Be One With Whipple: A Primer on Good Copywriting

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Hey Whipple, Squeeze This! That’s a title that will surely make you look twice when passing it in a book store. If it does catch your eye, pick it up. Then buy it, take it home and read it. Learn from it. Sullivan taught me more about the advertising and marketing industry in this book than I would have thought. I had never heard of Luke Sullivan before reading his book, however, there are not many copyrighters that are household names. Sullivan has been in the business about 33 years as a copyrighter and creative director working at agencies like Fallon McElligot and The Martin Agency. Going into this book, I was excited. I was interested to gleen advice from a seasoned professional in the agency, and honestly was expecting it to be a little dryer than it was.

Memo Writing 101

After only one or two pages I could sense his sarcastic sense of humor, and at that point, I knew we would get along. He kept his points short and sweet and held true to his own point: write like you talk. In fact, in the section when Sullivan explained the importance of writing a memo without sounding like Mark Twain, he included a memo a coworker had sent to him.“Effective late last week the Flavor-iffic project was shelved by the Flavor-Master Consumer Products Division Management. The reasoning had to do with funding generated covering cost of entry, not cost of entry as it would relate to test market in 2001, but as it would relate to expansion, if judged successful across major pieces of geography in ’96 and beyond. In sum, the way Flavor-Master new products division served up Flavor-iffic to Consumer Products Division Management was that if Flavor-Master were to relax financial parameters for Flavor-iffic in 2001, and 2002, in effect have Corporate fund the program, Consumer Products Division could recommend to Corporate to proceed with the program. The decision was made at the Consumer Products Division Management level that Corporate would most probably not accept that and the subject was taken no further.” In short, the program was too expensive and had to be cut. It is laughable that this memo was actually sent throughout an agency, yet holds true to another key point Sullivan makes. The point is actually a line from Kevin Costner in Bull Durham, “You’ve got to play this game with fear and arrogance.” It seems the author of the above memo might have had an unhealthy balance of the latter.

Have You Washed Your Pig Today?

Creativity is a word tossed around quite a bit in advertising and marketing, as well as sprinkled onto cover letters and resumes alike. We learn how to be creative in art class and theater, and in our ways around things. In the advertising industry, creativity is vital but the term itself is broad. In Whipple, creativity is defined through a metaphor when it is compared to washing a pig. The comparison may sound a little odd, but once explained, proves to be rather true. “It’s messy, it has no rules, no clear beginning, middle, or end; it’s kind of a pain in the ass, and when you’re done, you’re not sure if the pig is clean or even why you were washing a pig in the first place.” On Luke Sullivan’s personal blog, he posted pictures of him and a fellow professor actually washing the pig as a lab-type experiment for his students. Clip by clip, Sullivan commentates on how this experience.

The title of this book is from a famous ad campaign from Procter & Gamble for Charmin in the 1970‘s. The commercial was before my time but as I understand, the grocery store owner, Mr. Whipple, yelled at people for squeezing the irresistibly soft Charmin in his store. It may not be the most creative campaign, but it sold toilet paper. Whipple had a striking success rate as being unoriginal and hated by consumers. Regardless of the lackluster ad, Charmin was selling through the roof. It was not until a select group of companies, namely Volkswagon and Alka-Setzer, shook the world of advertising. They made it put the pressure on agencies to use funny, creative, out-of-the-box ideas. Sullivan explains how to sidestep the tempting puffery through a Yugoslavian proverb, “Tell the truth and run.” Volkswagen became the “King of self-deprecation,” by owning their flaws and turning them into strengths. It is no surprise that Volkswagen has smaller cars, so in one 1964 Beetle advertisement, the caption became, “It makes your house look bigger.” It was original, different, and sold millions of Beetles that year.

Additional Tips:

  • Puns aren’t funny and should never be used
  • Engage the audience through metaphors as “wit invites participation”
  • Write hot, edit cold
  • Stay far, far away from focus groups
  • When creating an ad remember: twenty percent of your time will be spent thinking up ads, eighty percent will be spent protecting them from the client, and thirty percent will be spent doing them over.
  • And one more from the folks here at Alter Imaging, a Charlotte web design company: Don’t say it and show it. Pick one. If you are trying to portray “comfort” either use the word or use “comforting” imagery. Never use both.

For more Sullivan, you can read his blog,, or follow him via twitter @heywhipple. What current campaigns do you think could benefit from the wise words of Whipple?