Advertising/Canadian Copywriter
  1. Definitions of
    Advertising and Marketing

  2. Does Advertising Work?

  3. What is Good Advertising?

  4. Some Examples of Good Advertising

  5. How An Ad Agency Works

  6. Retail Advertising

  7. Corporate Advertising

  8. Direct Mail

  9. Telemarketing

  10. Specialty Marketing

  11. Corporate Guidelines

  12. Tricks and Traps

  13. On Leading A Creative Life

  14. The Major Canadian Ad
    Agencies and Their Clients

The words "advertising" and "marketing" are often confused -- so we've defined each of these terms to give you a better idea of how they differ.

Advertising is the actual message people see or hear about a product or service.

Marketing is more the "nuts and bolts" of the equation -- or in other words, the method of disseminating the message to the public. We've included a visual in the area below to make things clearer. Let's say the marketing mix was an iceberg floating in the water.
80% marketing
20% advertising
The bottom 80% of the iceberg would be marketing while the top "20%" would be advertising -- which is the part that holds the message. Marketing is the part the public doesn't see and advertising is the part the public does see -- and for a good campaign to work, each must support the other. The marketing must provide the base for the advertising and the advertising must follow through on the marketing plans.(As an advertising copywriter, you will probably consider yourself a person who has an "internal "gut" instinct -- someone who knows what will work and what won't work -- which might be a mistake. Your mission in life is to satisfy the masses, not your personal muse). Marketing is discussed elsewhere on this site, so let's put that topic aside for the time being and consider advertising -- which, as we've said, is the message the listener or viewer takes away with him. Again, as we've said earlier, the advertising is heavily dependent on the marketing-- which is usually a product of market research. The market research might be in the form of surveys or focus groups or any other information gathering services or it could be just a gut feeling on the part of someone in the marketing group. When this is the case, it's usually a lot more cost effective than the other methods (but that's a whole other page in itself). Once the research is in -- that is to say the marketers have gathered all their information and written it into a plausible marketing plan -- the copywriters and art directors will set about their duties. It's their job to read the marketing plan and ascertain how to formulate the message. In other words, they must determine who the message is directed to and the tone and manner in which the message will be conveyed. For example, a commercial developed for the medical community or business people will be substantially different than a commercial which sells pizza to teenagers.
P.S.: If you're looking for a specific marketing or advertising term, see our glossary section.

Throughout your career you will be asked the inevitable question: does advertising work? The answer is simple. "Yes advertising does work!" If advertising didn't work, why would Coca Cola spend millions of dollars every year advertising their product? Coca Cola knows that everyone on the planet is familiar with the taste of Coca Cola, but the company still must advertise -- else Pepsi Cola would literally wipe them off the map. The story is the same for every company, whether it be General Motors, Bell Telephone right down to ACME Heating and Plumbing. If a company doesn't advertise, it will soon be history. Consider the words of William Wrigley, the owner of The Wrigley Chewing Gum Company, which illustrates our point quite well. One day Mr. Wrigley was traveling on a train with a friend. The friend was puzzled as to why he invested so much in advertising when Wrigley's Chewing Gum was the best known chewing gum in the world. Mr. Wrigley looked up from his paper and
responded that "if the coal man stopped shoveling coal into this locomotive, the train wouldn't reach the station." The same was true of his company. If he didn't "fuel" its progress with advertising, his company would stop dead in its tracks.

Good advertising is a concept -- a nugget of an idea that can be expressed with a minimum of words -- usually five to seven. It's a concept which takes all the marketing plans, all the focus groups, all the "gut feelings", everything into consideration. It's one simple-to-understand solid idea that gets under the skin of the consumer. Perhaps the idea will operate on the "Unique Selling Proposition" or, in other words, the advantages the product or service has over the competition. Does the advertiser wish to communicate that his goods are of exceptional quality? Does he want to emphasize low prices? Whatever the concept is, it must convey the idea quickly -- plus it must also be a "likeable" idea -- because if a consumer doesn't like your commercial, s/he won't like your product. For more information on writing a commercial, see our copy writing page.

