Copywriting and the quest for the killer line

Andrew Boulton is a senior lecturer on copywriting and creative advertising at the University of Lincoln. He’s also a copywriter with over a decade of scribbling experience at top creative agencies in the Midlands and once for a man who carved dolphins out of cheese.

He was nominated for the Professional Publishers Association Award for Business Media Columnist of the Year despite having little or no grasp of the semi colon. You can follow him on Twitter @Boultini.

If you’re familiar with the subtle vocabulary of modern professional football (sick as a psittaciforme, the referee’s a filthy onanist etc.) then you may have come across the term ‘worldy’.

An abbreviation for the phrase ‘world class’ it is used to describe only the most extraordinary and unexpected goals (see also ‘screamer’, ‘rocket’ and, in special circumstances, ‘thunder-bastard’).

And it rather neatly crosses over into other walks of life, unlike most other football sayings. Very few of us, for example, refer to our creative director as ‘the gaffer’ or instruct difficult clients that they may very well be going home in a f*cking ambulance. (Even if we’d like to.)

In copywriting speak, a worldy is the kind of headline that smashes down the walls of expectation and builds an erotic bungalow on top of the rubble. It’s a line that is fired onto the page with enough creative force to dislocate a thumb. It is copywriting that brings the crowd to their feet.

And it’s also the line that many of us spend a great deal of our time pursuing, scampering around as if we were trying to repatriate a fugitive goose.

Few can blame us. If a chef had the choice between presenting a hungry patron with a champagne posset or a Twix, what do you imagine they would choose?

But here’s the quirk. In many cases, the end result is the same. The Twix fills a need every bit as effectively as the posset. In some cases, better.

And this is how copywriting can find itself brandished as a whistling kettle of self-indulgence – a business perpetually sticky with masturbatory visions of art over commerce, glory over consequence.

It’s a strange danger to have to discipline yourself against. Surely every brief a copywriter encounters should lead them in search of whatever solution best fits the description of the ‘worldy’?

Instead, it is how we define the worldy in our business that makes the difference. Rather than concern ourselves with the exquisite arc of the strike, or the delicious ping of ball against crossbar, we need to focus on the outcome. Or, in other words, focus not on the words, but the message.

Copywriting is about finding the easiest way to persuade someone to act. And, like any quest for simplicity, it can be very difficult.

It requires a process that is all about delivering a result, understanding what it is these words have to do to another human being’s heart and mind. Starting with the outcome may very well lead to something incredible and award-worthy. It may lead to something simple and clear, an alphabetical tap-in if you like.

But however you arrive at the solution, the most important act of self-examination a copywriter can ever do is to check that what they have produced is actually a solution.

Not a thrilling display of penmanship. Not a gasp from the crowd. Not a telegram from the alphabet saying what a bloody amazing individual you are. An answer to the problem you have been asked, and indeed paid, to solve.

Otherwise, professionally speaking at least, it may be you going home in an ambulance – f*cking or otherwise.

Follow Andrew on Twitter

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