Advertising and the Creative Process

Creativity is the hallmark of advertising. Advertisements and commercials are produced by a team of creative people namely the copy writers, artists, graphic designers all of who work under the supervision of the creative director. The copy writer is responsible for developing the verbal message of the advertisement, that is, the written and spoken words of the message. The artist is responsible for the non-verbal aspect of the advertisement and sometimes doubles as the graphic designer who develops the visual look and the feel of the message. The creative director is an experienced artist or copy writer who is responsible for the overall product – the final form that

the advert takes. These personnel work in the creative department of an advertising agency and they are generally referred to as creatives. What then is creativity in advertising?


The root word of creativity is the verb ‘create’. To create is to originate, design, fashion, form, invent, produce, etc. (Webster, 2010). Arens, et al (2008: 377) defines creativity as a process involved with “combining two or more previously unconnected objects or ideas into something new”. Creativity is a process that involves step-by-step procedure. To some people, it can be innate but generally it can be learnt. It involves bringing into being what never existed before by combining two or more things that are ordinarily unconnected. The bringing together of the unconnected objects and ideas amount to the design or development of advertisements in order to pass across messages about products and services in the most effective manner. The ability of advertising creatives to develop winning concepts, leading to the creation of effective advertisements makes an agency stands out in winning advertising accounts in the industry.


Creativity performs certain roles in advertising. They are:

  1. Creativity helps advertising to perform the information dissemination function.
  2. Creativity helps advertising to perform the persuasive function.
  3. Creativity helps advertising to remind the audience about products, services and ideas.
  4. Creativity creates the ‘boom’ or ‘punch’ in advertising. This is achieved when some words or expressions in an advertisement becomes the talk of the audience.

The creative process is a step-by-step procedure of discovering and originating ideas as well as using existing ideas in new ways. Generally, the creative process involves advertising creatives to play four key roles, each at a stage:

  1. The explorer: This is role that requires research in order to generated new ideas or news aspects of existing ideas. It involves searching for information and paying attention to unusual angles of existing information, ideas and objects. Advertising creative must learn to explore in order to originate ideas.
  2. The artist: The role of the artists is to experiment the ideas generated in a number of ways, finding the most appealing way to pass the advertising message. He combines the information, ideas and objects using different approaches with a view to finding the best. This is the stage of generating the big idea about the advertisement.
  3. The judge: The judge examines the results of the experimentation process. This is an evaluative role aimed at deciding the best and most practical approach to express the ideas combined in an advertisement. At this stage, creative evaluate the big idea generated and decides whether to implement, modify or discard entirely. It is the decision making stage in the creative process.
  4. The warrior: Along the earlier stages, there may be criticisms, objections, excuses, setbacks or obstacles to bringing the creative concept into being. The warrior stage is the stage at which creative overcome all of these impediments. It is the stage of realisation of the creative concept. It is the stage of winning in which the big new ideas is approved, implemented and placed in the media. It should be noted that it is not easy to get to the warrior stage as several obstacles must have been surmounted. Also at the warrior stage, creative presentation is made to the client who approves the account. It should be noted that it is the approval that culminates into money for the agency. Therefore, creatives have roles to play in ensuring winning presentation. This is because their roles would be in futility if account managers fail at the presentation stage.


Advertising Copy and the Creative Brief

The term ‘copy’ has various meanings to different people. In advertising, copy refers to the printed words and figures in an advertisement packaged to generate a particular response from a target audience about a product, service or idea (Osunbiyi, 2001). An advertising copy is the totality of the wordings that make up an advertising message. Essentially, an advertisement is made up of the headline, sub-headline, body copy, illustration, signature and slogan. Across all the components, the totality of the wordings of an advertisement – minus the illustrative components – is called the advertising copy. The process of packaging the wordings of an advertisement is called copy writing. Copy writing is actually initiated by a client or an advertiser – the organization who wants to advertise – who writes the client’s brief and submits to the advertising agency. The agency develops the advertising copy from the information supplied in the client’s brief.


From the client’s brief, the agency first develops what is called the creative brief, otherwise known as copy platform. The creative brief is a document that serves as the plan or guide that contains important information to be considered in developing an advertising copy. The creative brief contains the 6Ws of advertising thus:

  1. Who? This is a consideration of the target audience of the advertisement. It answers questions about the demographic, psychographic, behaviouristic and geographic information about the target audience.
  2. Why? This specifies the reasons or specific needs or wants of the consumer that the copy should address. Consumers have specific needs or wants to satisfy through the purchase/consumption of the product. The agency needs to unravel this through research.
  3. What? This entails the specific features of the product, which could satisfy the consumer needs or wants. An advertising message should tell the good news about the product in respect of the benefits it can offer. These should be stated in the creative brief.
  4. Where? This refers to the advertising medium in which the message is to be relayed. The creative brief should state the advertising media relevant to the target audience. This is to guide in minimizing waste and maximizing advertising effects
  5. When? This is a consideration of time in relaying the advertisement. The specific time of advertising exposure is a crucial consideration, which research should reveal as part of the audience profile. Certain audience groups would not be exposed to certain media at certain time.
  6. What style or approach? This is a consideration of what the message will say and the tone it will adopt. Message content is crucial in delivering meaning to the audience. The manner of delivery is equally important. More importantly, the kind of appeal to be used – rational or emotional – in developing the message is a crucial consideration. All these must be stated in the creative brief as plans for developing advertising copy.