Examples of excellent advertising are everywhere, one of which is the latest string of television commercials for Bell Canada. Their "flagship" commercial features a group of musicians jamming with other musicians around the world. The spot is superbly acted, well produced and, in short, absolutely brilliant. But Bell hasn't stopped there. The company has outdone itself by following this commercial up with equally interesting spots.

In one of the spots, a man and a woman walk into a Bell retail shop. Obviously, the idea behind this spot is to communicate that A) Bell has retail stores and B) there is a wide selection of merchandise in these stores. In other spots of this genre, the lazy advertiser would have the announcer rattle off a list of the products available. This spot, however, communicates the idea with a neat scenario. The man walks to the other side of the store and rings up the cashier on his cell phone. He informs the cashier that he wants one of the items in the store but is reluctant to specify exactly what that item is, which prompts the cashier to guess. As the cashier guesses, he rhymes off a list of the merchandise available in the store (which is a sly way of communicating the product line). When the cashier finally lands on what the customer is looking for (a satellite television) the customer replies with a cheerful "BINGO". Unbeknownst to the cashier and the man, however, is the fact that the man's wife is within earshot of the cashier. She hears the phone conversion and says "I heard that". This spot is nifty because it achieves its objectives -- and does so in an interesting "slice of laugh" manner. Every married man knows the futility of wanting to buy something his wife doesn't want to buy. They watch the spot and say "AHA!". The spot works like a well-oiled machine. And remember, it's not important for a viewer to like your product. It's far more important for them to like your commercial! 'Nuff said!

Advertising agencies found their roots in the newspaper industry. Usually, somebody inside the newspaper took the advertisements from the advertiser and placed them. When this person realized there was money to be made as an independent agent, s/he left the newspaper but still placed his/her clients advertisements, charging them 15% of the placement fee for handling their advertising. In time, this "entrepreneur" added staff and other media to his/her client list until s/he had an advertising agency. Once all of this had been achieved, our "entrepreneurial thinker" started offering other services such as creative. Today, advertising agencies work on the same premise. These days, however, it's far more sophisticated. For example, the billing changes frequently. Sometimes an agency charges for creative alone -- and multiplies that figure by 17.65% to reach a capitalized billings amount (the amount that would have been charged if the client had been a full-time client).

P.S.: When you're developing a concept for an advertising campaign, make sure your concept works on all fronts. In other words, all the media in which it will appear. A good rule of thumb is: if it works on a billboard, it should work in every other medium. As an example, we'll use the experience of one of our members. He worked for an agency that dealt with the region of Halton -- which is a group of towns just west of Toronto. When the agency was briefed, they were informed that the region had grown exponentially in recent years. The new industries that were moving into Halton were high-tech industries -- WORLD CLASS high tech industries. They developed the line: "Halton. A world class place to be", which was accepted. Soon this line was everywhere: on the region's envelopes and stationery, the highway boundary signs, the main sign at the regional headquarters. It was even on the region's garbage trucks. After the campaign was a few months old, our Canadian Copywriter member decided to go for a walk. While out on his "constitutional", he noticed a garbage truck pull up beside him. Several garbage men were throwing garbage into the back of the truck. Some of the garbage slopped over the sign that said "A World Class Place to Be" and flies were buzzing around the sign. He quipped that perhaps the line should have been: "Sometimes a world class place to be"

Among the many different types of advertising, the most exciting is consumer advertising. Consumer advertising takes place in the mass media such as radio, television and newspapers and reaches a broad consumer base. Usually, consumer advertising involves the biggest budgets and demands the most talented people. While consumer advertising may appear glamorous, it's also a high stakes, high pressure business. As a result, there is a great deal of volatility. So if you're looking for big money -- AND you can handle big headaches -- head for the big time in consumer advertising. On the other hand, if consumer advertising isn't quite your bailiwick, there are a number of other different types of creative venues that will attract the creative soul. Industrial advertising, for example, although it doesn't quite enjoy the high profile of consumer advertising can also be exciting, rewarding and challenging. Alternatively, you might consider Direct Marketing, promotional advertising, retail advertising, corporate advertising, special event advertising, the list goes on and on.

