A junior copywriter — let’s call him Jez — gets a task: to promote a new treadmill. It’s called HRX Athlete Pro, and it 'comes with high performance and great looks, as well as 0-15 inclination levels which gives you the option to have more challenging workout sessions', says the brief. It also has features like 'personalised training programmes, integrated weighing machine, heartrate monitor, music player, and Bluetooth'. And it can be easily folded when not in use.
Jez stares at a blank screen for a while, scrolls through a couple of sports equipment websites, stares at the screen some more, makes an extra strong coffee, checks his empty inbox three times in five minutes, sighs, then types something along the lines of:
‘Not everyone is born with a perfect body. Some of us have to work for it. Say hello to the new HRX Athlete Pro, which comes with high performance and great looks…'
Do you have any beef with that?
No, not the notion of a ‘perfect body’ — let’s leave body positivity out of this.
Just imagine receiving that email.
I don’t know about you, but my first reaction is: sorry, mate, are you talking to me? If so: why are you treating me like I’m stupid? Those first two sentences were a waste of ink (pixels) and my time, so why should I bother with the rest? You’ve lost me, byeeeee, delete and unsubscribe.
Sorry, Jez. Of course, it wasn't your fault that you were working with an incomplete brief — and as a beginner, you didn’t even know what was missing from it, which is why you never asked The Most Important Question. Like most beginners I work with, actually.
That question is:
Who are we talking to?
Or, to use marketing terminology — who is the target audience?
You can't write a-ny-thing until you know the answer.
Because the way you would promote a treadmill to a couch potato is pretty different from the way you'd sell it to someone who regularly jogs or hits the gym.
They have different experiences, goals and motivations, different levels of knowledge, different starting points, different worries and barriers.
On top of that, people in both groups will have different incomes and could be any age between 18-88.
To sell that treadmill to ‘everyone’ is a ridiculous task — no wonder poor Jez spent the first half-hour racking his brain for something — anything — to say, and ended up saying nothing (16 words of it, in fact).
Now imagine if he knew who he’s writing for. If the brief said ‘audience: 30-45y.o. professionals, urban lifestyle, not physically active at the moment but wishing to get into better shape. Living with their romantic partner and possibly, but not necessarily, young children. Disposable income usually spent on travel, experiences, gadgets, meals out.’
That’s a bit clearer, right? Jez can easily think of a few people he knows who are in that group: like his driving instructor, Omar. By now they’ve spent enough time together in traffic jams for Jez to know that Omar wants to get healthier and slimmer. But he can never say no to a donut, drives everywhere (naturally), and has little time for the gym because of his young family. Plus, he is subscribed to at least 3 streaming services, and that's a lot of good TV.
Now, instead of writing to some abstract stranger who is somehow unaware of basic facts of life on Earth (e.g., that a perfect physique usually takes some doing), Jez can pretend he's writing to Omar or someone Omar-esque. The blank page is no longer terrifying — and it doesn’t stay blank for long. Now it reads:
If you're like 74% of the country's population, then you often think about getting fitter. With 'think' being the operative term. Because actually DOING it is pretty much impossible, right? There's always a quadrillion things on your to-do list, always an amazing new TV series to binge, and occasionally, there's also free donuts at the office (is that caramel cream? I'll take three, please).
How is anyone supposed to get fit with all this... LIFE in the way? You don't even have time to walk to the gym, never mind spending 5 hours a week in there!
Well, how about NOT going to the gym? How about getting fit without leaving home, or even giving up your Netflix habit?
HRX Athlete Pro treadmill says you totally can. It fits into any living room and looks just as stylish as that plasma TV of yours.'
There’s still more to say — from features to pricing and maybe a few reviews from people who have walked all the way through a season of Stranger Things and shed some pounds in the process. But that will be the easy part, and Jez has got the hardest bit right this time. His new copy speaks to someone, and that someone will likely feel heard instead of patronised — especially if they have a soft spot for caramel cream donuts. It also sounds a hell of a lot more human and relaxed than his first attempt.
Knowing who you’re talking to gives you direction.
It narrows down your options.
It focuses your copy and shapes the story you need to tell.
So a decent brief will always tell you who the audience is — and if it doesn’t, you will need to find out. And the more detail, the better.
Where do these people live, what do they do after work, where do they buy their groceries, what do they read?
