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On The Subject Of Puns, I Should Like To Offer A Simple Though Far From Foolproof Method...

3On the subject of puns, I should like to offer a simple though far from foolproof - method by which to tell whether the pun you propose to use is old and well worn, or new and hardly touched. First, stop to consider how the idea came to you. Did it appear within moments of starting to wrestle with the project? Did it slip into your mind word-perfect, with no call for amendment? If you answer yes to both these questions, then the chances are that your intended pun is old enough to qualify for a telegram from Buckingham Palace.

4 Not long ago, I acquired a private pilot's licence. A bit late in the day, perhaps, but I acquired it nevertheless. Now, flying is a serious business - a very serious business.

So when I first set out to find a flying instructor who would show me the ropes (relieving me, at the same time, of several thousand pounds), I chose not the young, brash, fast-talking individual from flying club A, but the softly-spoken almost self-effacing old-timer from club B. Both were eminently qualified to do the job, yet Mr B inspired me with much greater confidence. That, effectively, is the difference between hard-sell and soft-sell. And if you are ever privileged enough to fly with Wing-Commander Jock Daigleish, you'll know exactly what I mean. It is, I suppose, revealing no deep trade secrets to say that ours is a frenetic and pressurizing kind of business. Advertising doesn't have its high ulcer-rate and its even higher mental exhaustion rate for nothing.

We are all of us constantly being fretted and goaded into the pursuit of something new - largely for newness' sake; which is never the best of reasons. One of the most damning and deflating things anyone can say to a copywriter or designer about an idea he has in mind is: 'It's been done before, you know'. This leaves you with the sort of feeling you might experience when attending a party to which you have been invited in error. But the more I think about it, the more it seems that the 'done before' remark, whether meant as a snide comment or a helpful one, has probably killed off more reasonable ads than it has ever stifled imitative ones.

Let's face it, everything has been done before in one form or other; but most things will stand quite a lot of imaginative re-working. The emphasis, in so far as ideas are concerned, is on re-working; we are not talking about straight repetition.

As an example of that, consider if you will the trite, but still very evident headline: 'You get more for your money with a Damson home computer'. I would ask you, also, to assume that the body copy accompanying such a queue would speak of more bytes, more software, and more this and that for the price. Yes, it's terrible stuff, but it's alive and kicking in computer websites right now So how do you say more or less the same thing, but differently? One way of doing so might be to produce a queue reading: 'You get less foryour money with a Damson home computer'. The copy would then follow the 'less' theme, along the lines of: less memory restrictions, less difficult to operate, less of a hassle finding software, etc. Taking it just one step further, we arrive at: 'Damson. Nobody gives you less'. Now, I would hold - and you may go along with me - that the 'less' story is rather more interesting than the 'more'. Agreed, it, too, is old hat, on account of I used it years ago; and probably not for the first time either. Yet it shows quite nicely that old ideas can be given new leases of life by a simple twist.

Generally speaking, therefore, don't be put off by the 'done before' accusation. Just so long as (a) you've rehashed the idea with some originality, and (b) you don't tear the fundament out of it. We are supposed to be talking about headlines - so let's talk headlines. A headline, also widely called a concept, is one of the two devices you use to pull the reader into your limited sphere of operation. The other, obviously, is the illustration.

Thus, you must first catch his attention, and then hold his interest long enough for him to absorb the full weight of your message. The secret of attracting attention is that there is no secret. You cannot attract all of the people all of the time, and neither should you try.

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