Sometimes, the lines are blurred between the different types of advertising and sometimes even the company itself doesn't know how to categorize its advertising efforts. For example, in 1985, Firestone, the tire company, started to look for a new advertising agency in Canada. Their incumbent agency was running the Firestone account as primarily a consumer account and advertised the tires based on that premise (Firestone's television commercials were emphasizing the quality and safety of the tires). However, Firestone's sales weren't up to snuff and in the company's eyes, the campaign wasn't working. After the agency review, Firestone ditched its old agency and decided to go with a new agency that specialized in retail advertising. The new agency was welcomed (especially by the retail dealer network -- whose main interest was sales) and the agency immediately went to work on a new advertising campaign. The new television commercials were highly dealer-oriented and worked on promotions and sales to get the tires out the door. Of course, this meant that nobody was actually touting the quality of the tires -- and Firestone lost significant ground to companies such as Michelin and B.F. Goodrich. In retrospect, Firestone seemed hell bent on slicing its own neck. And eventually it did! But let's get back to you. How do you pick the advertising discipline that's right for you? Don't worry. you will find a way. If you don't, it will find you.

Corporate advertising means different things to different people. Perhaps the most recognizable form of corporate advertising is annual reports. The production of annual reports is a very big business in Canada and many companies are solely dedicated to this discipline.

Annual reports are primarily read by shareholders who are interested in the performance of the company. Secondary audiences include: business (usually the competition) and government (usually Revenue Canada). The report consists of a profit and loss statement, an overview of each of the company's divisions and a message from the President. Usually, the message glosses over the dumb moves of the year and is "cautiously optimistic" about the company's future. The reports from the divisions are usually told from the perspective of the different managers of the divisions. The language in annual reports must be very exacting and somewhat restrained --- to be businesslike (not exactly a lot of yuks here, folks). If you cover points such as the company's stability, liquidity, growth and future potential to be sold off for gah-zillions (so the principals can spend the rest of their misbegotten, lying lives in the Grand Cayman Islands), writing an annual report is about as easy as rolling off a log. And we know! We took a poll. It turns out that every one of our staff members at the
Canadian Copywriter has, at one point in their lives, rolled off a log!

Retail advertising is a whole discipline onto itself. There are many different forms of retail advertising -- mostly dependent on the type of media you're using. Newspaper retail advertising is immediate and urgent. The message is usually based on price -- and the "urgent" reason to buy, ex: "limited quantities". Retail advertising can often be summed up by the line: "if it's raining, sell umbrellas". One offshoot of retail advertising is "mall advertising" -- which involves all of the stores in a particular mall co-operating in a joint effort. The funds for these efforts are usually collected by the landlord. Usually, the mall will produce a "shopper's guide". Some bigger malls will get involved in radio and television advertising. Some department stores (the bigger chains) will do their own advertising. One of the retail advertising gurus is a lady by the name of Judy Young Oko. If you want to learn more about retail advertising, pick up one of her books. A note: Retail advertising, especially in Canada, is fairly banal, thanks to companies like the Brick (groan) and Leons.

Direct Mail is usually connected with a promotion. In other words, mail is sent to the consumer outlining a cents-off deal, contest, new product or promotional giveaway. Some of the more important points to remember in a direct mail campaign are:

  • Try to give something away. If you do, make sure that fact is flagged on the outside of the envelope.

  • Try to personalize your direct mail. That is easy to do with today's laser printers. In other words, instead of Dear Sir, you can print Dear John Doe. Also, try to keep mentioning the prospect's name throughout your text.

  • Make sure your envelope is stuffed with loads of material. The heftier your campaign is, the more readers you will get.

  • Always include a coupon. And always make sure to include a picture of the product.

Ed sidebar: Coupons were invented in 1894 by the same druggist who bought the Coca-Colaģ formula. Since nobody knew his product, he created demand by handing out handwritten tickets for a free glass of the drink. The idea caught on. A year later C. W. Post distributed the first grocery coupon in his new health cereal, Grape Nuts. It was worth a penny toward the purchase of another box. The idea was on a roll! By the 1930ís, most Americans were clipping coupons to save money during the depression. Coupon clearinghouses helped drive the coupon craze through the 40ís and 50ís. By 1965, 50% of Americans were using coupons on a regular basis. By 2002, shoppers were saving $3 billion annually by redeeming 3.8 billion coupons on a variety of product categories. Today, over 79% of all the people in the U.S. use coupons.

