Justin Oberman - Copywriter Worth Reading - Coffee N.5 Podcast

Episode 62 – Coffee N.5 – The Secret to Becoming a Copywriter Worth Reading with Justin Oberman

Justin Oberman has been known by many names; The Sherlock of Strategy, The Barnum of Branding, The Copernicus of Copywriting, and The Aristotle (he prefers Asimov) of Advertising. We sit down with Justin to discuss modern advertising, how it’s changed over the years, and what it takes to be a copywriter in the industry today. Justin gives us a look at what he’s learned over the years in advertising and some tips for aspiring copywriters looking to get into the world of copywriting. Justin also explains how he found himself in the advertising and copywriting industries, from his days in college to his current roles today. Advertising and copywriting have changed in many ways through the decades, and some aspects have remained the same. From direct mail advertising to digital advertising, we’ll take a closer look at what goes into the process of creating a successful marketing campaign while incorporating brand awareness and much more! 

Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • How Justin Oberman got into the advertising and copywriting industries. 
  • How advertising and copywriting have changed over the years. 
  • What goes into the process of creating a successful advertising campaign. 
  • Three tips for aspiring copywriters looking to get into the industry. 

If you want to learn more about Justin Oberman or his thoughts on advertising and copywriting, check out his social media channels.

Instagram: @obercr8ive

Instagram: @obermanpartners

Instagram: @advertisinghistorytoday

Twitter: @obercr8ive

If you want to learn more about the show, visit our website!

Follow our host Lara Shmoisman on social media

Instagram: @laraschmoisman

Facebook: @LaraSchmoisman

LinkedIn: @laraschmoisman

Twitter: @LaraSchmoisman

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Episode 62 – Coffee N.5 – The Secret to Becoming a Copywriter Worth Reading with Justin Oberman Advertising with Justin Oberman

Lara Schmoisman  0:05
This is Coffee N.5 . I’m your host, Laura Schmoisman. Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for being back with us today in Coffee N.5 and you guys know that for me English didn’t come easy. I mean, I ‘m self taught and as I did have my first degrees in screenwriting, which it taught me how to tell the story, how to choose the characters, how to how important were the characters and the beginning the middle of the end, when I started marketing, I realized not only had to learn new language, also, I had to learn how to write a new language. And on top of that, I had to learn how to write for sales marketing, which is called direct marketing and many other direct response marketing. Today, I have invited Justin Oberman. I hope I did say at the right time, Justin, and Justin has over 20 years of experience in the advertising world and writing copy. I mean, he uh, God calls such a crazy names. And I have to tell you guys this because he was called there. The Copernicus of Copywriting that I start all about, you prefer a CMO of advertising? And the Sherlock of strategy?

Justin Oberman  1:31
Sure, I’ve been told, I’ve been told that, depending on how I’m coming in, I’ve been told I’ve been compared to those people, which It’s okay.

Lara Schmoisman  1:44
It’s okay. It’s your a humble guy. So I just want to talk about copy. How did your life How did you end up writing or interested in writing copy and what skills are different from writing, because I’m sure that in my, with my backgrund, at my time, nobody prepared us to write in the digital world.

Justin Oberman  2:11
Yeah. So I really had no plan growing up to go into advertising or anything like that. Actually, when I graduated, college, I went to grad school for philosophy. And from there kind of went into the marketing world, but soon discovered that the stuff that I like doing was a lot of the creative stuff. And I had a cousin who encouraged me to kind of focus on that. So at one point in my life, I kind of dropped everything and went to AD school, to figure out how to be advertising creative. And the choices which are still the choices today, I guess, was copywriting or art direction, slash graphic design. A lot of people don’t know this, but I originally just thought I’d go in for graphic design, because I, you know, I like I like that, but then soon learned that I don’t, I’m much more of a conceptual person, then then the discipline sort of that’s required for actually doing the job of art director.

Lara Schmoisman  3:28
Oh, my God, you know that I am very similar. I did one year of advertising. And the first year of advertising was basically drawing. Oh, wow. Yeah. And, and I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it when they told me you need to draw like this salt container, and I need to look like a salt container. That is a famous brand. I should say, I quit. I can have maybe the concept of a new salt container, but I just cannot do the drawing.

