Anyone else out there in a job that they find tough to describe to elderly relatives, old school friends at reunions and taxi drivers? I sometimes lie and say I work in accounts, hoping that the interrogator doesn’t start asking me about software, modes of analysis, VAT loopholes or — in a worst case scenario — to help them with their tax return. It’s because I find most people to be nodding dullards at gatherings and I can’t be bothered to talk about trainers. I don’t care what they do and I know that they’re only asking about my occupation because we’re conversationally handicapped by the fact neither of us wants to be in the other’s company.
Occasionally I write some copy for brands. Sometimes they’re brands that even that person might know rather than some friend’s project which I would never bother even broach in awkward conversation. Those projects validate my existence to some degree and allow me to tell the truth at social events that aren’t some godawful product launch that’s full of boring “tastemakers” taking pictures of carefully lit displays and pulling those strange momentary vinegar faces behind their 5Ds as they prepare to make Tumblr history with their documented awesomeness.
It must be nice to be able to describe your occupation in at least four words without having to make some lame mumbled excuse for your existence.
Though I can remember back to being able to say that I worked in accounts or I worked in a warehouse back in the day, yearning to be doing something really wanky. I watched a documentary after leaving higher education that fired my imagination — it featured a bunch of people in an office in some up-and-coming “hub” area of London working as “creatives” for some creative agency that’s either long dead or a multiple Campaign award winner by now.
There was no set start or finish time (I was in a job where cigarette times were pretty much run to a stopwatch at this point) people brought in dogs and whizzed around on little metal scooters. They didn’t actually appear to do anything, and I fancied spending the rest of my life in a role like that. But my bland covering letters and C.V. that lied and said I swam and played guitar in my free time (my dad suggested that was better than “Watching weird films and hoarding sportswear”) didn’t even get me rejection letters. So I ended in various accounts roles, including one role that involved brokering prices for corpse cleanup, all requiring numbers rather than the written word and rendering me mediocre, with little chance of promotion.
I looked up to Soho’s Unorthodox Styles because they did cool shit with brands and obsessed about tropical fish, Supreme and Nikes. They even had a webcam in the office and used a mysterious thing called Blogger to keep people updated on their exploits. They appeared to be the opposite of the yellow tinted sunglass wearing, Star Wars t-shirt sporting buffoons whose jobs I coveted a couple of years previously — they actually appeared to work daft hours. Yet it looked to be worthwhile. And through gloriously convoluted circumstances, I ended up at Unorthodox Styles, and on arrival Mr. Russell Williamson told me that I was a copywriter, despite having no actual copywriting experience. Russell is awesome like that.
So when I’m asked how I got into this nonsense, all I can proffer is, “dumb luck”. Because I can’t be one of those people who acts like they’re reinventing the wheel with anything I assist with (writing, SMUs and all that works with it doesn’t feel like real work, so I can’t take it seriously), I don’t think I’m a very good copywriter at all, so I’m always looking for some education.
For years, I’d been ordered to invest in ‘The Copy Book’ but the madcap Amazon Marketplace prices put me off. I’d attempted to heist a copy but failed and got confused by the differences between the 1995 original and a paperback edition circa 2000 called ‘The Copywriter’s Bible’. But now those concerns are an irrelevance and if you were stockpiling a copy and watching those prices rise, your speculation failed, because TASCHEN’s vast reprint and redux with D&AD ups the original 32 participants to 48 and runs the gamut from long-form, text-heavy advertising masterpieces to memorable triple word campaigns.
The stylish cover’s transparent overlay depicts eye tracking data, reiterating that good copy is indeed a science. Some commentary and advice from some personal heroes like Dan Wieden, Dave Trott, Nigel Roberts (“Words are great. People still read. But they only read what they want to.”), Tony Barry and Marty Cooke is occasionally contradictory but always absorbing. The crisply reproduced ads that accompany each spotlighted author’s writing could prove beneficial for anyone looking to maintain brevity, attention and stay on message without resorting to repetition (or lazy alliteration like that).
With those excruciating paragraphs before I even mentioned the book title, I’m already ignoring the lessons within ‘The Copy Book’ but I recommend picking it up as a celebration of marketing’s true masterpieces. If advertising is ever whittled down entirely to 140 hyperbolic characters for tracked Retweets or a clickable YouTube video that purports to have been banned for “viral” purposes, at least there’s this document of a time when notepads, napkins, empty envelopes and leaflets unlucky enough to be in the line of fire were annihilated in the quest to perfect the message.
On that occasionally out-of-print subject, shouts to Jeff Staple on Twitter for reminding me of the existence of FontBook for iPad on Apple’s App store. £3.99 beats £285.29 on Amazon Marketplace. The compare function is invaluable.
I like ‘Men’s File’ magazine. It always feels like the team behind it like going out and doing stuff rather than thinking of ways to create photoshoots in parks or gawping at each other’s sockless McNairy-clad feet. I respect the fact that this publication has the RRL hookup, and has done for a little while now. Any rag can get a co-sign from whatever brand we’re jocking at the moment, but the RRL co-sign is strong. The team got the invite to visit the Double RL ranch and took military historian Simon Delaney with them as models. That’s deep. Unless you’re Oprah, those tepees are usually out-of-bounds.
After the Nike campus and archive, this was always my second dream field trip. Having visited the former, I fear the ranch is a little less feasible. Of course, it’s all cowboy dress up nonsense, but at the core of it, that’s Ralph’s hobby and as photoshoot locations go, it’s a tough one to beat. You can buy as much second hand Polo on eBay as you like, but riding an RL branded (not in the red-hot sense) horse trumps everything. Issue #5 also talks a little about Paris’s Apache gangs, which influenced the latest Mister Freedom collection. Apaches are a very interesting phenomenon — I hope Mister Freedom reproduces one of their amazing late 1800s knife/knuckleduster/gun hybrids too…
Speaking of Polo, shouts to Piff Gang for channeling the power of underrated Dipset spinoffs plus Currensy and Creative Control with a UK slant. My favourite UK rap is generally based on goonery. Piff Gang don’t trade in mindless goonery but they do smoke a lot, can flow and crucially, they don’t dress like they’re homeless — the downfall of many a UK MC who forgets the need for clean living in difficult circumstances. Phaze One is a solid MC and the rest of the crew bring it too. Bring on the mixtapes while the sun’s still making appearances over here…