I am borrowing this quote – ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’ – from English litterateur William Shakespeare to start my conversation on how to write advertising copies. These words were spoken by Polonius in Hamlet and written many centuries ago by the Bard, but these also happen to make up an enduring idiom, to sum up, a copywriter’s job. Apart from having a good command of the language, one needs to be smart in positioning the words. A dash of creativity with imagination in good measure makes an advertising copy stand out. And one must remember to follow the KISS (Keep It Simple & Smart) policy because being brief is the essence. One needs great ideas on which a product can piggyback and sell like hot cakes. Most of you would remember the famous, Tandurasti ki raksha karta hai Lifebuoy. It was penned way back in 1964, but it is still in use today. The brand has been riding high on this one line alone for so many decades, and that’s the true power of words. In an advertising copy, imagination helps create an everlasting impression and etch the brand in public memory forever.
The Advertising Agencies Association of India or the 3As of I or AAAI was the national organisation of major advertising agencies formed to promote and protect their interests. The agencies that are members of AAAI together account for almost 80% of the advertising business. In 1984, advertising legend RK Swamy was the president of AAAI. There was a shortage of good copywriters in the advertising business back then. So, he suggested the idea to have a professional body for the training and development of advertising professionals. A sub-committee was formed under AAAI. It was headed by another advertising legend, Larry Grant, and Govind Sajnani and I were its two members. We first started a copy workshop under the aegis of AAAI. We realised that advertising can’t be taught; it is all about hands-on training, so we knew what we wanted and how we wanted to conduct these workshops and for whom. We decided to have not more than eight trainees for the training session. We released an advertisement in The Times of India, Mumbai, seeking applications for our first workshop. In response, we received whopping 500 applications. Well, selecting the right eight wasn’t easy to start.
Eliminate to select
Many applicants had self-eliminated themselves by the way they had worded their applications. Next came the copy test to check the language know-how and the imagination quotient of the remaining lot. The pattern remained the same for all tests, but we used to change the questions. The first batch had to answer two questions – to write about AIDS but without talking about the disease or the aid pouring in from other countries to fight it and a profile of their favourite personality in 500 words. A personal interview followed the writing test. Out of 500, we managed to shortlist 16 people, and we decided to run two batches simultaneously.
I was in charge of three sessions in each batch, and my onerous responsibility included teaching them to write advertising copies in Indian languages. It was easier said than done. I have an interesting anecdote to share to elucidate this fact. Once, we had to design a brand name for a soap whose perfume, it was told, would linger on the body for long. A young copywriter came to tell me she had cracked it. I asked her the name that she had in mind. She told me, “It is Hug.” I smiled and told her, “I hope you know what it would be like to write this name in Devnagari script?” The name didn’t cut the ice and for obvious reasons. She knew quickly retraced her steps back to her workstation and put on the thinking cap to come with something that sounded good and read even better, in both English and Hindi.
Each workshop was of 13 sessions and was held once a week. We used to give many assignments, both individual and group, to launch a product or service and create its brand campaigns. These assignments use to give us an idea about a person’s talent, whether a person had some or none. At the end of the 13th week, the participants had to present these assignments before an advertising legend and based on that assessment, they used to get either a gold certificate, plain certificate, or no certificate and just a letter certifying that this person has attended the workshop. The first copy assignment was to write a matrimonial ad in 24 words for oneself to be published in the classified column to elicit responses from only three right people.
We expanded our ambit to start creative, media planning, print production, film production, radio production and account management workshops under the three-member sub-committee of AAAI. We ran these workshops for 10 years.
Looking back, it gladdens my heart to see that most of our students are well placed today. They are either Chairperson, Managing Director, Executive Directors and Senior VPs in India and even abroad. Their success gives me immense pride and satisfaction, and in equal measure.
Are you ready to take a copy test? It’s simple. Write a matrimonial advertisement for yourself in 24 words. Once you are done, please email your entries to firstname.lastname@example.org. The best copy stands a chance to win a surprise gift voucher.