03 November 2009

The basis of all great advertising

The basis of all great advertising is great writing.

No, this is not an ode to long-form print of days gone by, or a paean to 4-page direct mail copy.

This is a clarion call to simple, clear strategies, and strong, powerful ideas. These are fruits of our labor that depend on the written word. Sometimes we can express strategies or ideas with an image, but never without a coherent description or an insightful analysis. None of this ever happens without great writing. Better said: None of this ever happens without clear writing.

Clear writing and clear thinking go together. When coaching my colleagues on how to express a strategy, idea or recommendation, I am only partly concerned about syntax and grammar. The real issue, usually, is: Do you understand what you are trying to communicate? If not, think again before writing again.

Almost every single great creative director I've worked with, regardless of discipline, insists on a clear strategy. If you don't give them one, they sense it intuitively and call you out. As they should. Their work depends on a clear strategy, clearly written. If it is not written clearly, chances are it is not a clear strategy.

The importance of clear writing came to mind this morning as I read this op-ed piece about the fiftieth anniversary of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. If you don't know about this book, it is a failure of our education system. If you haven't read it, even in a long time, read it again. Buy it here.

P.S. -- This is not all super-serious stuff. For a little fun with great writing, you can read Stephen King's On Writing and check out the blog Mighty Red Pen.


  1. Loved this. I actually went to my bookcase and took out my copy and lovingly read through the worn pages for a few moments.

  2. Awesome -- it's one of those books you re-read from time to time.

  3. Funny story... right after this blog post I took out my copy to prove a point to a few folks on my team. I did prove that point... and also proved myself wrong on another point when I read the very first item on the very first page.

    I've been incorrectly using Evans' as the possessive form of my own last name, but Strunk & White tell me it should be Evans's. I can only please ignorance since I only inherited this last name a few years ago.

    Still... it was a bit humbling.

    ;) jbe

  4. Great story, Janet. I confess I learned the correct possessive "s" rule later in life, after being given a gold star for doing it the wrong way throughout my youth. You're not alone! The system failed us. Fortunately Strunk & White are there to bail us out.

  5. Steve, I just saw the link in your comment from my WSJ article. I appreciate the heads-up, and I'm glad to know of your blog, which I enjoyed perusing. I'll be back.

    May Strunk and White watch over you!


    If you're interested, I blog about writing at