A copywriting great no copywriter knows about

September 18, 2012 | By | 5 Replies More

At the end of the 80s there was really only one widely recognized skateboarding company: Powell Peralta.

Started by two of the biggest names in skateboarding – particularly Stacey Peralta – the company was very successful. Indeed, it was pretty much THE team to ride for.

Steve Rocco World Industries Advert, All Good Copy, Glenn Fisher

An example of Steve’s creative thinking!

Its elite skating team – the Bones Brigade – actually included a young Tony Hawk; nowadays, perhaps the only universally recognized name in skateboarding!

Another famous rider was a chap called Rodney Mullen.

Mullen pretty much invented modern skateboarding. He won almost every competition he entered, invented almost every trick there is, and still pushes the boundaries of the sport today, using modern technology to push skateboard design as far as it will go.

But what’s this got to do with good copywriting?

Plenty.

You see, during his time riding for the Powell Peralta team, Mullen became close friends with a chap called Steve Rocco.

Steve was a skater too, but unlike Mullen – who was pretty straight-laced – Rocco was a bit of a wild character.

He decided that it was time to start his own skateboarding company. He saw that Powell Peralta had got too big and was kinda losing its touch with modern skaters.

He wasn’t alone in this thinking.

Eventually he managed to get Mullen to quit Powell and join in with his venture and a new company was born, a company that would eventually (after a few legal disputes) be called World Industries.

Today, World Industries is still one of the biggest companies in boarding and at one point or another in its history, it has given birth to almost all the best skateboarding companies around today.

Rocco and Mullen sold the company a fair few years ago now and doing so made them multimillionaires overnight.

And for me, one of the biggest factors that got them into such a position was the copy they used in their early advertisements.

You see, Steve Rocco had a natural talent for good copy and it served him very well…

Steve Rocco World Industries Advert, All Good Copy, Glenn Fisher

Rocco’s ads look like something Oglivy would produce – if he was a skateboarder.

He knew that his copy had to connect with its audience on an emotional level and every advert he ran – even those that got him into trouble from big companies who didn’t like his ‘anything-goes’ approach – he did something a good copywriter should always aim to do…

He tapped-in to what his target audience was thinking.

And what makes Rocco’s copy so good is that he did so in a very difficult way: he often connected using one of the most challenging emotions to get a handle on in advertising…

Humour.

Though I’d generally advise against using it, for his audience it was the perfect emotion.

Skateboarding was seen as a slacker sport… a hobby for the underground… for people who rallied against the concepts of capitalism and corporatism.

And so when Rocco started self-deprecating his own company and pointing out that the competitor – Powell – was a bigger and more professional company, skaters loved it.

Each advert felt like an ‘in joke’ between Rocco and his audience. Even adverts that went as far as to literally insult the reader, actually worked a treat.

The bigger, more established companies hated it. They couldn’t compete because it was true: they had lost touch and simply didn’t understand this kind of approach.

The very look of Rocco’s adverts were different. Whilst Powell’s ads looked polished and professional, Steve’s looked like they’d been typed out and edited on a photocopier.

But just look at those early Rocco ads and any copywriter who’s studied their Ogilvy will see that the ads actually look like something that the great ‘O’ would have produced – if he were a skateboarder.

You can see also that Rocco’s ads stick to one single idea… they use simple language… they tell a story in a very short space… they use simple black on white text (with no ‘reversing out’)… they each have a striking headline… all in all, they are very good.

So, though you might not find Steve Rocco credited as a copywriter anywhere in the history of copywriting, here you have a man who knew good copy.

The proof of his talent lies in the simple fact that the adverts he created in the late eighties and early nineties contributed hugely to the success of World Industries and made Rocco rich – richer, indeed, than I ever expect he imagined he would become.

The key thing to take from his work for the modern copywriter, I think, is his courage to run with his gut, no matter how crazy the idea. Sure, such an approach will sometimes lead you down the wrong path. But sometimes, being a bit crazy is the only way you’ll truly discover the big idea.

Best,
Glenn

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Category: Great Copywriters

About the Author ()

Glenn Fisher is a professional copywriter, founder of AllGoodCopy.com and author of Write Better Copy. He is an expert in long copy sales letters, having written copy that has so far generated more than £10 million in revenue. Born in Grimsby, he now lives in London.

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  1. Copywriting: The Steve Rocco Story | Ditzel & Company | March 14, 2013
  1. Mark Watson says:

    Glenn thanks for this I really enjoyed it. Interesting to read about good copy being used outside of the usual places you read about in the textbooks.

  2. EL says:

    Thanks for the post. Rocco is one of the greatest original old-school street skaters. And sorry to nitpick, but it’s actually Powell Peralta, not Powell *and* Peralta. Also your overuse of ellipsis is…cumbersome.

    • Glenn Fisher says:

      Glad you enjoyed it, Eric. Glad to have another fan of skateboarding reading. I’ve updated Powell Peralta accordingly. As for the ellipsis… I’ll write a future article about using them in copy.

  3. David says:

    Interesting comment from EL about the ellipsis…

    I don’t look closely enough at structural elements like these, but now that I think about it, the part that caused a mental stumble was just before “all in all, they are very good. ”

    Because it was a summation, rather than another in the list, I wanted something to mark it off. Another sentence? A fresh paragraph?

    I’m not sure.

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