Justin Oberman  3:57
Yeah, no. And I mean, yeah, that so I still you know, I can I can mock things up well enough, nothing forever for a finished product and whatnot, but and I think that the stuff that I learned by taking graphic design classes helped me a lot, you know, especially when I became a creative director. But then you know, from there, it’s like, Okay, well, you should be a copywriter. So I was like, Okay, I’ll be a copywriter. You know, growing up, I didn’t do that so well in English classes that I think a lot of my English teachers with the exception of one would be surprised that I went into advertising copywriting or writing in general. And but you know, you started off your your podcast by talking about you know, English and how it’s not your first language and whatnot, and I get a lot of work. Questor of peace, you know, request for advice on LinkedIn from you know, people from different countries about copywriting. And I mean, copywriting is a universal language, it doesn’t matter what language you’re doing it in. Obviously, I can’t write copy in Spanish or Japanese or anything like that. But that that’s the, the writing part of it. The words and stuff, it’s, it’s almost like the second part of it. The main part of copywriting is, which I think a lot of people miss Today is his concepting, right, his ideas is understanding people, and makes what makes it work, what makes them tick, what makes them move and think, you know, so, if you don’t have that edge, if you don’t have that knowledge, then you can write all day long, and it doesn’t matter.

Lara Schmoisman  6:01
I call it content with intention, you need to know, what’s your intention to write a copy? You know, what are you writing for brand awareness, you want to make a sell? What’s your intention here? Yeah, And that, to me is the place to start.

Justin Oberman  6:20
Yes, that is, that is the place that’s, that’s where you have to start. And so when I, when I started, it was you know, in the late 2000s, early, you know, 2000 10s and that’s right around when advertising really started changing. Because before that you like, digital wasn’t everything yet, right? We were still doing, you know, print ads and television commercials and, and what not. And the, the writers, you know, knew how to write, knew how to write, you know, advertising knew how to write persuasively the past 10 years with with the emphasis on on short term results that digital advertising makes so addictive. really didn’t help train copywriters, how to write effectively, you know, especially what i what i find odd is that the digital emphasis on fast and immediate results is really no different than the direct response copy and the direct mail copy that’s been going on for years, like since the 1920s, When, when, you know, this type of reason why coffee was invented, you know, the type of advertising that’s meant to get an immediate sale, not build a brand awareness and whatnot. And I, I my philosophy is you could do both at the same time, but I have I also understand how to do just brand awareness and but but direct response copywriting and direct marketing copywriting has a whole wonderful rich history of techniques and, and creativity, there’s a lot of creativity that goes into this even like the long ads, the you know, the long print ads that you used to see that really just get ignored. Like you would think that okay, well if we’re gonna go full direct response, we’re going to take some of that that knowledge and apply it to, you know, online and whatnot, but that’s really not what happened at all. And occasionally, you see these people who are who are selling copywriting classes, right. And they’re generally like how to make your Facebook ads more compelling how to, you know, copy is very important how to make your website copy. And I’ve read tons of these books, you know, they give them away for free if you take their hour class,

Lara Schmoisman  9:01
I got them all I spend all the time. I feel I didn’t learn how to in any of those classes, how to create that sense of urgency.

Justin Oberman  9:11
Well, I mean, urgent, but urgency is just one part of it. But what a lot of those classes do, a lot of those classes are literally just reiterating like the sort of past legends of copywriting whether or not it’s, you know, Claude Hopkins in scientific advertising. I mean in that style, or even some of the great direct mail people you know, you know, Garfinkel and Kennedy and and, and, and Joseph Sugarman and I mean, these are people who, you know, did the copywriting for themselves to sell their own product. And you can really learn a lot from those people just studying them and not taking these people’s classes, but a lot of them a lot of these people There, how can these classes are really just regurgitating that that information, which is fine. You know, you got to learn it somewhere. But it’s unfortunate that they’re the the mentor mentorship in the ad industry today is, is really not there. To offer mentorship in that regard, I was lucky in the sense that, that I had that, and if I couldn’t find it, I sought it out. And I’m a bit of an auto dig, you know, I’m a self learner. So, you know, I’ve gone back and haven’t just read Claude Hopkins scientific advertising, but I went out and found almost every single ad he’s made and read all of them. And ones that I’ve liked, I’ve copied by hand so that I get that, that feeling, you know, like, I’ve had to write that way, and whatnot.

