As noted in my previous post (see David’s Don’ts), David Ogilvy was a legendary copywriter known for his pithy, persuasive, and panache-filled prose. In my last post, I listed 1 through 5 of the 10 “copywriting crimes” that he sagely advised aspiring writers to avoid. Here are 6 through 10, adapted to our needs. Do not:
6. Be a weasel merchant: In the advertising game, this needs no interpretation. David was clearly exhorting his followers to avoid dishonesty and to adhere to a strict, no exceptions, “truth in advertising” code. In our pursuit of the writing life, how can we fit this to our purposes? Here’s one thought: First, we need to be ethical and above-board in all our interactions in the publishing industry. And second, we need to honor our commitment to our readers and deliver the story and insights that we promise to provide them with in return for the precious hours that they devote to reading our words. In fiction, this means we have to work extra hard to pen stories that don’t disappoint or fall off a cliff in their closing pages. In writing my children’s novel, I’ve realized just how tough this is, but I am determined to give my readers a satisfying “sunset.”
7. Feature self-justifying research: Mmmm, this is tricky. How can I adapt this to our needs? Webster’s to the rescue: Here’s the dictionary definition of “self-justification” — “the act or instance of making excuses for oneself.” With this in mind, I think what our boy David is warning us against is this: Never play fast and loose with the facts or rig them to fit your needs. Again, always be scrupulously honest and independent minded. Any other ideas on this?
8. Write copy that fails to make the cash register ring: Spoken like a true advertising guy! To my mind, this simply means that lively, persuasive ad copy should move the reader to action — to buy whatever’s being sold. In our realm, I’d reinterpret this to mean that our writing should make a difference in the world. It should be more than just smoke and mirrors — it should move our readers, perhaps even change them in some way. It should not be timid or ineffectual — it should be robust and challenging.
9. Demonstrate incompetence in the copywriting business: The message here is simple and compelling: Be a professional, hone your craft, constantly work toward improvement, never settle for less than your best.
10. Be an obstinate creative person: “Stubbornly refusing to change one’s opinion or course of action” — that’s a pithy definition of “obstinate.” As creatives, we need to be open, not obstinate.
That’s it — all 10 of Ogilvy’s “copywriting crimes.” Let’s avoid them and write on!