Triplethink – the 3 faces of a copywriter

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.

What the youth of today don’t appreciate, what with their Minecrank and spinny fidgets, is the pleasure of an action figure.

The preeminent figures of my childhood were He-Man toys, with their squashy rubber heads, semi-toxic paintwork and preposterous musculature.

Amongst that rippling plastic menagerie was a gentleman known as Man-E-Faces – proof if nothing else that the naming of cartoon characters has been in steady decline since 1987.

Man-E-Faces’ USP as a villainous henchman was, oddly, that he could spin his face around to assume three different expressions – giddy, ticked off and angrier than a trapped wasp.

And, had he not devoted his professional life to skulking around after Skeletor or scuffling with Mekaneck, he might easily have found himself working as a copywriter.

Like Man-E-Faces any good copywriter brings three distinct perspectives to their work. (Unlike Man-E-Faces, we don’t turn up at the office in thigh high boots and a scuba helmet. Except on Fridays.)

The first, and most natural, face a copywriter must assume is that of a creative – judging our ideas by their originality, conceptual audacity and sheer imaginative force.

Next we adopt the face of our client – appreciating the complex, and often conflicting, objectives of the brand and the business.

Our final philosophical phizog belongs to our customer – caring not a hoot for its creative or commercial merits and judging the message exclusively on what it offers them.

It’s a professionally schizophrenic existence particularly as, while our fundamental objective is still convincing a customer to act, dismissing the contribution of the first two dimensions robs the copy of the richness and substance that can help it do its job more effectively.

Also, it’s nowhere near as glibly simple as I’ve made it sound.

In fact, balancing these three (often rival) needs can easily lead to something that muddles everything and gratifies no one. It is a matter of delicate and practical compromise – a quality as integral to copywriting as a firm pencil and a soft chair.

But a piece of copy that is creative, but not effective; or answers a business need, but not a human one, is going to be working about a third as hard as it needs to.

So how can you ensure each of your three internal voices have their say? Well, if your copy gives pleasure to a creative, confidence to client and a reason for your customer to act, then you can probably swivel your own face to ‘chuffed’.

Follow Andrew on Twitter

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