Copywriters, unsurprisingly, love to write: all day, every day. I have yet to meet a copywriter who doesn’t think they ‘have a book in them’ or TV/film script, and many go on to write a book or script successfully.
Despite this, some of the best copywriting ideas are conceptual – they use few/no written words as such, just a strong creative idea (or set of ideas) that will resonate with people.
Remember the Cadbury’s drumming gorilla (admittedly from the mind of an art director)? How many words do you think were written down for that, other than ‘gorilla plays drums to In The Air Tonight’?
How about the more recent Marmite ad, mentioned in my previous post? Apart from actors saying lines, the concept is ‘animal rescue programme parody, relative to Marmite jars’.
Anyway, putting those to one side, every now and then I like to stick my head above the parapet of advertising ideas and absorb the best that comedy and film has to offer. Why? Because, in comedy, some of the best examples of conceptual writing can be found.
Take a look at this clip from the Royle Family (one of my favourite aside from Jim and Twiggy decorating the lounge, and Denise and Jim in the bathroom as she’s about to give birth), from 6:00 to about 6:40 :
The whole scene is based around the different ways in which they all eat their Polo mints. Not one word of dialogue is uttered during this whole time. All that would’ve actually been written on the scripts is ‘they all sit and eat their mints in different ways’ (or something like that). I think it’s a quite brilliant scene.
Assuming that you have the time (it is a Sunday evening after all), check out this clip from Friends – you only need to go up to the 2:30 mark – where Ross goes to get a spray tan:
The whole clip simply centres around Ross failing to get sprayed on his back, ending up as ‘an 8’ on the front. Take out all of the dialogue and that’s the basic – and very funny – concept of that scene.
Final clip – and this is largely self-indulgent – comes from The Pink Panther (The Pink Panther Strikes again). Inspector Clouseau – Peter Sellers, not Steve Martin – is one of my favourite comedy characters, and this is my favourite scene from all of the old Pink Panther films:
You don’t have to watch the entire clip (although I strongly recommend you do, and defy you not to laugh!), but look at the whole concept behind the knight’s suit of armour. Aside from the dialogue, the armour is crucial to the scene: first Clouseau attacks it, then gets his arm stuck in the metal hand. With the attached ball and chain he knocks out the gardener, smashes the piano in pursuit of a bee, and burns his hand in the fire, which leads to him accidentally shooting a colleague.
Without the knight’s suit of armour – the hand in particular – this scene wouldn’t be half as funny. This is all conceptual writing, underpinning the characters’ lines.
So there you go: some of the best writing involves no writing at all.