What are they currently doing instead of using the product or service you’re selling?
What’s stopping them from trying?
What are they worried about, and what motivates them?
If this is beginning to sound more like sociology than copywriting — congrats, you’ve figured out The Big Secret.
Copywriting is all about persuasion, and you can’t do that without understanding a thing or five about people and psychology. If you're not interested in either, this might not be the right job for you. Oh, you are? Great — then let's keep talking.
Are there briefs where the audience is genuinely 'humans aged 9-99’ or something similarly broad? Of course there are.
One of the previous tasks was to tell Underground passengers that staring at their phone on the stairs could kill them.
And in the first years of the pandemic everyone saw the same [often conflicting] messages about facemasks, handwashing, and enforced misanthropy for the sake of survival.
It’s fine, because in cases like these, your message taps into something most humans share: e.g. they’d rather not die, and when they finally do, they’d rather it wasn’t due to trying to finish a level of Candy Crush Saga while walking down an escalator. But if you’ve spent a while gazing into the abyss of that blank page in front of you and still can’t think of anything to say, ask: who am I talking to?
Once you know, things will get a lot easier.
In the wild.
Copy on the back of Volcano Coffee Works coffee pods packaging. From the client, I knew we were talking to well-educated coffee fanatics who value the ethics of their caffeine as much as the flavour.
Gaia supports families trying to conceive by providing IVF insurance. You can tell they know what their audience has been through.
TaxScouts ad on the London Underground. They know how their audience — self-employed people not into numbers — feel about the prospect of doing their own taxes. (I know, 'cos I’m one of them)
A poster I wrote for Libresse (Bodyform) after learning that 1 in 3 women in the UK miss their cervical screening due to embarrassment. The long copy speaks directly to those women and their fears. The posters were placed inside women’s toilets and in waiting areas of medical practices, including gynaecology clinics.
Today’s task is pretty sweet: you get to promote chocolate.
Vegan chocolate, to be precise.
NOMO is a real brand, I’ve tried their stuff, and it’s really good (I’m saying this as an omnivore) — so it should be an easy sell.
'Woah woah, Olga! Not so fast. Who is the audience?’ — I hear you ask.
Well… If you want an audience, which of course you should, I’ll give you one.
Or…. how about two?
Vegans and non-vegans.
And you’ll be talking to them separately.
Yep, that’s two bits of copy, not just one.
The medium is up to you — perhaps a banner, a bigazz billboard, or a poster tactically placed in the chocolate aisle of a supermarket — but we need a headline and some body copy: as much or as little of it as you like.
There will be some info from the horse’s mouth — and then you’re good to go. (Unless you want to do some more independent research, including primary research aka stuffing your face with delicious vegan chocolate — in which case, I applaud your dedication, you'll go far in this business.)
Remember, you’re not rewriting what NOMO wrote about themselves — you’re writing two ads for two different audiences, based on what you’ve learned from their description and possibly your own research and thinking. Get to understand your audience with all their motivations and barriers. Think of some real people you could be talking to, then write something that you think would speak to them.
As always, I can’t wait to see your responses to the brief.
Now, over to NOMO:
‘For a long time, many vegans and those with a food allergy or intolerance were excluded from mainstream chocolate; alienated from the same options that everyone else could enjoy. We wanted to fix this problem so that instead of feeling FOMO, people could finally feel NOMO — No Missing Out.
NOMO is an award-winning Vegan & Free From Chocolate brand. Our a mission is to create products that all chocolate lovers can enjoy! Whether you’re vegan, have a food allergy or you just want to make small changes to help the environment, NOMO is the no. 1 choice when it comes to chocolatey deliciousness.
We have a range of vegan chocolates suitable for every taste bud – from creamy to gooey — including Creamy Chocolate, Caramel & Sea Salt, Fruit & Crunch, and Dark. And best of all, it tastes just as good, if not better, than dairy chocolate. In fact, it’s so good that our NOMO caramel chocolate bar was voted 2020’s Best Vegan Chocolate by Vegan Food UK and 25,000 vegan consumers!
As well as being vegan chocolate, NOMO is:
- Dairy Free
- Gluten Free
- Egg Free
- Nut Free’
Dare to share.
Post your rewrites in the comments section below — anonymously, if you want.
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Thank you for reading — and writing.
Until next week!