What happened when Sookio went to Copy Cabana?


Copy Cabana 2017! We been there! Learnings! We got those! Find out what happened when we sent our Chief Copywriter to join his tribe at the hottest party of the summer and celebrate the life linguistic.

Okay, cards on the table: Copy Cabana is my favourite industry gathering of the year. There’s this relentless focus on useful, relevant chat from some incredibly accomplished names in the business that keeps you hungry for the next presentation. Huge thanks and congratulations go to the inimitable Vikki Ross and the Andy Maslen for pulling it all together.

What follows are my own personal highlights from the day’s proceedings, the talks from which I personally got the most knowledge, insight, or warm fuzzy feeling. This could easily become a dissertation on what each of the 13 speakers brought to the table, but I’d advise you to read around some other recap blogs like this and see for yourself what my fellow writers of copy took from the event.

Rise of the robots, by OgilvyOne

Glenn Sturgess and Peter Stephen, Head of Copy and Senior Copywriter respectively at OgilvyOne Business, gave a reassuring take on AI stealing copywriters’ jobs, which (I hate to break it to you) is absolutely going to happen. Probably within 10-15 years.

See, there are some areas where computers kick our human backsides. Critical analysis, impartiality, and tirelessness to name but a few. When it comes to creating and perfecting a formula for headlines which drive traffic, we’re going to find ourselves terminated before too long.

When you consider that 80p in your pound should be spent writing that headline, since 80% of people only read the headline of any given bit of copy, that’s a big potential saving when you get CopyBot 9000 to do it.

However, where humans still excel is in emotional, contextual creativity. We dream, machines do not. According to Glenn and Peter, copywriters of the future will be working in partnership with machines, not in competition. Our time will be freed up to spend 100% of that pound on compelling, useful body copy.

Alternatively, tomorrow’s copywriter could be more of a social anthropologist, a student of human nature, learning which algorithm best suits any given situation. Here, AI might as well stand for ‘augmented imagination.’ I’m okay with that. Besides, how crazy are we as a society when we’re actually worried about robots doing all the fiddly jobs?

The inside scoop on Ben & Jerry’s

Kerry Thorpe, Communications Lead at Ben & Jerry’s Europe, broke down how a brand’s personality can seep into everything they do. We’re not talking about tacky, fake corporate ‘storytelling’ either, anyone who’s been near a tub of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream will agree that these guys are doing it right.

They do it right because they’ve stuck to the mission statement laid out by their founders. Some brands struggle to imagine what image to project, B&J don’t have to, because their image is that of two real people, and they’re a couple of old hippies from Vermont.

The whole company is effectively split into three equal parts, and only one of them is concerned with counting the beans and keeping the lights on. Another focuses on positive social action, using their products to fight for amazing causes like equal marriage and environmental justice. The third, of course, focuses on making great ice cream, of which Kerry gave out two years’ supply, but unfortunately not to me.

Underpinning Kerry’s whole talk was the humility of this brand. It might amaze some marketing bigwigs to learn that coming across as authentic means actually being human. They embrace their failures, because sometimes a couple of old hippies might occasionally get things wrong. Who else would have an actual literal graveyard, headstones and all, for flavours which didn’t make the cut in the marketplace?

Interlude: Welcoming a new face

Roughly half way through the day, we were treated to a talk from Ben McKinney, who you might not have heard of yet, but hipsters that we are here at Sookio, we’re fans of him before he got big. Andy Maslen often comments that his window cleaner earns more than most copywriters, so picture his glee when Ben, a legit window cleaner, joined his copywriting course.

All the artsy-fartsy writers in the house were given a lesson in good business from Ben, as he talked us through his steps to transitioning into writing copy for a living, culminating in a huge ovation from the crowd as we welcomed our new brother into the fold. Without doubt, this was the feelgood moment of the event.

Talking turkey on ToV

Giving a talk at an event like this is nerve-wracking enough, requiring even the most theatrically inclined to put in some serious prep time… Unless your name is Nick Parker, language strategist, who pulled a barnstormer of a talk out of thin air in 36 hours!

Titled, ‘Tone of voice is all bullshit, isn’t it?’ (spoilers: it isn’t), Nick careened joyfully through huge chunks of the copywriting process before getting into his stride on the subject of good ole ToV.

The name of the game here is simplicity and freedom. Everyone has their favourite example of posters which were obviously designed or written by committee and just don’t work. The same goes for ToV guidance, which really needs room to breathe, or you end up with the same old banal, meaningless bumf like ‘we need to sound human and honest.’ How many inhuman, dishonest businesses do you know who openly admit it? Looking at you, Ryanair.

Establish tone without substance, Nick illustrated, and you’re left with the Tories’ 2017 election campaign: Endless soundbites, sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Nick gave us a list of what he sees as the ten principle tones of voice (tone of voices?) used by big brands, and challenged us to come up with more. I personally couldn’t, but see if you can do any better, and see if you can match your favourite brands to these headings:

  • Playful children

  • Simplifiers

  • Foolbiscuits (because whimsy is fun)

  • Rebels

  • Ronseals (just tell them what it does on the tin)

  • Big Friendly Giants

  • Purposeful

  • Energisers

  • Storytellers

  • Impersonators

Not only was Nick’s talk informative, tight, and on-point, it was also riotously funny. It didn’t surprise me that he used to write for the Viz (ask your dad what that is).

Is there a copywriter inside everyone? #cc2017 #nickparker #copywriting

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Nailing the copywriting formula

Rounding the day off, we had the veteran Steve Harrison, author of How to Write Better Copy. It’s a book I fully intend to get read ASAP, because his talk was just beautiful in its simplicity and clarity of message: Establish your customer’s problem, and write copy that shows how you solve it. Two steps that so, so many people get wrong.

According to Steve (and I back him 100% on this one), too many people write to appease their clients and nab a payday. They solve the client’s marketing problem, not the customer’s lifestyle problem. They talk about ‘the art of XYZ’ because that makes the client feel good about themselves. Here, we were treated to, I kid you not, about two dozen examples of ads which ran with ‘the art of…’ as flagship copy. ‘The art of guttering’ was my favourite.

As for how it should be done, we got an example from 1964, when Volkswagen found themselves struggling in New York trying to sell (in their own words) ‘a Nazi car in a Jewish town.’ A bit of research showed that what people here really wanted was a car that started reliably, first time. What resulted was this masterpiece:

Another successful Copy Cabana

As I mentioned way up there at the beginning, these are just my highlights. We were also treated to:

  • Ponderings on the wonderful worlds of Roald Dahl and Harry Potter from Sarah Topping.

  • A colourful refresher on content marketing from the good folk at Valuable Content, Sharon Tanton and Sonja Jefferson.

  • Moving stories of charity and heroism from World Vision UK’s Karen Allonby.

  • Wine writing wisdom from ITVs’ Joe Fattorini.

  • Musings on diversity from Elle Graham-Dixon.

  • Poetry to rearrange the atoms of your soul, courtesy of Rishi Dastidar.

To top it all off, we were nourished with all the tea, lunch, and cake we could eat. One of Director Sue’s pet peeves about events is when they skimp on the grub, but Copy Cabana was no slouch there. The strawberry-topped brownies from Love Cake were worth the ticket price on their own.

This is one of those events which really energises me about a job I already love. I can’t wait to get cracking applying what I picked up on my current and future work, and I’m already looking forward to who’ll be stacking up the card at next year’s event.

Looking for the services of a reinvigorated copywriter? Talk to Sookio today, and give your next big marketing project the love it deserves.