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Enjoying the Silence

Award-winning copywriter Kate van der Borgh discusses the power of wordless campaigns

Kate van der Borgh is an award-winning copywriter and leads D&AD’s copywriting Masterclass in London. She believes that at the heart of all great creative copywriting lies good thinking. Here, she talks about celebrating great writing, knowing when not to write, and enjoying the power of silence. 

Enjoy the silence

To help support some of the 225,000 older people who regularly go a whole week without exchanging words with another person, Cadbury chose to donate their words to charity with limited edition bars of Dairy Milk that didn’t have any words on the packaging - 30p from each bar went to Age UK.

It’s an interesting idea. And it made me think of other examples of the best wordless creative campaigns. 

There’s an ad I really love, for the Volkswagen Sharan. In it, a hand holds a silver tin, shaped like a VW camper van. And out of it has come a lime-green jelly, in the shape of a Sharan. Apart from the product name, there isn’t a single word on the ad.

But that’s not because words aren’t important. They’re critical – you don’t get this ad without somebody thinking, very specifically, that the message is: both the van and the Sharan come from the same mould. In the creation of the work, those precise words need to be thought. They just don’t need to be written.

Creative writing = creative thinking

The ad shows that creative copywriting and innovative thinking are inseparable. The words shape the idea itself, long before you get to the creative execution. And different words create a different idea. Imagine what the Sharan ad might have looked like if the creatives had decided that the two Volkswagen vehicles were ‘cut from the same cloth’. 

This is why writers should always be involved in projects at the earliest stages. If you bring them in at the last minute to simply to ‘tone of voice’ some copy that someone else has written – one of my all-time pet hates – you won’t get all the thinking power a great writer can bring.

All this takes me back to an award winning creative copy that won a Pencil and D&AD Awards 2019, Texts from the Trenches by Charlie Lindsay and George Bartlett. Created for Armistice 100, this was a set of posters, each one showing a single text message. The words in each message were taken directly from a letter written by a soldier fighting in World War I – words to a loved one, maybe a parent or a spouse. The only other writing on each poster appeared beneath the texts, announcing whether the message had been ‘delivered’ or ‘not delivered’.

As my fellow judge Sam Pollen said at the time on the Reed Words blog, this entry sparked a lot of discussion. Could we celebrate it as a piece of great writing, when the words didn’t come from the writers themselves?

For me, emphatically yes. By setting real soldiers’ words in a contemporary medium, the posters sent a powerful message: these people were just like you. The writers could have added their own lines or body copy, could even have written their own fictional text messages – but why interrupt the immediacy of the original words? In showing restraint, the writers let the words, and the idea, shine. They reminded us that knowing when not to write is a crucial part of every writer’s job.

We creative copywriters need to remember: words are powerful. But, sometimes, silence speaks louder.

To explore the connection between good creative copywriting and good thinking, learn how to develop tone of voice with personality, discover great copywriting examples from brands, practice several techniques of good copywriting, and more, join Kate’s D&AD Masterclass, Copywriting for Brands.

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