Image is everything. Agencies go to great lengths for clients to make a good first impression with aesthetic print ads, flashy brochures, and cinematic spots that might make Warner Bros. do a double take. And it’s true, the visual components of any piece is key.
But what about copy? Is it just as important for something to sound as good as it looks?
It’s a proven fact that strong copy can keep an audience hooked, and words are much more effective when written boldly versus blandly.
A designer’s visual expertise and a wordsmith’s writing skills work together to produce a successful concept or campaign; you can’t have one without the other. For those struggling to produce effective copy, here are a few points to not only help improve your copy, but also boost your awareness of how production and the visual side of things can help benefit your copy, too.
1) Know Your Audience
Knowing your audience is key when it comes to crafting copy for any campaign.
First, ask yourself:
Who is the audience for your campaign?
What do they know about your brand, and what do they need to know?
Your audience shouldn’t be broad, but targeted – because how else are you going to reach your brand’s sweet spot if you’re writing generic copy? Playing to your audience is key, and copywriters are crucial for setting perspective and development. Focus on developing characters and ideas that represent the brand, but also make sure to craft your characters in such a way that your target audience can relate to.
2) Watch Your Tone
With an audience comes a specific tone.
It’s also important for copywriters to be malleable with their style and tone. Tone, however, is tied to one’s audience and the brand/product/client in question; it’s only when you know your audience and your subject that you can pinpoint the type of tone to undertake. If your words don’t match up with your client, your ad can appear jarring.
“I think it’s really important for copy not to come across as too smart for people,” suggests Devin Leisher, head producer at Tier10. “For example, don’t make a super highbrow commercial for pizza, because pizza appeals to anyone.” And conversely, don’t write a pizza ad for a banking business (unless that’s what your client wants, of course!) Depending on what you’re selling, understand the kind of people that you’re selling to and whether or not that mood or tone will fit the product you’re selling.
3) Have the Voice to Prove It
In smaller agencies, copywriters are sometimes given the liberty of choosing voice talent to deliver their copy in the way they visualized. But regardless of whether or not you’re in charge of getting voiceovers, it is still important to figure out the attitude your copy evokes. Write down descriptors that articulate the tones your script best embodies. You can use these terms to help clarify to your production team or a voice talent as to what kind of mood you’re going for. Rough, quirky, urban….there’s a voice for everything!
If given the responsibility for scouting talent, a copywriter must coach voice talent like an actor or actress for a movie. It is completely acceptable, if not recommended, for a copywriter to request the type of mood and tone their going for. Even getting down to the nitty gritty details would prove helpful to get the exact tone your project demands, such as directing the voice actor/actress when to raise his or her voice, or when to emphasize a specific inflection at a specific part of the script. Being as detailed as possible in how your want your copy to be delivered will lead to a punchy, impactful commercial.
Budgets, however, can meddle with a writer’s vision. For clients with strict budgets, it’s a good idea for copywriters to use platforms like Voice123 and other voice library resources to get a talent that matches you and your client’s standards. Again, it’s all about having a voice to prove it.
4) Don’t Sweat the Visuals
That’s why the designers and your production team are there. As copywriters, we can sometimes get swept away by our imaginations. We’ll envision what will be displayed onscreen as our words are being voiced, or we’ll drum up a whole storyboard of our own and dream of what will be happening, frame by frame. Or if your copy will appear on print, we’ll imagine what our ad will look like, color scheme and all. But in reality, we let our designers have free roam with our copy.
As a producer, Leisher suggests that copywriters avoid the unnecessary woe of how the whole spot will turn out. “Don’t focus on visuals or what kind of footage your production team collected,” advises Leisher. “What I think copywriters have to worry about is how to get me and our audience from point A to point B so people will understand what the ad is all about. From who the people are, to what they’re doing, what they’re selling, and what the product did for them and would it do for you, too.” And don’t worry about stepping on anyone’s toes in terms of limiting a producer or designer’s creativity. Leisher argues that his style isn’t limited or chained down by copy.
“Once copy is received it’s all up to the artist from there as to how to display things visually,” Leisher explains. “When I’m video editing, I can change the pace of a scene. I can also control what is being visually displayed when something is said in the voiceover to enhance or subdue a message.” Through visual techniques such as stretching out clips or syncopating them, designers can make something appear dramatic or anticlimactic depending on the script. In other words, a designer has just as much say in delivering the impact of a message or a campaign as a copywriter.
5) Work With Your Production Team
While copywriters in bigger agencies might not have the chance to collaborate closely with their team’s producer, copywriters in smaller agencies have a higher chance of having this privilege — and also a space in which your voice is a lot louder in some big creative decisions. And in cases where a copywriter gets the chance to work with their production team, it’s best to turn from copywriter to scriptwriter.
Leisher defines, in his terms, the main difference between copywriting and scriptwriting: “Copywriting are the words that appear on magazines, graphic ads, billboards, or online descriptions. But scriptwriting is writing that works in tandem with production.” In other words, scriptwriting involves a more visual component; having more visual awareness of how one’s words will be translated onscreen. “The idea of production is to take something that is one thing and make it look as if it was something else. Which also happens in scriptwriting,” explains Leisher. For him, scriptwriting develops the story and characters for a spot, while production develops the visual side of the story; both should work together.
A commercial is a heightened form of fiction put into reality. Anything can happen in a commercial, and anything can sell in a commercial. But good copy is crucial to this heightened type of fiction. Good copy is something that you can work with, both for a producer and your whole team.