CopyCon 2015

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What happened when 150 copywriters gathered for the third annual Professional Copywriters’ Network conference? A day of scribbling, sharing, swears and a duck army.

This, my third Professional Copywriters’ Network conference, took place on Friday 9th October at Haberdashers’ Hall at Smithfield.

David Levin kicked things off with ‘Winning in 140 characters: How to be a professional tweeter.’ David is the man we can thank for the term ‘Justin Trousersnake.’ He made a name for himself on the Twittersphere after becoming the tongue-in-cheek voice of The Dolphin pub in Hackney – a place he describes as “the Ayia Napa of East London.”

He went on to set up That Lot with comedian David Schneider, and the team tweet for brands including PG Tips, BBC’s The Voice and Guardian Soulmates. He showed us examples of winning tweets, which had a tone of voice in common (humorous, cheeky, pun-tastic, surprising) and shared top tips for using the platform creatively – using words, images, video, layout and emojis.

And who will ever be able to forget the duck army vine?

The second speaker was Laura Jordan Bambach, president of D&AD, co-founder of SheSays and the Cannt Festival and creative partner at Mr President. She reminded us that we have the opportunity to do something amazing with our creativity – ‘we are the music makers, / And we are the dreamers of dreams’ – and shared some examples of great copywriting (Cards Against Humanity, This Girl Can, Waterstones Oxford Street on Twitter).

I didn’t recognise the industry negativity Laura spoke of – copywriters feeling they are part of a dying art. Perhaps that’s because I’m one of the relative newbies who hasn’t done their time in an advertising agency. In fact, I’m probably contributing to the depression of a senior ad copywriter somewhere. Sorry about that (#sorrynotsorry).

Following refreshments, we went into one of four breakout sessions. I attended ‘UX principles for copywriters’ by Tim Fidgeon. He managed to cram a massive amount of high-brow content into an hour – really valuable stuff – and explained it all brilliantly. Everyone I spoke to after the session felt more knowledgeable about UX and freshly equipped to challenge clients on certain things (“Tim said…”). Some of the main lessons: AB testing is the future; there is no need to be needlessly innovative if there’s already a convention; and don’t make assumptions about what users are familiar with.

After what was undoubtedly THE best conference lunch I’ve ever had – no stale sarnies here – we went into our second breakout session. I learnt about how to write shareable content from Sue Keogh of Sookio. She shared some really useful tips and tricks for posting on Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media platforms and we tested what we’d learnt by doing a couple of writing exercises. I know that when I come to share this blog post on social media, I’ll be ticking off a mental checklist of things I now know I should be doing. 

I usually feel sorry for the last speaker of the day, but as we filed back into the main hall for the final keynote this greeted us on the big screen: ‘Why the fuck would you swear in your copy?’ I knew that potty-mouth Doug Kessler of Velocity Partners would have absolutely no trouble holding our attention. He pointed out that we swear everywhere but marketing, and he’s been exploring why it’s not more common.

Marketing is a special kind of speech bound by unspoken rules and invisible conventions.


He talked us through the different types of swearing – abusive, cathartic, dysphemistic, idiomatic and emphatic – with examples of each, of course. Swearing serves a function and used well, can add power to marketing materials. It can surprise; signal confidence; resonate with the like-minded; signal authenticity; add mojo to your voice. Oh, and it can be funny. To demonstrate how it can surprise, Doug showed us the brilliant smart forfour ad by BBDO Berlin.

He showed us more examples where swearing has worked for companies like Paddy Power, Sofa King, Air Asia and Kmart (“If fucking Kmart can do it, you can fucking do it.”), and the brands that just ended up sounding horribly crass. It was fascinating stuff.

All in all, another brilliantly organised event by Tom Albrighton and Ben Locker. Same time next year, fellow copy geeks?


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