have any skill in that area, it goads me on to do better. Years ago I saw a masterclass by Casals. I can't play any instrument, but that cheered me up no end.

Oddities --- I rejoice in them. Never stop looking out for them. They lead to interesting ideas, I suspect.

A sense of inferiority --- I think what I do has little merit, but at least I can try and do it well.

Fury --- it maddens me to see how many people settle for second or even
third best. Why bother to live if you feel that way?

Since I wrote that list, three other things came to mind. I find going for a walk gives me ideas, as does the demon drink and its nasty aftermath, the hangover. I do not recommend the latter two courses; the evidence is in the picture on this page.

Johnny Cullen has a very good website indeed - www.eustondoyoucopy.com. He is a real student of advertising and you can reach him at johnnycullen2005@gmail.com.

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