The London Long Copy Challenge, or five things I've learned about copywriting for the Underground

I had a fascinating evening at the awards ceremony for the London Long Copy Challenge last night. The brief was to 'To design and write a Cross Track Tube poster using long copy (50+  words) that would entertain, inform and inspire the people of London as  they wait for their train.' The prize was £125,000 worth of media space for the client and a stack of shopping vouchers for the design team, just in time for Christmas. Handy.

The whole idea of writing long copy was a new challenge for me, as I tend to write web copy where the aim is to be concise and punchy and to break ideas down into bitesize chunks which are easy to read on the screen. Having to be more verbose was initially quite difficult!

Working with designer Laura Keogh at Handstand Creative we picked their client the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT), which made us eligible for the Not-For-Profit category rather than Commercially-Driven.

We quickly decided to use humour to get the message across, coming up with spoof band names based on the theme of stealing music. Here's our ad:

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There were 500 entries into the competition so we were delighted to see ours make the shortlist of 24. We were competing against some major London ad agencies who had spent a lot of time and budget building up a relationship with their client. Ours was pulled together with a bit more haste, in a week dominated by family illness and deadlines for paying clients.

So the main thing which could have improved our entry would have been time. A week or two's breathing space to give us time to revist the idea and push it further would have really helped. The right-hand text could be worked on and we definitely should have come up with more band names, to really get people thinking while they're standing on the platform.

What do you think of our entry? Leave a comment at the bottom!

Here's my favourites for each category:

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This entry by My Agency for the Royal Parks Foundation in the Not-For-Profit category is eye-catching with the sort of text which makes you read right to the end. It's bright and cheery too, which would be appreciated by gloomy commuters on a dreary Monday morning. Here's the winner in this category, produced by M&C Saatchi for Kids Company.

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This entry by Ocado Creative Studio for Ocado, in the Commercially-Driven category, was brilliant; witty, original and clever. On top of that it really pushes the brand. Here's the winner in this category, which I also like, by ad agency Iris for Adidas.

For a full list of all the shortlisted entries go to the London Long Copy website. You can also see the finalists' adverts on Bakerloo Southbound platform 3 at Oxford Circus. Seeing all the people on the platform gazing at the ads opposite really made me smile yesterday - even though ours hadn't made it!

Five tips for writing long copy

Here's some tips I picked up last night while browsing the entries on the walls of the Getty Images Gallery:

  • Remember the scale. Your design will look very different when displayed as a massive 48-sheet advert on the Underground. With hindsight we thought our text might have come across as a bit imposing.
  • Make an impact by putting the text in relevant shapes. Like the entry for Time Out, written in the shape of London landmarks or the breast cancer awareness charity Coppafeel in the shape of a breast, complete with pink text for the nipple.
  • Don't forget to make sure people can read the text - however quirky or attention-grabbing you make the design.
  • Tell a story with a great punchline to keep people reading all the way through, like this ad for BA.
  • Reward your audience, from the busy commuter who only has time to glance at your ad to the dawdling shopper with time on their hands. I thought the Ocado ad had that one covered, as you could come back to it again and again and find something new every time.

And one last thought; the London Underground is not a good place to make jokes about suicide.