As a marketing tool, coupons:

Introduce consumer products.

Promote brand names.

Increase unit sales in short bursts.

Impress consumers and retailers alike with their offers.

Capitalize on seasonal awareness.

Nearly 80% of shoppers would use coupons if given the opportunity according to the Coupon Council of the Promotional Marketing Association. Consumer Product Companies invest nearly $6 billion per year in creating, marketing and distributing over 300 billion coupons in the U.S. alone. The time problems for the consumer are: 1) planning what to shop for/where; 2) finding the coupons they will use; 3)clipping them; 4) organizing them and; 5) finally remembering to bring them along to the proper store. This takes them from 20 minutes to 120 minutes per trip according to the Coupon Council of the PMA. These problems contribute to redemption rates being as low as 1%. Most of todayís coupons come from sources such as FSIís (Free Standing Inserts) and Direct Mail Packets. Newspaper subscription rates have been shrinking, especially Sunday papers with all its supplements, making coupons harder to find / less available. Back To

The purpose of direct mail is to secure a quick purchase. This means that your copy should have urgency to it. Phrases such as "Only 10 Days Left" or "Limited Quantities" are okay to use in Direct Mail

Writing telemarketing scripts can be profitable. Years ago, robotic dialers dialled telephone numbers and a pre-recorded message spoke to the prospect. Thankfully, those days are gone. The robotic dialers nearly killed an already imperiled business. Today, we're back to those friendly folk who just happen to call when you're in the middle of dinner or in the shower. Oh, well, everybody's gotta make a living, right! For more information on telemarketing or cold calling pick up John Schiffler's book 'A Guide To Cold Calling" or go to our telemarketing/telefundraising web page.. Although it's really meant for salesmen who are assigned this somewhat daunting task every day, the tips can also be used by the every day cold caller.

It's amazing how many different options are open to writers and, at the Canadian Copywriter, we're constantly astonished at the breadth of work available. Did you know, for example, that there are companies that work exclusively on naming products? Lexicon, for example, is the largest "naming" company in the world. Based in Sausilito, California (just across the bay from San Francisco), Lexicon has coined many of the brand names we all know and love today, including "Power Book," "Pentium", "Embassy Suites hotels", "Levi's Slates Dress Slacks", "Vibrance Shampoo", Subaru's Forester and Outback all-wheel-drive vehicles, "Zima", a clear malt beverage, "Dasani" a new purified bottle water made by Coca Cola and BlackBerry, a small hand-held device that can send wireless e-mail messages around the world (which was invented in Canada, by the way). The company calls "product naming" a "science". The names are carefully researched and rationalized before being presented to the client...and Lexicon charges the client up to $45,000 per successful name!

As you go about your career as a creative copywriter, there are certain pitfalls you might want to avoid. First off, remember that you're operating in an exceptionally competitive environment (and yes, it can be...uh...cutthroat at times), so it's important to keep your bearings at all times -- especially when things go wrong. We've listed the setbacks in terms of what a client might say after you have made your creative presentation.

"Yes, I've read all the marketing reports, and I think the
creative is fine, but I've got a gut feeling..."

How do you respond to this? Well, you smile, bite your tongue and listen -- then follow through on what the client tells you. You gave it your best shot. Heck, you've talked until you're almost blue in the face and your client still doesn't agree. So what else can you say? Sit back and think about it for a minute. Who is the smarter one? You or him? Oh? Don't tell me you've forgotten that he's the one who signs the cheques?

"We thought your commercials were good, but the Chairman
of the Board wants to do his own standup commercials".

This is called "the Lee Iococca Syndrome". Every CEO believes he's Lee Iococca. He may be one of the captains of industry, but if he's got the perfect face for radio and the perfect voice for cartoons, how will you ever convince this brilliant leader to stay on the sidelines? How are you going to convince him that a professional actor would represent his company better? How do you tell the leader of a Fortune 500 company that he's better off fetching donuts? Man, have you ever got yourself into a boondoggle. All the best to you. See you in the unemployment line?

"We didn't like the creative ideas, so we're not paying".

