26/02/2021No Comments

What’s in your briefs?

Whether you’re a copywriter or an account manager. An MD or an intern. You’ll probably find something similar in your briefs. The little box that says something like:

What is the single most important thing we have to say?

The answer is usually short. A sentence, maybe two.

It’s where creatives get their ideas and how clients measure the work.

Because this Cadbury’s ad might not have made sense on paper, but everyone gets how effortlessly enjoyable eating their chocolate must be.

This Sony Bravia ad might have been a bureaucratic nightmare, but you can imagine the visual experience you’ll get from their TVs.

And this Apple ad might have used actual skinheads, but you can’t help but think maybe a computer is an antidote to dystopia.

Because the ad works as long as the audience gets the message.

So, while this John West ad might be a little silly, you get that they’ll go to great lengths for good salmon.

This Honda ad might have taken ages to pull off, but you can’t miss how well the components of their cars work together.

And this Levi’s ad might be a bit steamy, but you come away knowing that a pair of Levi’s jeans is all you need.

The audience gets the message because the message is clear.

So, these ads might make John Smith’s seem a little rough around the edges, but that’s what they want from their customers, too.

And the message behind this Cravendale ad might be almost identical to the John West one, but at least they filled in the little box in the briefing document.

And these ads for Aldi also advertise their competition, but you know that the only difference is the price.

The message is clear because the client knows what they want to say.

In some famous instances, clients turned their noses up at these ideas. They were too different or too lateral or too, dare I say it, “creative”. But when you weigh them against the brief, there’s no denying these ads do what they’re supposed to – say what the client wants to say.

At TMW Business, where I work, we’re pretty good at finding out what our clients want to say. Then coming up with the best, simplest, most creative way of saying it. From that little box that’s in the brief to the work that ends up on paper or a screen.

Want to talk about briefs and how to fill them? Send me an email at tomr@tmwunlimited.com. I like coming at things from creative angles and don’t mind receiving constructive feedback.

15/10/2020Comments are off for this post.

Context: as malleable as your message

There weren't many remote-control car racing games on the PlayStation 2 system. Probably because making a digital simulation of a real-life simulation is a daft concept. But there were a handful, and they were all naff.

Only one of them has stuck with me nearly a couple of decades later.

Not for the game itself - I never bought it and its name escapes me. Its legacy hasn’t been worthy enough to record in any Googleable detail. But it was promoted in a move I frequently reflect on in my career as a marketer.

In the early naughties, in the time before ubiquitous broadband access, I read magazines of a single genre – gaming. In the final boom era of print publishing, as a screen-dwelling early teen I would spend a wedge of my meagre pocket money budget on monthly glossy titles with a demo disk Sellotaped to the cover. I read these feverishly; eager to find out what new and exciting electronic entertainment I’d be badgering my parents to buy me in the near future.

Nestled in the back pages of one of these issues was a single-page review for a low budget RC racing game for the PS2. The evaluation it received was tepid at best. The final awarded score was countable on a single hand out of ten. Along with this number, was a final by-line from the author worded along the lines of;

“It’s the best RC racer on the system… but sadly this isn’t saying much.”

Ouch. A low budget title dammed and destined to be forgotten from the start. Something to be unconsidered, overlooked in favour of almost anything else. Which is exactly what I did at the time.

Until I read the next month’s issue.

Flicking through the pages, I came across a full-page advert for the very same RC racing game. On it featured a quote pilfered from the same review I’d read only weeks before;

“…the best RC racer on the system…”.

The promoter had carefully neglected to complete the quote.

The statement they presented was true; the quoted reviewer did indeed say those words. Now, the context it was in had totally changed. So had its meaning. What was originally a discouraging review was now independent customer validation.

Cheeky? Undoubtedly. Misleading? Possibly. Inspiring? Definitely.

As marketers, we are constrained by the hand of cards we are dealt. Not every product we sell is ground-breaking. Not every brand we represent is innovative and compelling. Not every budget we spend has the luxury of being seven figures. We play what we have at our disposal, trying to gain the little advantages that hopefully grow into big ones.

Someone faced the prospect of promoting a low-quality game, receiving low review scores with, we can assume, a low budget. Just by changing the context of what they had available, they turned an odds-against situation an (albeit small) advantage. It didn’t result in a best-selling video game, though it might have been enough to convince a few unaware kids and their parents to buy it. Something they certainly wouldn’t have done if they saw the quote in its original context.

Now, I’m not advocating the incredibly dubious, not to mention legally grey, practice of “contextomy” – the act of quoting out of context. Even I wouldn’t have the gall to turn "hysterically overproduced and surprisingly entertaining" into "hysterically… entertaining” as the advertisers behind Live Free or Die Hard did.

What I will say instead is that if can’t alter what we have, what we do and where we do needs to change instead. If changing what we’re selling is not an option, we need to change the world it fits into. Context maybe king, but it is possible to mould it to your needs, (especially if you bend the rules a bit).

As an aside, I will note you didn’t see any review quotes on London buses promoting Cats…

02/09/2020No Comments

Just listen to yourself

How are you getting on?

Personally, I thrive in an empty house without any external stimulus. Gives me plenty of time to get real introspective. Nothing to do except talk to myself and dwell on exactly how I talk to myself. My tone of voice and the influences on it. What I say, how I say it, who I’m saying it to…

And what they think I sound like, not what I think they think I sound like.

Because I’d say I’m casual, like an Oasis campaign.

But my mum might say I’m open, like the famous Avis promise.

My boss would say I’m irreverent, like these ads for Visa.