Lara Schmoisman  10:52
But I feel like I 100% agree with you. And that’s one of the reasons I opened my agency and we have the work culture that we have, is because I believe in mentorship. And I feel like it’s something that is was completely lost in this industry. And that culture, in the agency, all that you need to get ahead, and it doesn’t matter who is coming after you. It’s only what’s in front of you and how far you can get and it doesn’t matter who is in the way.

Justin Oberman  11:25
Got it. Yeah, it. I mean, that’s, that’s the truth. A lot of, you know, a lot of the copywriters that when I’ve been at different agencies, or that that have worked under me, you know, they really, like they don’t care, like, you know, you’d sit and you talk to them, you know, they they send you a copy. And then you know, you sit and you talk to them about different styles and different techniques. And, you know, at the end of the day, a lot of them think that they know better, or they think you know that, because I’m maybe older, like I’m out of touch. And really, I might not know the certain slang, right? Like, when you go and you look at these old ads, they’re definitely like old phrases of turn phrase, like turn turn of phrases and stuff that you wouldn’t use today. Right? I can’t give you any examples. But you know, you have to modernize the way you speak in your language, or, you know, you cannot be girly. But yeah, but but just saying something. Just saying something in a in a cutting edge way, is no guarantee that, you know, it’s gonna to move people, right, or get them to think in a new way or, or buy a product or get them to do what you want them to do. And so

Lara Schmoisman  12:48
as much of a fan, that I must have the narrative and the storytelling, because I do believe that there is there is a space for the storytelling in the direct marketing world. But at the same time, I believe that when you’re doing certain formats, you need to go direct, you cannot go around it.

Justin Oberman  13:14
I think I think that for certain industries, you can, you can always do both. And what I mean by that is you have to be prepared to compromise. So if you have, you know, a product, and you’re, you’re doing nothing but direct marketing and direct sales, so so what you’re doing is you’re creating a whole bunch of ads, chances are, if you’re doing it, right, you’re looking for a problem and a solution. And you’re and you’re finding a way to relate that problem and solution in an ad. And those are called marketing problems, right? You know, and or marketing ideas. So a direct response company will find multiple marketing ideas and spit them all out and see which ones stick. And, you know, and you know, and I’m assuming here in the best case scenario, that there have a good copywriter and a good art director, and it’s compelling. And you will create sales that way. What you won’t do is build a brand, right? Especially if you’re only doing direct marketing. You’re probably only on Facebook, I haven’t heard of many brands that have been created only using like Facebook advertising. I’m not saying that it’s possible, impossible. And I’m sure that people listening are like, what about this? What about that? And I’m sure that that’s the case. But again, it’s very rare. And in that case, what they did was is they they didn’t do that, right. What you want to be able to do is you want to find the balance. You want to be able to say what is one or the most compelling problem solution marketing idea that I can focus on and turn turn that into a big idea on a creative level, and produce it and produce the creative in a way that is compelling, you know, beyond even just the direct sales, so you’ll get the direct sales from that. But you’ll also start building a brand that people can resonate with, right. And this is called brand response advertising. And to do that, also, you have to be prepared to kind of be a little bit media agnostic and think to yourself, what are the other ways of reaching people? And and what are the fun ways that I can reach people? And believe it or not, there’s all sorts of fun things you can do with direct mail or outdoor or television commercials, you have to write. Because the other problem with direct response and only focusing on digital is you’re only targeting the people that you’re targeting. Yep. Right. And other people are not going to see your ads, which you think you’re saving money on. But what you’re not doing is you’re not broadening the scope of your brand because not everybody who sees your ad has to be a buyer of your product. That’s how you can also make a brand famous play one of the big best examples I give is is this scrubs, you know what scrubs are they like for hospital scrubs? Yes, of course called called face. I don’t know if they intentionally did it. But it’s like figs are like kind of like designer scrubs, they look good. You know, they’re not like the floppy old scrubs. And for a while they did billboard ads here in Los Angeles. And I also noticed in New York,

Lara Schmoisman  16:43
I saw that. Yeah, and amazing to see.