The creative brief contains vital information and issues to be considered in writing an advertising copy. It is not the copy itself but a guide that the creative team follows in developing the advertising copy. From the creative brief, scripts for newspaper, magazine, billboard, radio, television or internet advertising messages are written. By nature, an advertising copy is written in response to the client’s brief. This means that an advertising copy cannot be developed except the advertiser has shown the intention to advertise his product. This intention is shown through

the submission of the client’s brief, which contains vital information about the products to be advertised: its history, features, benefits, strengths, weaknesses, market share, life cycle, etc.


The Nature of Advertising Copy Writing

Advertising copy writing is purely salesmanship. All efforts put into developing an advertising copy are geared towards promoting products and services for sale. As such, the creative personnel have the responsibility of employing words and other elements that can move the target audience through the communication ladder to the stage of purchase.

Advertising copy creates a distinct personality for a product or service it promotes. The copy should present what the product or service has, which others in its category don’t have. The message should contain and express some uniqueness about the product or service. The statement that expresses such uniqueness is called the unique selling proposition (USP). In the words of O’Guinn, Allen & Semenik (2009: 344), the USP is an advertising style which “strongly emphasizes a supposedly unique quality of the advertised brand”.  The USP is a persuasive approach of presenting what the advertiser thinks or believes his brand has but is absent in other candidates in the product category.

Advertising copy should make a product or service desirable to the public. The copy should be developed using texts, colours and other graphical devices that are appealing to the audience. The AIDA+C principle suggests that stimulating desire precedes action or purchase, hence for an advertising copy to be effective, it should be developed in a way that stimulates the desire of the target audience in the product.

Copy writing in advertising thrives on individual creative talent. It is a creative form of writing, the beauty of which lies in individual talent. It involves creativity and only the creative-minded, the gifted, the talented or the trained creative can effectively handle it.

Advertising copy writing is different from other kinds of writing. As a creative for of writing, its language is unique. In other kinds of writing such as journalism, strict adherence to certain rules of grammar is essential, whereas in advertising, copy writing takes great liberty with such rules.

For instance “Your Write Choice” as an expression in a ball pen advert is wrong grammatically but it is permissible in advertising copy writing.

Strong words that appeal to emotions, feelings and sympathy are known to stimulate interest and desire. They are often used in advertising copy writing. Also, words that connote immediacy such as ‘now’, ‘while offer lasts’, ‘limited offer available’, ‘hurry while stock lasts’ are often useful in copy writing for message effectiveness. Advertising copy writing also makes use of memorable everyday language.


The Don’ts of Advertising Copy Writing

A key principle to always remember in advertising copy writing is that it must reflect the taste, value and culture of the target audience. This is because advertising is targeted at groups of people, the taste, lifestyle and values of whom must be considered or else, all advertising efforts become futile. An advertising copy that fails to fit into the cultural framework or environment of its audience is bound to fail. Generalization is not convincing; it is thus better to globally but act locally. In order to keep to this principle, the following pitfalls should be avoided in advertising copy writing.

  1. Flamboyance: Every advertising copy must be easily understandable. The message should avoid the use of vague and bombastic language. The use of simple everyday language that can be understood easily is preferable.
  2. Avoid the use of long-winding words and sentences: It is preferable to be complete and concise in writing an advertising copy.
  3. Avoid the use of abstract words as they don’t provide good and exact description of ideas. They are not easily understood and evaluated. It is thus better to use concrete words that are specific, measurable and easily understood.
  4. Avoid the ‘me’ or ‘we’ attitude: The message of an advertisement should appeal to the interest of the audience and stress their needs. It is therefore important to avoid the ‘me’ or ‘we’ connotation in advertising copy writing in order to persuade the audience. It is not proper to write too much about a product or its manufacturer in an advertising copy. Rather, the copy should address more of the benefits the audience could derive from using the product. The copy should treat the audience as the most important person in the world. The following illustrates the difference between the ‘we’ and ‘you’ connotations: We: ‘we are pleased to announce our new flight schedule from Lagos to Abuja, which is any hour on the hour’.

You: ‘you can now take a flight from Lagos to Abuja any hour on the hour’.

  1. Avoid expressions of negative thinking: People are more favourably disposed to expressions that connote positive thoughts than negative ones. It is better to stress what a product can do than what it cannot do in an advertising copy.
  2. Avoid the use of offensive words: Some words may be offensive to some people and as such they should be avoided or be euphemised. For example, it is better to call a toilet paper bathroom tissue, a toilet a convenience in order to soften the negative mental impression such words can provoke.
  3. Avoid libel: A copy writer should as much as possible be careful in the use of words so that he does not defame anyone in the copy.
  4. Avoid the use of past tense and passive voice: The use of past tense in copy writing connotes staleness of the product, service or idea. It is thus important to stick to simple present tense and active voice in advertising copy writing to convey newness or currency.
  5. Avoid verbosity: A good copy writer should take cognizance of the cost of space as well as the time required for the audience to read the copy. It is important not to waste space and deliver the message in few words.
  6. Avoid over-punctuation: Excessive use of punctuation marks doesn’t make a copy flow in reading, hence it should be avoided.

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