And my ex-girlfriend would say why aren’t you taking this seriously, Tom?

It depends on what I’m saying.

I think I’m friendly, like a trendy oat drink.

And my mum would say I’m compassionate, like the packaging for Give-A-Care gifts.

But my boss would say I’m familiar, like those HSBC ads.

And my ex-girlfriend would say you told me you and Sam were just colleagues.

It depends on how I’m saying it.

I try to be enthusiastic, like these stories from Jack Daniels.

My mum would say I’m ambitious, like a Harley Davidson ad.

My boss would say I’m a tryhard, like some posters Musicbed ran.

And my ex-girlfriend would say not tonight, I have a headache.

It depends on who I’m talking to.

I’m pretty confident, like this ad for Snowbird Ski Resort.

My mum would say I’m bold, like these ads for the Guardian.

My boss would say I’m cocky, like anything Diesel puts out.

My ex-girlfriend would say I’m a cock.

A brand’s tone of voice is subjective, is the point.

You might not like some of them. You might not choose them for your own marketing. But just look at the great ads that brands have created with a clear tone of voice. With the help of agencies that knew how to interpret a set of guidelines – and make tone of voice work for the message, the medium, and the audience.

At TMW Business, we work within your tone of voice guidelines to do just that. Sometimes, we’ll suggest ways we could push them. Once or twice, we might even help you reconsider them. But we’re always looking for the best way for your brand to talk to your audience.

Want to talk about tone of voice? Drop me an email at tomr@tmwunlimited.com.

I promise to be casual, friendly, enthusiastic, and confident.

24/06/2020No Comments

Copy in isolation: starting a new job in lockdown

Picture your first day in the office. You’re dressed to impress. You were excited this morning, but now your nerves kick in as you approach the door. There are lots of awkward handshakes. Lots of names. You’re given a guided tour and shown where you’ll be sitting, the fire assembly point and most importantly, where you can make a brew. Then, you’re forced to think of yet another password to remember.

We haven’t been virtually introduced. I’m Lucy. And I recently started as a junior copywriter just as lockdown came in. It’s been a world of weird.  

The workplace is very topsy-turvy right now. For many, all sense of work life balance has gone out the window. And ‘new ways of working’ is a poignant phrase. It’s a time when companies can show how well they work from home. Or show they’ve got a lot to learn. But it’s also a chance to open some unexpected doors. Indoors of course. See our guide on What to do when what you usually do can't be done. At DirectionGroup, there’s been so much enthusiasm and drive to pull together, support each other and come out from this lockdown stronger.  

So, enjoy reading my guided tour of starting as a copywriter in isolation.

To scream or to laugh?

Yes, I’ve worked from home before. But I’ve never started a job from home. I never expected my cat to interrupt a meeting with the creative director. Or a co-worker to drop off my laptop (from a social distance, of course). Or to simulate after-work drinks with colleagues on a Friday afternoon. Every induction has been via video. New colleagues have seen more of my house than some of my long-term friends. And ‘Hope you’re well’ has a whole new meaning.

But I’ve enjoyed my one-to-one sessions. And in some ways, that’s been better than a ‘stand in front of the classroom and present yourself’ moment. Or a ten second introduction with someone as they rush to a meeting. On the spot greetings can be really intimidating. But organised video chats are great. And people have been very creative in the quest to stay social. 

The kitchen or the conservatory?

The kitchen wins. Because I won’t lie, my biggest surprise is the amount of banana milkshake I consume. But second to that is how much training depends on social interaction (normally). It’s more difficult asking for help when you’re working remotely. Do I video call? Do I IM? Or email? And how long will it take for them to read my message and reply? My co-workers found a way. They put a welcome folder on my desktop before I started. It’s got examples of work, writing exercises, a welcome presentation and guidelines. I call it the folder of knowledge. And that’s because I’m finding it invaluable. And my team checks in with me daily.

Induction training is one of those things. You have to do it. It can be tedious but it’s necessary. Like unclogging a drain (how did that coin get down there?). And it’s much easier if HR has told you exactly which courses to complete, how and by when. Having everything ‘admin’ laid out in front of you, like I did, makes it a lot easier. Because when you’re new, you’re not always sure who’s the best person to speak with. Oh, and just as a side note, it really helped that all the IT worked too.

Is this the deep end or the shallow?

I was very excited for my first assignment. Eager to crack on and break some eggs. But when I received the brief, I felt a bit ‘flappy’. Is this a straightforward, run-of-the-mill job? Without seeing your colleagues, you can’t really tell what their typical day is like. There’s simply a lack of context. One thing about an office is you can speak to the person sitting next to you. And that’s how we want to write too, isn’t it? As if we’re having a conversation.

I was so worried my first draft would be total rubbish. And in a way, I was right to think that. Your first draft is never going to be your best. Or even good. It will probably be bad. But I was wrong to think that’s different from any other copywriter. Even the most experienced. So, I’m learning to just get it down on (virtual) paper. I spent much of my first day reading through tone of voice and copy guidelines including this blog. It’s a little bit like re-training your brain. And you can’t do it alone. You need to share your work because feedback is the greatest teacher. Copywriting is a process and a craft, first. With some creativity sprinkled on top. 

Starting as a copywriter in lockdown has been a real challenge. I’ve got so much to learn in this role. Which is true of any new starter. But there’s been a number of things that have made it easier. Firstly, positive messages. Secondly, preparation. Thirdly, continued communication. That’s why the right support is so important when you start. Especially when you’re working remotely. In lockdown.

Anyway. Back to business as (un)usual.