Justin Oberman  16:46
And I remember thinking to myself, wow, that’s unusual. Because you would think if you went to a if it if they went to like a traditional ad agency, oh, we saw scrubs. Okay, well, digital ad agency, it’s like, Okay, well, what the solution is, is we’re gonna, you know, get models put them in, and then we’re gonna create a whole campaign online and target, you know, people in hospitals, so I would never see the ad because I don’t work in a hospital. Right, and, and whatnot. And to be honest, I don’t know if they’re still, you know, what their digital targeting ads because I’m not targeted for them. I’m assuming that they did it at the same time as the billboards, but with the billboards had an effective doing is getting noticed by me. Now, why is that important? Well, when it’s an you know, like, the next time I met somebody who worked in a hospital, I was like, Oh, do you get those figures that I see all the ads for? They’re making it a conversation starter, their MC turning the brand and making it famous? And I bet you that what did I ended up doing doing is when they did that their cost per acquisition on the digital on the direct side probably went way down. Because once they’re famous and recognized, when the people that they’re targeting online, start getting the ads for the figs, it’s like, oh, yeah, okay, fine. I’ll give it I’ll get it, you know what I mean, like, and it probably took less ads. And, and, you know, because because of the brand recognition, so it’s a really good example, whether they intended it or not, I’m assuming that they did have a brand response campaign, you know.

Lara Schmoisman  18:29
I it happens to all of my, a lot of my clients that they want results immediately, immediately, and I’m sure that happens to you, they want to campaign that they’re gonna go online, digital, and I mean, they don’t even want to tweak it many times, as you cannot do the same campaign on Facebook, that on Instagram, or in YouTube, they’re different target audiences, they’re different mediums, you need to treat them as a friend and use a native language. But many times it’s why we again, the content with intention, brand awareness is so important. Sometimes nobody will buy from you if you’re buying from if buy from me, buy from me, you just need first to be they are on their brand in people’s face and they get recognition.

Justin Oberman  19:18
No 100% I mean, look, there are some companies that don’t need that. You know, I just, I’m wearing reading glasses now. But that’s just because my eyes are healing, but I recently got LASIK. And my the guy, the doctor who did it is like one of the top LASIK surgeons in in the US. And he the way I discovered him was by doing simple Google searches, I found him and he doesn’t he can rely on the direct marketing. He doesn’t need brand awareness, right? No, not right. Right. He needs good SEO he needs to hold different strategies. So again, It’s it’s not not for everyone. He doesn’t even really need direct response ads, right. But

Lara Schmoisman  20:07
yeah, the he needs more like an SEO campaign and local SEO reviews and

Justin Oberman  20:12
he needs he needs more, more more of that. So, again, this is an important point, there is no one cut solution for everything, right, everything needs to be treated in its own way. But in terms of, you know, you know, the the copywriting aspect of it being, I think that whether or not you’re doing brand awareness, advertising, or obviously direct response advertising, but you know, David Ogilvy kind of said it best where he said that he felt that anybody doing any type of advertising should always start their career in direct mail. And, you know, you might want to update that and say, anyone doing any type of advertising should start their career in, you know, doing digital ads, right? Or email, right, instead of direct mail. But I’d still go back and say, No, I think maybe you should do direct mail. Because that’s the hardest thing in the world. You are mailing somebody junk junk mail, how do you get them to open it? Read it, and buy it? Through the post office, right? I mean, that’s the hardest thing in the world and the direct mail people. They, they’ve test, they test everything. I remember, I talked to a direct mail person once and they told me that just for fun, they took all the punctuation out of like, 1000, you know,

Lara Schmoisman  21:46
how funny is that?!