This usually happens when you're working as a free-lancer -- and it's usually when you're working for a small-time agency or a one-man show. We believe this is very unfair. You were contracted to do the work. And you did the work. So why shouldn't you get paid? Ask to meet the people involved, then speak calmly and rationally. If indeed, you missed the mark, then you shouldn't get the full compensation. However, you should at least get some money for your efforts if you honestly gave your best shot. Advertising is a very subjective business, so if your work wasn't appreciated, you're just not on the same wavelength as the client. But rather than not pay you, they can just not hire you the next time. A professional will at least pay you something. You're a business person and you shouldn't let anyone go without paying for your work. When they do, THANK them and go away. You have bigger fish to fry elsewhere.

"Your copy was fine, but it was too long. So we decided to replace
it with bullets instead. People don't have time to read long copy".

This may be true. A lot of business people are very busy. But who's so busy that they can't read a few nice words. Besides, not everybody who reads your ad is a business person. What if they are business people and they're just lounging around in an airport reading a magazine. What else have they got to do besides read some enticing, thought provoking copy?

"The production people adjusted your copy so it
would be better suited to the medium"

There's not a lot you can do about this one (Didn't we mention somewhere along the line that you have to be thick skinned to be in the advertising business).You just have to trust the production people. After all, they probably do know the medium better than you do. It'll hurt, I know. But just smile and pray that the production turns out for the best. There is a caveat, however. Sometimes, the production people will fudge something. That's when you have to draw the line. If it doesn't look or sound real, it'll come off as fake, which will create disbelief -- and eventually mistrust of your client's product.

"If you charge us half your going rate,
there'll be a lot more work for you down the road".

How many times have we heard this one? And how many of us have fallen for it. Believe us, there is no further work for you "down the road". It just never happens. you will probably get sucked into this one somewhere along the line. When you do, you will be kicking yourself and putting a lot less effort into your work...because you know you've been screwed.

"Can you do this on spec?"

See Above.

"We need a really hot idea,
something that's never been done before!"

There are no new ideas. Everything has been done before. There are only different techniques and different production values. Substance and follow-through outrank brilliant "new" ideas.

"We've got your copy. We're just waiting for the committee to approve it"

When you hear this, alarm bells should be ringing like a four alarm fire is searing through every tissue of your brain. It's normal for two or three people to correct and make revisions to your copy, but when you're dealing with a committee of seven, eight or even ten people, you will get enough diverse opinions to make your head spin. Chances are you will be driven crazy trying to satisfy everyone. Go ahead and try, though. Once. you do, you will see what we mean."

"We just need you to sign this confidentiality agreement. Then we can move."

Read the fine print carefully. Confidentiality agreements can limit your ability to move around. You can be stopped, even sued, if one client doesn't work out and you try to move to a competitor.

"We need your quote before we can proceed"

It's normal to want a quote. Every business must work within a budget. However, when you ask about your client's budget and encounter nothing but blank faces, satisfy that itch in your feet. Start running. The fact is that most clients are reticent about the size of their budget (there must be something in the water). For some reason, they believe that kind of information is "classified". Of course, when you hear this, you already feel like you're tapping on the glass and looking in. Our best suggestion is just to grit your teeth, write out a proposal that's professional and backs up every penny. If you are fair, you will eventually gain your client's trust in time. If not, let your feet do their thing!

"Our agency is small. In fact, it's only my husband and I"

Yikes! Another mom and pop shop. Chances are they will be operating on a shoe string budget...and the wife (in an effort to save her husband's money) will drive you right round the bend with her demands. Been there. Done that.

"I read your copy, but I didn't receive
your marketing plans nor did I get your illustrations"

Whoa! Wait a second here. Get out the Webster's. Look up the word copywriter. Isn't your job just to write the words? Suddenly, somebody (and usually it's a small company) appointed you "King of Marketing" and wants the whole ball of wax. Maybe you are a genius, but it's best to stick with what you know. Tell them up front that you only write the words the advertising will use. Your job is to make the words gleam and sparkle and make sense -- and drive customers to their door. Unfortunately, as a free-lance writer, you're a one-man show. You don't draw. You don't do layouts.
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