Archive for January, 2012

Is it a bird?

Human-shaped, RC planes fly over New York. Magic…



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It’s probably no surprise that some of the greatest writers have not been shy about writing about writing (and I’m pretty sure that sentence sent a shiver through all of them). Here are three examples of advice from those who did it best.

The first is from Elmore Leonard, a man who coincidently developed his writing style while working as a copywriter. The idea of a man famous for his gritty realism, sleazy characters and hard-boiled dialogue, writing ads for shampoo tickles me no end. Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, created for an article on writing in the New York Times, also included one final rule that summed all the others up, ‘If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it‘…

…the second piece of advice, from the fantastic site Letters of Note (some other touching and funny missives from the site), is a letter from David Ogilvy, the iconic founder of the ad agency Ogilvy & Mather, one of the inspirations for Mad Men, and a man who quite literally wrote the book on modern copywriting, sent in 1955 to a Mr. Ray Colt. In it he self-deprecatingly describes his methods for writing some of the greatest ads of his generation:

April 19, 1955

Dear Mr. Calt:

On March 22nd you wrote to me asking for some notes on my work habits as a copywriter. They are appalling, as you are about to see:

1. I have never written an advertisement in the office. Too many interruptions. I do all my writing at home.

2. I spend a long time studying the precedents. I look at every advertisement which has appeared for competing products during the past 20 years.

3. I am helpless without research material—and the more “motivational” the better.

4. I write out a definition of the problem and a statement of the purpose which I wish the campaign to achieve. Then I go no further until the statement and its principles have been accepted by the client.

5. Before actually writing the copy, I write down every concievable fact and selling idea. Then I get them organized and relate them to research and the copy platform.

6. Then I write the headline. As a matter of fact I try to write 20 alternative headlines for every advertisement. And I never select the final headline without asking the opinion of other people in the agency. In some cases I seek the help of the research department and get them to do a split-run on a battery of headlines.

7. At this point I can no longer postpone the actual copy. So I go home and sit down at my desk. I find myself entirely without ideas. I get bad-tempered. If my wife comes into the room I growl at her. (This has gotten worse since I gave up smoking.)

8. I am terrified of producing a lousy advertisement. This causes me to throw away the first 20 attempts.

9. If all else fails, I drink half a bottle of rum and play a Handel oratorio on the gramophone. This generally produces an uncontrollable gush of copy.

10. The next morning I get up early and edit the gush.

11. Then I take the train to New York and my secretary types a draft. (I cannot type, which is very inconvenient.)

12. I am a lousy copywriter, but I am a good editor. So I go to work editing my own draft. After four or five editings, it looks good enough to show to the client. If the client changes the copy, I get angry—because I took a lot of trouble writing it, and what I wrote I wrote on purpose.

Altogether it is a slow and laborious business. I understand that some copywriters have much greater facility.

Yours sincerely,


…the final piece, is also from David Ogilvy and deals not only with writing advertising, but also with selling a product in general. It’s a beautifully written, long copy ad for Ogilvy & Mather in which he lays down the rules of successful selling. Agency self-promotion is notoriously poor, but this is an absolute masterclass – by laying out these golden rules, he shows off the agency’s deep understanding of creating a brand, and by having the arrogance to open the inner workings of his agency for all to see, he hints at the even deeper insights he has yet to share…


(click on the picture for a readable version)

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Citation needed

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In the pink

The pink tone in Richard Mosse‘s photos of rebels in wartorn Congo comes from the Aerochrome infrared film he used. The film was originally developed by the US military in the 1940s to detect camouflage and reveal enemy positions in the underbrush:

(via and my lovely girlfriend)

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Snow balls


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A seven deck, skate totem by Palehorse Design:


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Typographic anatomic treatments by UrbanFootPrint on Etsy. They look remarkably like the heart and brain by Ork Posters that I’ve posted before, but I’ve no idea if it’s coincidence, coordination or connivery (theft, basically, but that didn’t start with a ‘c’)…

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