Richard Foster

A masterclass on the commercial use of the written word, Richard Foster’s classic from the D&AD Copywriting book takes us through the writing of a press ad for the not-so-humble Sainsbury’s olive…

Today I’m writing the copy for a Sainsbury’s olives ad.

The rough is pinned on the wall in front of me. (I always have the rough in front of me when I’m writing a piece of copy. It helps get me started.) The visual is of a Sainsbury’s Queen olive in a glass of martini. The Queen olive is a very big olive, so it’s hogging the glass. The headline says: “Would you like a martini with your olive?”

The first thing I have to do is tell people that this is a big olive and not a small martini. I have a jar of Queen olives on my desk, together with a jar of ordinary olives. I take out an olive from each jar and put them side by side on a plate. As I’d hoped, the Queen olive looks about twice the size of the ordinary olive. So I write (in longhand, as always) “The Queen olive is twice as big as ordinary olives.”

Before I finish the sentence I’ve already got the next line. “And twice as delicious.”

I immediately realise that “twice as delicious” is a matter of opinion, so I make it a matter of fact. “And, some would say, twice as delicious.”

I need to expand on “delicious”. I take the Queen olive from the plate and eat it.

I write what I taste: “Its flesh is plump, but firm, with a luscious fruitiness that makes it the perfect appetiser…” It occurs to me that a martini is a kind of appetiser, so I add (in brackets, of course) “… with or without the martini.”

As I said, this is an ad for Sainsbury’s olives, which means Sainsbury’s entire range of olives. There are nine olives in the range. All but one of these olives come from Spain. More than that, they come from Seville, the best olive-growing district in Spain. The odd one out, damn it, comes from Greece.

Of the eight Spanish olives, seven are green and one is black. The Greek olive is also black. Of the seven green olives, one is the Queen olive and the other six are Manzanilla olives. Of the six Manzanilla olives, one is whole, one is pitted, two are stuffed and two are marinated. Of the two black olives, the Spanish one has a strong flavour and the Greek one is just Greek.

How should I arrange all these different olives in the copy? I lead with the Seville story. I re-read my opening lines and continue: “Like all Sainsbury’s Spanish olives, our Queen olives come from Seville, the most renowned olive-growing district in Spain.”

Now I have to introduce all the other olives in the range. I decide to get the Manzanilla olives over with in one fell swoop. I write: “We also sell the more familiar Manzanilla olives, either whole, pitted, stuffed or marinated.”

I then continue to explain that one of the stuffed olives is stuffed with pimiento and the other with almonds, and that one of the marinated olives is marinated in olive oil with garlic and chilli and the other in olive oil with herbs.

It’s too long. I’m going to have to boil it down.

So I rewrite the end of the paragraph as follows: “… stuffed (with pimiento or almonds) or marinated (in olive oil with garlic and chilli or with herbs).”

Now I’m on the home straight. All I have to do is talk about the two black olives, mention the fact that Sainsbury’s have the widest range of olives, and then clinch the sale with a call to action.

I start to re-read the entire piece. I only get as far as the opening line. “The Queen olive is twice as big as ordinary olives.” I don’t like the word ‘ordinary’, it’s too ordinary. Common-or-garden olives? No, I’ve seen common-or-garden too many times. The common olive? No, too derogatory. Wait a minute, Queen olive…royalty… commoner.

“The Queen olive is twice as big as commoner olives.”

Time for lunch.

Richard Foster spent 25 years at AMV. This piece was first published in The Copy Book (D&AD, 1995) but also appears in the 2011 updated edition from Taschen.

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