Reading Time 6 minutes.
It all begins with a queen olive, but first a short, heraldic fanfare to set the scene:
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Every great teacher knows this pithy Benjamin Franklin adage. Every one of us can relate to it in the various learning curves we’ve traversed. And every copywriting course I’ve investigated does a lot of the telling and the teaching; but the involving part is, and understandably so, missing.
It takes enormous courage and zero ego for a copywriting course teacher to think on their feet as they involve students from concept to completion. And on top of that, aim to finish with a professional standard end product (!) Every time I do the “involve me and I learn” method, I wonder if I can do it again. 25 years later, I still wonder how much longer I can keep kicking goals with my students in every session. But we do, and we do and we do, again, and again and again. Every copywriting course I have delivered produces results that amaze me as much and my participants. Fabulous ideas. Remarkable copy. Finished products worthy of publishing. Worthy enough to be worth around $500 of an average copywriter’s fee.
For me personally as well as professionally, it’s the most satisfying job I have ever done. To facilitate a marvellous creative process and then, before my very eyes, witness participants transform into a superior communicator in the craft of Art & Copy. I can definitely vouch for the “involve” approach in the twin processes of clear thinking and compelling copywriting. As equals … co-writers … collaborators.
But I’ve been to enough writing courses over the years just to learn skills of teaching from other writing and editing teachers. And I can make a reasonable conclusion that the “involve” technique is a very rare and precious find.
Now for the big reveal: the inspiration behind the “involve me and I learn” principle of my copywriting course (and its name, Copywriting In Action) was … yes … the queen olive.
And the fellow behind the queen olive story was British copywriter, Richard Foster (board member of Abbott Mead Vickers, where he spent 25 years building AMV into Britain’s biggest and most creatively-awarded agency). He didn’t know it but he was a great teacher of the craft (he does now because I recently told him). In his piece on how he wrote the Sainsbury ad shown below, Richard was humble enough to allow us into his ordinary mind and show us (not tell us) how a great copywriter thought the thoughts and wrote them into the right choice of words.
This you can experience for yourself in The CopyBook. Twenty-five years after it was first published, it continues to be a revelation for all my copywriting students.
I have re-published his piece here for you to see what I mean. And if you’re wondering, these days Richard divides his time between playing his “excessively large collection of vintage guitars and doing the occasional freelance job”. This division is currently around 80:20. He says he likes it that way.
Now, over to Richard Forster in his own words:
Today I’m writing the copy for a Sainsbury’s olives ad.
The rough is pinned on the wall in front of me. (I always have the rough in front of me when I’m writing a piece of copy. It helps get me started.) The visual is of a Sainsbury’s Queen olive in a glass of martini. The Queen olive is a very big olive, so it’s hogging the glass. The headline says: “Would you like a martini with your olive?”
The first thing I have to do is tell people that this is a big olive and not a small martini. I have a jar of Queen olives on my desk, together with a jar of ordinary olives. I take out an olive from each jar and put them side by side on a plate. As I’d hoped, the Qµeen olive looks about twice the size of the ordinary olive. So I write (in long-hand, as always) “The Qµeen olive is twice as big as ordinary olives.”
Before I finish the sentence I’ve already got the next line. “And twice as delicious.” I immediately realise that “twice as delicious” is a matter of opinion, so I make it a matter of fact. “And, some would say, twice as delicious.”
I need to expand on “delicious”. I take the Qµeen olive from the plate and eat it. I write what I taste: “Its flesh is plump, but firm, with a luscious fruitiness that makes it the perfect appetiser… ” It occurs to me that a martini is a kind of appetiser, so I add (in brackets, of course) “…with or without the martini.”
As I said, this is an ad for Sainsbury’s olives, which means Sainsbury’s entire range of olives. There are nine olives in the range. All but one of these olives come from Spain. More than that, they come from Seville, the best olive-growing district in Spain. The odd one out, damn it, comes from Greece.
Of the eight Spanish olives, seven are green and one is black. The Greek olive is also black. Of the seven green olives, one is the Queen olive and the other six are Manzanilla olives. Of the six Manzanilla olives, one is whole, one is pitted, two are stuffed and two are marinated. Of the two black olives, the Spanish one has a strong flavor and the Greek one is just Greek
How should I arrange all these different olives in the copy?
I lead with the Seville story. I re-read my opening lines and continue: “Like all Sainsbury’s Spanish olives, our Qµeen olives come from Seville, the most renowned olive-growing district in Spain.”
Now I have to introduce all the other olives in the range. I decide to get the Manzanilla olives over with in one fell swoop. I write: “We also sell the more familiar Manzanilla olives, either whole, pitted, stuffed or marinated.”
I then continue to explain that one of the stuffed olives is stuffed with pimiento and the other with almonds, and that one of the marinated olives is marinated in olive oil with garlic and chilli and the other in olive oil with herbs.
It’s too long. I’m going to have to boil it down. So I rewrite the end of the paragraph as follows: “. . . stuffed (with pimiento or almonds) or marinated (in olive oil with garlic and chilli or with herbs).”
Now I’m on the home straight. All I have to do is talk about the two black olives, mention the fact that Sainsbury’s have the widest range of olives, and then clinch the sale with a call to action.
I start to re-read the entire piece. I only get as far as the opening line. “The Queen olive is twice as big as ordinary olives.” I don’t like the word “ordinary”, it’s too ordinary. Common-or-garden olives? No, I’ve seen common-or-garden too many times. The common olive? No, too derogatory. Wait a minute, Queen olive … royalty … commoner.
“The Queen olive is twice as big as commoner olives.”
Time for lunch.
I second that emotion, Richard. And I’ll have a macchiato and tiramisu to follow.
Meanwhile, my online copywriting course’s latest timetable is up and running and ready to take your booking now.