Copywriting tip 13: It’s nothing to do with budget

Wallet squeezed by G clamp - trimmed

We’re at the ideas stage of the copywriting process.

(See my last tip for how to go about idea generation.)

One myth about ideas is that you have to spend a lot of money. That you need a big budget.

You don’t.

Ideas can be cheap to produce.

For example, a few years ago I was a creative director working on Microsoft. They wanted to invite their top resellers to a big horse-racing event.

No budget.

We (it was a team effort) bought some astroturf. A roll of it.

We cut it up into squares.

Put it in a plain white box we bought from a stationery shop.

On the lid, it said:

You can’t get closer to the action.
Join us for Oaks Day.

Simple. Dirt cheap. Big idea, small budget.

The point is don’t think: ‘If only we had a decent budget, we could do good work.’

Good – great – work is possible with hardly any budget at all.

Take this lovely example (and, by the way, I apologise for the low quality of these examples: have tried to find hi-res versions. I’ve given up).

This is for the Royal Doctor Flying Service.

A piece of direct mail.

On the envelope, it says ‘Aeroplane inside‘. Intriguing, huh?

Of course, the aeroplane they’re talking about is a paper one

Royal Doctor Flying Service direct mail piece: aeroplane enclosed

The investment isn’t in the production. It’s in the thinking.


Another inexpensive example.

A dog’s home in Sydney had 100 dogs facing an uncertain end.

To save them, the creatives came up with this idea:

Sydney Dog's home: all you need now is a dog - attached to a stick

A stick. How much is that going to cost you?

Attached to it, a simple message: ‘All you need now is a dog‘.

What I love about this campaign is the effort the creatives went to.

They sprinkled these all around parks and jogging tracks.

They left them at homes with large gardens and no sign of a dog.

From memory, over 70 lives were saved.

The cost? Some effort and time.

Nice one.

And a final example, this – for Unicef.

Imagine it’s summer in Europe (the UK, actually). All the leaves are green.

Then walking along a street you come across a whole load of brown autumn leaves.

You see there’s a message printed on them:

Winter's Coming appeal message on leaves

Winter’s coming. Help Afghan children now.

They picked some leaves (how much is that going to cost you?!). Printed a message on them. Waited till they went brown. And sprinkled them on the street.


Great and compelling ideas don’t have to cost a fortune. Or even much. Don’t think big ideas = big budget.

Invest in the time and process to get some great ideas. Then worry about how to bring them to life.

Idea first. Then execution.

So, that’s tip 13 of the 30. Almost half way through.

Time to think about the actual copy.

Which is the subject of my next tip.


This tip is based on my 30 Tips in 40 Minutes webinar.

Feel free to download a version of the slides and watch a video of the one-hour webinar.

Image source: Pixabay


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Jon Maxim

Jon is a multi-award winning copywriter. For over 30 years, he’s helped clients – large and small – develop engaging concepts, content and copy. For 25 of those years, he’s been teaching people how to do it themselves. His courses on copywriting, ideation and presentation skills are highly sought-after and highly effective. Jon lives in Sydney, Australia: but is often found on a plane, heading to where he’s most needed.