• D&AD

5 Top Tricks and Tips: Writing Short and Sweet

Updated: Jul 2

For those who think copywriting is all about knowing long words and sounding like a smart arse, you’re missing a trick. Will Awdry is an award-winning Creative Director, and D&AD trainer, who knows the holy grail of copywriting is actually saying the most you possibly can, in the least words possible. Indeed, he’s a man of few words, but he’s got a thing or two to share with you about writing short, and sweet.


Mr Stokes taught me maths when I was nine.  In careful, chalky hand above his blackboard was written, “Margins, Accuracy, Gumption and Guts”. That pretty much summed up his approach to the subject.

I’m still rubbish at maths but the words stuck. Phrases and sayings stay with me in a way lists or bullet points do not. That’s the power of succinct copywriting. 

Writing short doesn’t just come down to a list or even a thought. It comes down to a single word. Single words are the copywriter’s best friend. Think of ‘Superhumans’ or perhaps ‘Fearless’. In both examples, one word unleashes volumes.


5 Plundered Examples of Enviable Copywriting


Lucky to have learned from some of the very, very best, I do have a number of tricks, hints, techniques and bleeding obvious suggestions to help people write short. That means writing with impact, flair and confidence.  


Cancer Cures Smoking


At a masterstroke, a statement is changed into an idea.  As an idea, it stays in the brain for longer.


Blind Man Without A Pension


A beggar outside a French station held the handwritten sign: “Blind man without a pension”. Passing poet, Jacques Prévert changed it to, “Spring is coming and I won’t see it”.  The beggar’s takings went up exponentially.  By using context (the season), the audience is forced to confront the message subjectively, comparing it to their own lives.  


The Economist


'“I never read The Economist.”  Management trainee. Aged 42.’ The full word count of The Economist captured in just nine. Genius at work. A sentence that makes me yearn to be part of the admirably clever club.


She’s My Everything Went Wrong


Faced with the same old banking brief about life stages, with-you-all-the-way, the usual money-for-each-stage-of-the-journey twaddle, two non English speaking creative people came up with:  ‘She’s My Everything Went Wrong’ for Swiss Life. The twists and turns of existence captured effortlessly in this and several more, fabulous, switchback lines. 


A Bit of an Animal


‘A bit of an animal.’ From too many great slogans to choose from, this is a stand out.  In 1993, it was a fresh and funny creation for Peperami that fought – and today still fights - its corner with a loveable snarl.


In a sentence, rather than a list, I suggest they are a) write, b) rewrite, c) cross out, d) start afresh and e) repeat.  (A few, horribly gifted people can eventually replace ‘repeat’ with ‘refine’). Come to the 'Creating Short-form Copywriting for Impact' Masterclass for helpful ways to leapfrog these themes. In a word, they’re fun. Honestly.

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