Justin Oberman  21:47
letters, and nailed it, just to see that if it if it if it affected the results in any way, you know, I mean, they that, that they they know what works and what doesn’t in terms of like human behavior and buying behavior, probably better. And so when you spend a little bit time in direct mail, which I eventually did, you know, certain points, I wouldn’t say as much as maybe overly wanted me to, but you really begin to understand human psychology a little bit, right. And you really begin to say, like, what works and what doesn’t work, not necessarily to establish rules. But if you take that same type of rigor in your copywriting, and apply that, to when you’re writing brand awareness campaigns, you’ll have a 10 times better brand awareness campaign, then, then you think you have one that actually increases that might actually increase immediate sales. And, you know, I’m just kind of sick and tired of the war between the two and saying that it’s the brand awareness and direct marketing. Now, the new thing is that everything needs to be entertainment and showmanship, and you have to, you have to make the you know, your brand famous, all of these things are true, you know, all of them, you need, you know, like, if you look at the best ads, ever, they do all of these things in one way or another. They may emphasize they might have an emphasis on one way of doing it and what bigger emphasis on another but at the end of the day, they they encompass all of these things.

Lara Schmoisman  23:23
And that’s absolutely it’s all about the right message. And also, it’s about the right timing. One, I always mentioned this, there is this very short TED Talk. It’s like three minutes that talk, and it’s why some companies fail and how why others succeed. And the analysis shows that the only difference, they all they did the right thing, but the time was not right. And that’s a huge difference. I mean, depends on the day that you launch it, that nothing else happened that day in the news, how many movies fails, just because of the day that they were launch?

Justin Oberman  24:06
Right? And cold classics, you know, exactly. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that’s, that’s 100% true. And also, at the end of the day, you know, if it doesn’t matter how good your copy is, if it’s targeted wrong, if it’s at the wrong time. That’s absolutely i mean, other factors that go into play.

Lara Schmoisman  24:27
And it is it teamwork, you need to be using the right platform to to get the right targeting, you have to have even if you put a little bar, put it in the right place.

Justin Oberman  24:36
Right. 100%

Lara Schmoisman  24:39
All right, Justin, before I let you go, I have one more question for you. What are the most three important thing for copyright or to do or to know?

Justin Oberman  24:56
I mean, that’s a difficult question. I mean, I’m okay because I just said, you know, there is no one solution

Lara Schmoisman  25:03
to I think you want to be a corporate writer, what are the three things that you need to do? Or not.

Justin Oberman  25:11
do you want to become a copywriter? So my first piece of advice is to go at it, don’t do it. It’s tedious. You’re not? Yeah, no, you should always be exploring things that you normally wouldn’t want to explore, you need to be very active, you need to go to the bookstore, and read magazines that you normally wouldn’t read, you need to constantly be on the periphery for new ideas, and collecting information and inspiration from all over the place, you can’t do that if you’re locked in a silo of your own likes and desires. Because if you do that, it will come across in your copy, I can always tell it’s a weird thing. I can look at a like a bunch of people’s books, write portfolios, and I can almost pinpoint with accuracy which one of these people is like an egotistical bastard. And which one it’s not. Right. You know, I could tell like, you know, you could tell a personality, like this person has no other interests other than whatever, they’re only the only approach things from one angle. And then you could tell the people who kind of naturally are inquisitive, and whatnot. And because at the end of the day, what you’re doing is you’re going to be taking all the information about the product and all the information from your life and bringing them together in order to try to sell it right that’s in

Lara Schmoisman  26:45
that’s just amazing. What you just told is incredible. And it’s it’s so important to be open minded as a copywriter and not be that guy that you can say it, I know it to the one who’s writing and you should be able to be like an actor to be the brand.

