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Amuse, move and entertain – how writing brought emotion into the 2021 D&AD Awards

Writing for Design and Writing for Advertising judges convene to discuss the power of words

This year’s D&AD Pencil winners are a reminder of the copywriter’s role in creative excellence, and demonstrate the power of words to highlight social issues, stir emotion, and move the viewer – to tears as well as laughter.

In this discussion hosted by Nolan Giles, Design Editor at Monocle, the D&AD Writing for Advertising and Writing for Design juries discuss the beauty of simplicity and advertising’s ability to entertain, even during the most challenging times. They share their thoughts on how and why brands should embrace humour, the move towards long-form content, and why bringing design and copywriting closer together could benefit creative work of all kinds. 

‘Meat and potatoes’ advertising can still make us laugh

Eric Kallman, co-founder and CCO of Erich & Kallman, chose Burger King’s Confusing Times radio campaign as a standout piece of work, describing it as an example of how brilliant writing can be the creative force that elevates an everyday ad campaign. 

“I’m seeing less and less campaigns, and more and more one-off pieces that I think a lot of the time might be put together just for award entries and not ‘meat and potatoes’ advertising that runs and runs and runs,” he explained. “So I was really excited with a really simple campaign construct you could hear on your drive to work, or later when listening to music on your phone, and you could hear a different one each time, smile throughout, and take away the message.”

“Often in radio it’s high energy and fast-paced, and they did a great job with this one breaking through because it was so quiet and sparse,” he added.

Copywriters should dare to embrace humour

“I’ve never been to the States or watched American football, which is why I selected this ad because I was riveted from the start,” said We Are Pi Senior Creative Ankita Tobit, of Miller Lite’s Cantenna campaign – a musical parody of illegal streaming. “I had the same enjoyment for the tenth time I saw it.”

Humour is, arguably, one of the hardest things to write into an ad campaign, but it’s also the glue that holds us all together. Great funny writing can transform a piece of creative work, taking it “outside of advertising”, as Tobit says.

“It was nice to see that humour is finally making a comeback in advertising,” she added. “There was this moment where everything was like, oh we’re saving the planet, or, oh we’re saving this person, or saving that. And that’s fine, but I feel like it was making the world a very heavy place.”

Although the boundaries of what makes acceptable humour have definitely shifted in recent years, leaving some parts of pop culture feeling at best dated and at worst offensive, Tobit says that the creative industry needs to embrace its funny side. That doesn’t mean inappropriate mocking of challenging subjects, but it does mean copywriters being bold enough to make a joke. 

“If you’re self aware you don’t get offended by things that easily, because you understand where the line between a joke and something real is,” she said. “I really hope brands grow some balls … I really hope we see a more funny round of work next year."

The best copywriting is often the simplest

According to freelance executive creative director Heiko Freyland, simple language doesn’t have to mean unsophisticated creativity. He chose Beats By Dre’s You Love Me campaign as an example of how elegant, stripped back writing can deal with challenging subjects. 

“It’s such a powerful piece and it celebrates Black culture and its influence and I think what makes it so brilliant is it’s beautifully written like a poem,” he said. 

“The hardest thing to do is what I call anthem or manifesto pieces,” added Kallman. “Every element has to be beautifully and simplistically perfect … good ads are always simple."

Writing a simple advert is, in itself, unique enough to get people’s attention. In a time of hugely complex, multimedia and multi-platform campaigns, sometimes the power of a simple word is enough to resonate with the viewer. As Tobit says: “What sold that piece was the sheer simplicity of it. There wasn’t a single word that even a third grader wouldn’t understand. That’s the true power of words, to be able to say something so heavy in words that don’t exceed four or five letters. That’s beautiful.”

Simple words can also capture the joy of the everyday. Freelance graphic designer Kieron Lewis picked Huggies’ We Got You, Baby campaign as an example of the power of a straightforward and relatable tone of voice. 

“The thing I took, and a lot of the judges picked up on, was the simplicity of the language – and I don’t mean simply the vocabulary used,” he explained. “It’s not the biggest vocabulary and long words, it’s just simple good copy made in a very good way. I really picked up on being very chatty in the approach – conversational and casual as well … when I watched it I was thinking it’s something that will resonate well.”

Make the content people skip the pre-roll ad for

It was notable that many of this year’s winners were long pieces of content, which is especially remarkable in a year that’s seen everyone’s attention spans shorten dramatically. 

“The key to making longer content is to not treat the audience like they’re stupid, and with a lot of advertising we tend to dumb things down because it’s like, how do we get this down to the simplest message that is super clear, that everyone’s going to get,” said Tobit. 

“I feel like brands are finally realising that if you’re going to pour a tonne of money into making something, you might as well make it something that doesn’t work as a skippable YouTube pre-roll, but something that stands behind that pre-roll that people are going to skip to watch.”

Designers and copywriters must be in sync

Often, designers and copywriters work in separate teams – but this year’s Writing jury made a plea for the two disciplines to come together. For Lewis, it’s absolutely essential that these skills come together.

“I feel it’s so important for the two to integrate and work more together,” he said. “Brands and agencies should encourage that more...rather than ‘right, we’ve done the design, off we go to copy’. The two need to be in sync. For me the best campaign or design work is when the two harvest energy from one another to create something beautiful.”

Watch more D&AD 2021 jurors unpack the work that captured, provoked and entertained them, and debate what creative excellence looks like.

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