I was lucky. Many years ago, a very nice man made me a copywriter.
And if you buy him the wool, I’m sure he’ll make you one too.
But where’s the satisfaction in that? Why not put a bit of graft in and become one yourself?
Because you can, you know. Anyone can, if they put their mind to it.
Which is something I didn’t know, all those years ago.
You see, I thought copywriters were a rare breed. A hallowed elite. I assumed only those with an arcane knowledge of our language were allowed to join the club. Impossibly bookish Oxbridge grads who spent their idle hours discussing Dryden, and the correct use of the Oxford comma, whilst blenching at the thought of uneducated oiks who have the temerity to start a sentence with a conjunction.
But I was wrong.
Because, while it’s always better to have a working knowledge of the rules before setting out to break them, the truth is, advertising is more likely to use the vernacular.
Which means it’s written the way ordinary people speak. Using language the man on the street understands. Bish, bash, bosh, Tosh. So, you don’t have to worry about shoehorning in words like blenching and vernacular. (Unless you’re using them purely for comedic effect of course, then you’re good to go).
The truth is, the real grammar Nazis and literary snobs are better left to their own devices, toiling away in garrets on their 900-page doorstops. Advertising isn’t for them.
Advertising is for people with a passion for ideas. People who are obsessed with creating pictures. People who love messing about with words. People with a sense of fun, and an urge to tell stories, who get a perverse kick out of seeing their idle whims elevated into the spotlight. All of which means your background and education has little bearing on your ability to create a good ad.
Which was music to the ears of a working-class kid like me.
When I left school, in the days when the words ‘colour’ and ‘television’ were yet to be seen daring to accompany each other in a sentence, I had only one thought in mind.
Get into a band.
Any thing else looked like hard work, leading to life of drudgery and mind-numbing dullness, with nothing much to show for your short time on this planet other than a shiny-arsed suit, an anonymous box in suburbia, and huge box full of regrets.
Deep-dive research (a weekly subscription to NME and Melody Maker) showed that all my musical heroes (Lennon, Clapton, Bowie, Richards, Townsend) went art school, so, as I was reasonably handy with a pencil, and not entirely unfamiliar with a tube of gouache, that was obviously the path for me.
Eventually, more by luck than judgement, I finally found myself (in more ways than one) at Hornsey Art College. (Ray Davies, The Kinks – hero box, ticked).
And the marvellous thing about art college is that they will only let you in if you can draw a bit. Then, 3 years later, as long as all the drink and drugs you’ve consumed haven’t caused you to totally lose the faint whiff of ability you originally possessed, they give you a degree.
Still draw a bit, old chap? Marvellous… do have this nice certificate.
The great thing about that is, you don’t’ have to do very much in the years between joining and passing out (which I did. Often.). So, you can just play and party. And get into a band.
Which is a fine theory, but fails dismally as regards earning a decent living and keeping a roof over your head.
So, (Dylan) cap in hand, I became a designer, then an art director, as way to earn enough money to pay for rehearsals and hire dodgy transits, spacious enough to accommodate dodgy groupies.
And it was while working as an art director that my life changed. When a kindly creative director took me to the pub and said, “You know what, Chris? Your portfolio would be a million times better if it were art directed by someone else”.
Luckily, he called me back as I was skulking back to the office to collect my P45, consolatory Guinness in hand, and explained that he thought my talents would be better served in the words department, and I was to go home, throw my Magic Markers away (anyone under 50 will have to look that one up) and return tomorrow to receive my new business card. Bearing the word ‘Copywriter’.
I still have that card. And it still seems weird, for a midlands kid like me, whose destiny should probably have been a car factory. But god bless the man, he was right.
Once I’d beaten off imposter syndrome with a very big stick, I found I was in my element. I had a ball. I worked with some great art directors. Created some great ads. Got headhunted. Upped my salary overnight and ended up with a nice clutch of awards – which, believe me, make far better doorstops than unpublished 900-page novels.
So, if somewhere in the back of your mind there’s a nagging little voice saying you can’t be a copywriter, tell it, in no uncertain terms, exactly what it can do with its baseless opinions.
If you love messing about with words, and think it would be a fine wheeze to get someone to pay you for doing just that, then go for it. Learn the ropes.
Be like me, and get someone to make you a copywriter. I can seriously recommend it – and I know just the man you need.
His name is Marc Lewis, and he’s the Dean at SCA.