#Compellingcopy: My favourite female copywriters throughout history

10 Mar 2021 | Culture

#Compellingcopy: My favourite female copywriters throughout history

By Dominic Oliver

The monthly series in which we take a close look at compelling copy and the secrets to sounding fresh.

In the week of International Women’s Day, I’m aware of what this blog is supposed to do. Remember that Superbowl spot? Didn’t it give you the #feels? Check out these spine-tingling campaigns, showing how kickass women are! Women rule, ok! But only for today, really. Because it’s a hot topic. And it’s easy to create emotive ads that rally against existing power structures.

The Drum wrote a great article about the ‘faux-feminism,’ so many brands slickly operate every International Women’s Day. And though it’s not particularly surprising, it’s no less nauseating. So no, this year I’m not going to be highlighting all of the ‘empowering’ ad campaigns I saw last March, no matter how impressive the creative is.

Instead, I want to take a little look at some of my favourite female copywriters of all time. Many of these women genuinely operated in a world of mahogany and misogyny akin to Mad Men, and yet delivered creative that lingers long in the memory. I find that much more inspirational than yet another tv spot involving a man, his daughter, a sunrise and a twee piano track.

So, let’s get to it.

Mary Wear

Mary Wear is behind one of the most iconic tv spots I remember tittering at as a child: the ‘cleaner’ ad for Yellow Pages, which unfolds more like a world-class comedy sketch than an advert.

But she’s done some tidy things in print, too. Particularly stuff targeted specifically at women, such as this hard-hitting anti-smoking campaign, that merges makeup and ashtray imagery to devastating effect.

Oh, and there’s this for British Airways. The headline “Paris, from £2,872.37 return”, seems shockingly expensive, but then the very funny copy both romanticises a trip to Paris and drives home something that’s becoming ever more relevant: return tickets are by no means the most expensive part of a holiday.

Barbara Nokes

Barbara Nokes is an old-school copywriter with a very modern ethos: ‘edit, edit, edit.’ As she puts it “people simply don’t have time for long copy.”

Some of my favourite work of Barbara’s is in the car advertising space. Do you know exactly what Vorsprung Durch Technik means? It doesn’t matter: you associate it with German efficiency, and by extension you associate Audi with other luxury German cars like Porsche Mercedes and BMW. That’s the revelation that Barbara had, back when Audi were jostling to be acknowledged in that space. And it was simply genius.

This lovely print ad for Volkswagen is my favourite kind of marriage between copy and design. It’s simple. It puts a different spin on a well-known phrase. And it’s unforgettable.

Cathy Heng

Sorry to keep banging on about old car ads, but remember when they were genuinely inventive, rather than just a drone shot of a dude driving on a mountain road while we’re asked to ‘feel the thrill of the future’ or something?

Take these classic BMW print ads from Cathy Heng. “Shaken. Not stirred.” *Chef’s Kiss*

Ruth Gill

Ruth Gill carved a name for herself in post-war Britain, not exactly a haven for female creatives. And yet her defining campaign, go to work on an egg, was so impactful that British Lion eggs still use the line in campaigns today.

Ruth is one of the women in advertising history who, through the sheer weight of her wit, began to erode barriers in the industry and pave the way for future female creatives. It’s well worth remembering her and her like this International Women’s Day, rather than simply gushing over the latest motivational Nike spot.

At Perq Studio we’re proud to be a female-led business. But that’s not why our clients hire us. They hire us because we have some of the best designers, writers, strategists, account managers and tech whizzes around. So if you need any of those, get in touch.