As S3’s copywriter, I’ve had some pretty challenging briefs during my two years at the agency. Being asked to pick the five greatest copywriters of all-time, however, stands out as my most challenging one yet. After all, how do we define not just great copywriters, but the greatest copywriters?
For me, at least, the answer boils down to one word: legacy. The decade in which they plied their trade is irrelevant, because the greatest copywriters are the ones whose work leaves a lasting, meaningful legacy.
The same work we still talk of and admire, even in the digital age. The same work that would still turn heads if it were run today. The same work that, in this copywriter’s humble opinion, is best showcased by the following five people…
#1 – Tom McElligott
An image of a stationary car that brilliantly demonstrates the speed of Porsche – Tom McElligott ad
— richard shotton (@rshotton) April 5, 2018
Tom who, we hear you ask? Although probably not as well-known as other copywriters in this list, the quality of McElligott’s work truly belies his lack of notoriety. From Northwestern Bell to The Episcopal Church, Murray’s Steakhouse to Porsche; his smart, simple style worked seamlessly for small, local clients and large, international businesses alike. And, should you need proof, click here to see the best of McElligott’s ads on Dave Dye’s excellent blog, Stuff from the Loft.
#2 – Mary Wells Lawrence
Almost overnight, Well’s campaign transformed #Braniff International from a respectably conservative, mid-sized Texas airline to an international icon of American youthful creativity and prosperity that captured the age like no other campaign had done before. #AdvertisingBraniff pic.twitter.com/nK433TzXgP
— SFO Museum (@SFOMuseum) March 18, 2018
I. Love. New. York. Four simple words which, when combined by Mary Wells Lawrence and Milton Glaser, become an iconic slogan for an iconic city, by an iconic copywriter, no less. I ❤ NY aside, Lawrence’s other quintessential work included ‘The end of the plain plane’ for Braniff Airlines and ‘Plop, plop, fizz, fizz’ for Alka-Seltzer. More importantly still, the Queen of Madison Avenue’s natural talent and bold attitude helped pave the way for female talent in a male-dominated industry.
#3 – Dave Trott
A true copywriter’s copywriter, Trott’s honest, approachable, everyman style has resulted in some of the greatest ads of our time. It didn’t matter whether he was writing TV or outdoor ads, Trott’s ability to grab his audience’s attention with simple yet memorable lines was second to none. This innate ability to stay in the psyche, was no more evident than with his iconic Lipsmackin’ line for Pepsi in the ‘70s, which is still as fresh today as it was then.
#4 – David Abbott
— Outsmart (@OutsmartOOH) June 23, 2016
What can be said about David Abbott that hasn’t already been said? From his iconic work for The Economist to his poetic writing for Chivas Regal, Abbott’s book could fill a creative Hall of Fame by itself. Combining intelligence with razor-sharp wit, his work goes to show that, even in the digital age, great copy truly stands the test of time. Especially copy that never really sells directly to the consumer, instead inviting them into a conversation, of which Abbott was the master.
#5 – Julian Koenig
— Brandterns (@TheBrandternExp) June 25, 2015
If one piece of copywriting single-handedly changed the advertising industry forever and for the better, it was Koenig’s Think Small ad for Volkswagen in 1959. Bearing in mind the fact he had to essentially advertise a Nazi car to a post-WWII American society, Koenig’s bold, honest copy redefined the way in which copywriters sold to the public. It’s hardly surprising that Think Small is considered one of the greatest ads of all-time, reason alone for Koenig to make this list.