Your Style Or Theirs?

About ten years ago I had a chat with a copywriter who is now an ECD. As we drained our pints, he made the heretical assertion that Mary Wear was a better writer than David Abbott. His argument went that Mary created a completely different voice for each of her clients, while David tended to write in his own voice for whichever client was blessed with his copy.

I don’t think I need to point out that both were/are extremely good and successful at what they did/do, so either way could work well. But that’s just on the level of single creatives; what about agencies and the wisdom of having a house style?

Even if most shops would suggest that they find an individual tone for each of their clients, that may only be true within the parameters of a consistent approach that is broad enough to accommodate different voices.

For example:
DDB generally coveys its communications with a slightly irreverent intelligence, and has done so brilliantly for decades.
BBH has always existed on the ‘cooler’ and more visual side of things (Sir John is a famous believer in the minimalism of copy, although the recent Barnados print ads have provided an admirable exception)
Delaney Lund has had a reputation for marrying their clients to a musical solution.
There’s something about WCRS that seems very likeable, almost persuading you without you realising.
Mother: for years, nothing but funny. Now: funny with an occasional bit of ‘cool’.
Wiedens don’t seem to take anything on unless they can do it ‘well’. The definition of ‘well’ is is obviously subjective, but they never just chuck things out.


I’m sure you can find common threads in many of the agencies, and that’s understandable: after all, clients come to agencies because they want their kind of work. If you want Mother, you don’t go to Publicis, and vice versa. Generally, the same group of people will be imposing their unique personalities on the work, so it’s unlikely they’ll be able to lurch from gently intellectual to bat-shit crazy without it seeming odd.

So there may have been a very good reason why David’s voice didn’t change hugely from client to client: many of those clients existed within a middle class, deeply British, fabric-of-society area that could take a similarity of approach. And it’s pretty difficult to argue that Sainsbury’s, BT, RSPCA and Yellow Pages were harmed by that similarity. If anything, it may have provided a benefit, as each brand bolstered the others as the kind of companies you could like and trust.

So, your style or theirs? Looks like ‘yours, but within it, theirs’ works pretty well.