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Effortless copywriting (and why it takes sooooo much effort to get it right)

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.

Why do people fancy Ryan Gosling? Apart from his impeccable suits, flawlessly rumpled hair and eyes that make your leg bones feel like chewed ham, what is it?

It’s the fact that his intense handsomeness is all so effortless. What he can convey in a lazy blink would demand so much effort from a man like me that I’d probably vomit up my own pelvis.

This impression of ease is terribly handy if you’re a slightly off-key movie heartthrob – but it’s positively priceless if you’re a copywriter.

Good copywriting, if I were to truss it up in an unsteady metaphor, is a wink amongst screams.

The very finest work to emerge from our profession demonstrates the tremendously persuasive force of alphabetical poise – the sheer throbbing urgency that can be conveyed by a string of languorous letters.

You see, people can sniff out an ad. They taste it on the air like damp grass in a hot car and, frankly, it pisses them off.

What gives most ads and marketing messages away is the sour, trembling panic of their words. The ferocious need to be noticed gushes from these headlines like hot sick from a bin pigeon.

They are obvious, insincere, intrusive and, invariably, ignored.

But effortless copy has a very different effect. It strides into a stranger’s day with confidence, attaching no conspicuous purpose to its presence other than to entice. It is the murmured ending to a wildly successful joke that convinces us we must stand closer to the teller.

Above all, the effortless copy line is the one that reverses the natural trajectory of competitive advertising. While most advertising language is designed to shove its way into your line of sight, effortless copy invites your eyes to come closer. The first is a business of clamour and obstacles, but the second is a tantalising orbit of naked human curiosity.

But of course few things in our profession require such concentrated effort as producing something that sounds unforced. The infuriating reality is that, for most of us, such beguiling breeziness is not achieved with our feet on the desk, a champagne flute in one hand and a pencil dangling blithely from the other.

Rather, the effortless line is one that has been hammered into a state of repose like cheap, tough brisket. However casually it may seem to lounge across the page, you and I know it is propped up by the boiled skulls of its flappier forebears.

So next time you’re pasting new pictures and poems into your Ryan Gosling pop-up ‘crush book’ just remember how hard you have to try to appear as if you haven’t.

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