Copywriters don’t just write interesting stuff – they often lead interesting lives as well. From unique personal experiences to working with leading corporations, these five elite copy creators have translated their adventures and challenges into some of the most effective marketing texts ever written. The good news for the rest of us? Simply learning about their accomplishments and mottoes can boost our own writing efforts as well.
David Ogilvy (1911-1999) founded the Ogilvy advertising company and gave copywriters a lot to think about.
He also led a very colorful life. After getting a scholarship to Oxford University, and then quitting, he worked as a chef, stove salesman, farmer, and pollster for Gallup. Ogilvy was also trained as a spy during World War Two. In this role, he was more of a character assassin than an actual one; he was tasked with destroying the reputations of people who did business with the Nazi regime.
Then, his brother introduced him to advertising, and the rest is history. His original focus was on English companies, and his clients included the Wedgewood chinaware company and Rolls-Royce. He became known for his excellence as a copywriter.
In short order he moved to the United States, where giants like General Foods and American Express made him a leading name in the advertising world. Ogilvy’s firm was so successful that it went public.
Ogilvy was one of the first marketing writers to emphasize the concept of branding. He felt that image was essential, and that it is better not to advertise than to do a bad job of it. As a result of his work at Gallup, Ogilvy understood the importance of research and knowledge of the customer as central to the development of an advertising strategy and brand positioning:
“Advertisers who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore the signs of the enemy.” – David Ogilvy
Joseph Sugarman (1938-2022) – yet another spy! After being drafted into the US army and serving in the Intelligence Corps, Sugarman worked for the CIA. But once out of the espionage business, he became an entrepreneur, with success based on ingenious advertising and marketing copy.
Sugarman was constantly on the lookout for products that he could sell through his special brand of creative writing. His expertise lay in “advertorials,” ads written in a format that mimics a newspaper article. He was also a pioneer of infomercials that used testimonials from consumers. His accomplishments led to his being named Direct Marketer of the Year in 1979 and receiving the Sackheim Award for Innovation in 1990. Among his successes as a copywriter and marketer:
- The JS&A Group, which used Sugarman’s unique long-form advertising copy to sell products like digital watches and calculators, where orders could be placed by phone through a toll free 800 number
- BluBlocker Sunglasses, worn by a Super-Bowl-winning quarterback, and which enjoyed additional product placements in movies like The Hangover
- The Pocket CB, which Sugarman promoted at the height of the CB radio fad; he sold 250,000 of them
- The Hungarian Conspiracy, a board game which Sugarman advertised as being part of a subversive Communist plot to take over the US
Despite the phenomenal variety of the products he marketed, Sugarman believed (again, like Ogilvy) in research:
“You must become an expert on a product, service or anything you write about to really be effective.” – Joseph Sugarman, The AdWeek Copywriting Handbook
Copywriters hate clichés, but this one is appropriate: Leo Burnett (1891-1971) might just be the grandfather of advertising. After working in the advertising department of Cadillac, Burnett founded the Leo Burnett Company (acquired by Publicis in 2002) and developed some of the most famous ad campaigns in history.
He was known for the ‘soft sell’ advertising approach and for the creation of characters who represented the qualities of the brand. These characters include:
- The Jolly Green Giant
- The Marlboro Man
- Tony the Tiger
- The Pillsbury Doughboy
Burnett also appreciated the concept of mind share, which states that consumers only ‘internalize’ a few brands for each product type. It is the goal of advertising to make a product stand out and grab a piece of mind share – hopefully first place.
“Before you can have a share of market, you must have a share of mind.” — Leo Burnett
Laurence Blume is one of the leading copywriters in the UK. He is nearing a quarter century of work with some of the top brands in the world, such as Aviva, the BBC, Goldman Sachs, The Guardian, Marks and Spencer, Panasonic, Siemens, and Unilever.
In turn, he has been one of the top writers for leading ad firms such as TBWA, Boase Massimi Pollit (now DDB London), and D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles (which created ads for Coca Cola; now part of Publicis).
Blume has gone beyond copywriting to include strategic and creative marketing consulting. However, his mainstay work remains in the advertising space. Blume has been running his own copywriting firm, freelancecopywriter.co.uk, since 1981, with clients that include Thomson Reuters, Sony/BMG, and Microsoft.
One consistent theme behind Blume’s quotes and blogs is that copywriting is a specialization. There are marketers and SEO people who believe that they can write, but this is like saying that running a mile turns you into a marathoner.
“Copywriting …. [is] the business of thinking through, organizing and then presenting any information at all required to place a case before the world. It’s an advocacy skill, none too distant from that of a barrister.” – Laurence Blume
Brian Clark created one of the copywriting industry’s main inspirations, Copyblogger, known by some as “the most influential content marketing blog in the world.” On his own, and with zero investment, Clark turned a one-man blog into a powerhouse through excellent content and copywriting, plus tools and training that are very real-world.
Clark has, in fact, been both an independent entrepreneur and a partner for numerous businesses. Many of us in the marketing sphere have benefitted from some of his other ventures, such as Unemployable, an online community for freelancers and entrepreneurs, and Digital Commerce Partners, a content marketing and SEO agency.
One of Clark’s main messages to copywriters is that marketers need us to ‘solve their pain’.
“Sometimes [clients] can’t tell you exactly what they want . . . it’s not their job to know what they want. It’s up to you … to help solve the problem or satisfy the desire.” – Brian Clark
So, How Can You Write Like Them?
You want your marketing texts to do their basic job, which is to sell products. But you’ve never been a spy, started a multi-million dollar blog, or invented a famous cartoon character. The good news is that it doesn’t matter.
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