Vox pop – June 2009

Is it possible to write brilliant copy for a brand you hate?

Roger Horberry

No. I don’t care how professional you are, if you’re not at ease it’ll eventually show. But then if you hate it you probably don’t care.

Mike Reed

Of course it is. Unless you’re incredibly lucky, or have been in the job a very short time, you’ll already have had to create copy for brands you’re indifferent to, bored by, and probably some you actively disdain. Our job is to communicate the required message in the appropriate tone of voice, as persuasively as possible. Liking the brand doesn’t really come into it, although I do think it’s a bonus when you do.

If your hatred is moral, of course, you face a different question: “Should you write brilliant copy for a brand you hate?” I once turned down a job for Sainsbury’s, because I was increasingly disturbed about the activity of supermarkets, and was involved in a campaign to keep a huge superstore out of our small town.

That’s all well and good if you can afford to do it. On the other hand, when I co-founded a little agency years ago, we drew up a list of companies we absolutely would not work for. That felt good, but then we got the offer of a rather large project from one of those at the top of our blacklist: British Aerospace.

It was an internal comms job, promoting an employee share scheme, and so somewhat removed from the missiles and torture equipment that concerned us so much. But hell, you’re still sitting down with the devil, no matter what’s on the menu.

We took the job. We were brand new, had no money, and the project paired us up with some designers we were keen to work with. I still work with those designers today, and they’ve become friends. The project went very well, paid some salaries, gave us a portfolio piece and taught us some lessons. Nobody died, nobody fought a war, as they say. (Although, given the client, that may not strictly be true.)

But I still feel bad about it, just as I feel good about the times I’ve said no for purely conscientious reasons. These things are always a judgement call, but I’d recommend listening to the still, small voice when it comes. Even if it makes you wince financially. To quote another adage, it’s only a principle when it costs you something.

Sarah McCartney

One of the reasons I’m a relative pauper is that I won’t work on brands I hate. However, I can write about products I hate with as much enthusiasm as the ones I like. So far, I don’t think anyone has spotted this. I remind myself that other people love them to bits, and I pretend that I feel the way they do. I think of it as being imaginative, rather than two-faced.

Martin Lee

I really don’t know if it’s possible, but I would say it’s worth giving it a try, even if only as a private exercise. The act of attempting to do it will take you into the mind of people that do love the brand, and will almost certainly give you fresh insights about how it’s possible to like it. Beyond that, the question that I’m asking myself is: is it right to accept the brief if your antipathy to the brand is that great?

Rishi Dastidar

Yes, if you apply the barrister’s ‘cab rank’ principle – you might not like the case or the plaintiff, but you take it on its merits, and present it the best you can. That doesn’t mean that it’s easy. But it can become a challenge in of itself – can I make this persuasive even though I know I wouldn’t be persuaded myself?

Jim Davies

Yes, but it will leave you feeling dirty afterwards.

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