Top critical review
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Oversize format and poor reproductions let this expensive book down
on 23 September 2011
This isn't your standard "how to write great copy" book - it is an "updated" version of the 1995 book by D&AD on the art of writing for advertising. Marketing/communication professionals from agencies, in-house teams and freelancers may want to consider it.
According to the blurb, "the book features a work selection and essays by 48 leading professionals in the world, including copywriting superstars such as David Abbott, Lionel Hunt, Steve Hayden, Dan Wieden, Neil French, Mike Lescarbeau, Adrian Holmes, and Barbara Nokes." I would say 'essay' is somewhat generous. You get a couple of hundred words from each copywriter on their approach and philosophy to copywriting. It's interesting to see how different copywriters approach their work - each has a very definitive style and they don't seem to have much in common with each others' way of working. Following these short introductions, readers are presented with a few pages of some of the copywriter's work.
There's a mix of classic adverts pre-1990 and a healthy sprinkling of ads from the 1990s and early 2000s, but I think the bias is weighted too heavily in favour of older work. Much of the modern adverts reproduced feature the Economist ads. According to the publisher: "The lessons to be learned on these pages will help you create clearer and more persuasive arguments, whether you are writing an inspiring speech, an engaging web banner or a persuasive letter." - possibly, but we aren't actually presented with anything web-related. I believe in this day and age, copywriting books do need to cover the web more comprehensively, whether it's a news story headline or a web banner ad. Writing for print is not the same as writing for the web.
I also think it would have been good to include upcoming copywriting talent. The focus of these books always seems to be 'leading professionals' and 'copywriting superstars'. It would have given the book a little more balance.
The biggest issue I have with the book is its format. It's a huge, coffee-table sized book, which isn't conducive to reading. The paper quality is not great and some of the ads have not been reproduced very well - a small number look truly awful. Also, a number of adverts have been reproduced over a double page spread, which just destroys the ad - this isn't the type of book where you can easily bend the spine. The editor does admit that in some cases they "have had to scan ads from previous editions of the book or from old awards annuals".
Overall, I think this is an expensive book for what it offers. For sure it'll look good on your coffee table and in your agency/marketing department, but I personally don't buy books to sit there and look pretty. It's cumbersome to read and would have benefited from being published in a more user-friendly format on better paper. I actually think they should have made it a completely new version, featuring adverts post-1995, and re-released the first version. The world has moved on a bit since 1995, it's a shame some of these publishers haven't.