If you’re an art director you can work in any country.

If you’re a copywriter, you can’t.

Because at art school you take a class called ‘visual communication’.

You learn to communicate without words.

This is basic semiotics.

The words ‘stop’ and ‘go’ don’t mean anything in Mandarin.

But a little red man standing still, and a little green man walking, mean the same thing in any country.

That’s why the same road signs work in every country in Europe.

Although we can’t understand a word of each others’ languages.

But it’s even more difficult than that for a copywriter.

Not only must they work in their own language.

They must work in their own culture.

I found that in New York.

When I switched from being an art director to a copywriter.

Because I didn’t grow up in America, I had had hardly any ethnic knowledge to draw on.

I didn’t know who Howdy Doody, or Jackie Gleason, or Dick Butkus where.

So I couldn’t write about them.

They didn’t know who Desperate Dan, or Spike Milligan, or Bobby Moore were.

So I couldn’t write about them either.

If you’re still not convinced how important a common language, and a common culture, is consider this.

In 1776 America fought the War of Independence.

After the war, anti-British feeling was naturally very strong.

The 13 colonies had to choose a language for their new country.

The vote was evenly split.

6 votes for English as the national language.

6 votes for German as the national language.

George Washington had the casting vote.


Imagine the history of the world if he’d voted the other way.