Justin Oberman  27:06
And, and this, you know, a lot of people are not going to want to hear this. But it means in terms of everything, it means in terms of your interests, it means in terms of your life experience, it means in terms of what movies, you like it, but you got to, you have to it doesn’t mean you have to like the movie, but you have to have been able to have seen it and put that into the database in your head. And the reason why a lot of people are not going to like this, but it also means your politics, right? You got to remember that. At least in the United States, it’s a 5050 split right now, whether you agree with that or not, and you’re not just selling soap to liberals, and you’re not just selling guns to Well, maybe you’re only selling guns to conservatives, you’re not just selling soap to liberals, and you’re not just selling soap, you know, dishwashing detergent to conservatives, you you are selling to both. And so, you know, you have to, you know, you have to you have to have an open mind and not necessarily in your politics, but in terms of, you have to be able to think like both and understand both, you know what I mean, otherwise, you’re gonna alienate, right? If If, if politics and whatever starts coming out in your copy, or even as a brand, if you start doing that you might start alienating 50% of your, of your customer base. And some people might say, well, that’s a good thing. But I don’t think that the employees working for the company will agree with that.

Lara Schmoisman  28:39
So that’s what’s your first one. Let’s move to the second one.

Justin Oberman  28:43
My first one, my second one, which is part of the first one which is always carry around a pen and a notebook. Just because you never know when you’re going to hear somebody say something that’s interesting. You’re going to see something written a piece of graffiti somewhere a line in a movie that you’re watching at a movie theater, it just never know when inspiration is going to hit your copywriter is always working, right?

Lara Schmoisman  29:12
Yeah. Something that can be a trigger, you’re creating something be

Justin Oberman  29:15
a trigger. So always be prepared to write something down. And I strongly suggest that you make it a pencil and a notebook and not your phone. Just because of the immediacy. It takes time you open up your phone, you go you have to, you know just multiple steps before you can write something down. a text message might come and get distracted and then you forgot it. Right? always just carry around a pencil and maybe some folded paper or something, you know, a notebook that you can jot things down in. That’s, that’s, that’s my second piece of advice. My third piece of advice is to remember that copywriting is not written, it’s built 90% of your copywriting occurs in the editing phase. If you’re not editing your copy, something’s wrong, or you’re like a genius. And there are not many of them. But even the geniuses will tell you, like will tell you that 90% of copywriting is in the editing phase. And what you should do is, you should almost create in the beginning like checklists, so you   wrote a piece of copy, it doesn’t matter how long or short, you should go through it, and look, you know, create certain things to look for. Look for long words that you can shorten. Look for long sentences that you can break up, look for places that are missing hooks, look for places that are missing rhythms look for you know, it that, you know, that that’s where it is. And that’s where the copywriting really begins to take form. And so you should also plan accordingly. for that. It’s not all about research, research, research, collecting, collecting data, sit down, right, done. It’s, you know, research research vomit on a page, rearrange that vomit. Look at the, like research and points that you said and see where you can start adding things where you were vague, maybe you can get more technical, blah, blah, blah, like that.

Lara Schmoisman  31:45
You just described my process. I know that my team hates me when we’re sharing the file because they don’t know what I started and what I what I end because it’s messy.

Justin Oberman  31:57
Well, that’s their fault for wanting to get into the to too soon. You know, but just show me what you got. At this point in my career. I say No, I will not. You will not like it. You will not understand it. I don’t even understand it.

Lara Schmoisman  32:12
I don’t. Yeah, but when it’s ready, I will let you know.

Justin Oberman  32:17
Yeah, yeah, basically. But that’s the third thing. And that’s something that a lot of copywriters have more or less forgotten that, you know, it’s it’s in the editing when copywriting is, when when it’s done. It’s not in the it’s not in the in the writing of the initial writing. Those are my three pieces of advice. That was the first one being the most important.

Lara Schmoisman  32:43
Work. Great. Thank you so much, Justin for taking the time and having coffee with us. Well, no

Justin Oberman  32:49
problem. I

Lara Schmoisman  32:49
appreciate it.

Justin Oberman  32:50
I appreciate it

Lara Schmoisman  32:52
was so good to have you here today. See you next time. catch you on the flip side. Ciao ciao.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai


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