Some ads are just so good, you have to tear them out and keep them. In fact, many people will advise you to do just that. It’s for inspiration, right? But sometimes “inspiration” can get in the way of “creation”. Find out how to use other ads to help you—and when having them around is a really bad idea…
Today’s question comes from Candace H. who asks, “I read an article that recommended that I keep ‘swipe files.’ What are they and how do I do it?”
Simply put a “swipe file” is your personal collection of ads you’ve liked: things that have struck you as really clever, creative, innovative and/or effective. You might tear an ad out of a magazine, set aside a piece of direct mail, take a camera phone shot of a billboard or any number of things like that. All of these together comprise your swipe file.
Keeping a swipe file can be a good practice to get into for a couple of reasons. First, it helps train you to slow down and actually look at the ads you see all around you every day. Second, it makes you think critically about these ads: What’s good/effective/creative and why?
So, yes, it’s a good idea to keep a swipe file and, as the term “file” implies, try to keep all of your swipe in the same place. Your print swipe should all go in the same physical folder and your electronic swipe should all go in the same folder on your computer. This way, you’ll be able to find it all at once when you want to look at it.
Now, however, for the downside of swipe—and when it can actually be dangerous. Your swipe files are there to inspire you; to help you look at things in different ways and challenge yourself to be more creative. You should be flipping through your swipe file in between projects or at the very, very initial stages of concepting a project.
Your swipe file actually becomes a danger, though, if you look through it when you’re trying to write. Why? Because you don’t want someone else’s words in your mind when you’re trying to come up with your own.
Part of what makes great copy so effective is that it catches your attention and stays with you—which is exactly what you don’t want when you’re trying to create copy of your own. If you look at your swipe file while you’re trying to write copy, you’re going to be influenced by those words and those turns of phrase.
At best, it’s going to make it more difficult to come up with your own copy. At worst, you’ll end up accidentally slipping in a few lines from what you’ve read (maybe even from competitors) and/or offering up second-class versions of them.
This isn’t your fault; it’s completely natural to be influenced, and even stymied, by what’s in your awareness. If you put your attention on something—thinking of a purple hippo, say—and then try to force yourself not to think about it, what’s going to happen? You won’t be able to resist thinking of a purple hippo. The same goes with great copy. If you read some lines from your swipe file and then try to forget the others and create original lines of your own…you’re going to keep going back to your swipe.
So what should you do? Build your swipe files and keep adding to them, but browse through them outside of projects. This will help you keep you fresh, plus help your brain synthesize the insights you get and then put them to use when you’re ready to create some copy for yourself.
Your turn! Do you keep swipe files? (Or will you start?) Where do you find your favorite pieces of swipe? Let us know in the comments below!