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There’s some interesting self-awareness in your work. What’s the benefit of pointing out openly that advertising is propaganda? Surprisingly, it’s still refreshing to be self-aware in advertising, mostly because clients rarely do it, which is odd, considering people obviously know they’re watching ads. I mean, the cat is out of the bag. But for some reason, we’re still placing the product in contrived, pretend situations when we could be letting people in on the joke.

Staged activities sparked some of your viral campaigns, such as the “$100 bill” running through Central Park. What is it about experiencing ads in the physical world that makes people grab their smartphones and share? Well, lucky for us in the advertising industry, we’ve reached a highly sophisticated time in civilization when people are willing to share photos of a dog turd with a nice filter. People aren’t thinking, “Oh, this is an ad, let me share it!” They just want to share something that makes them appear funny or cool—which might very well be a branded thing or a well-lit turd.

When did you decide to become a copywriter? I guess it was after I tried being a marketing coordinator at Clear Channel and was bored out of my mind. I had already dabbled in advertising—I got my undergrad degree in advertising and my first internship was at Cramer-Krasselt in Orlando, Florida—and that experience made me go for it. I got into the business because I wanted to write funny TV ads. But I’ve stayed in the business because copywriting is so much more than that. Along the way, I’ve fallen in love with branding, experiential and interactive [projects]... really all the extras that come with the job description.

Your Kotex ad was hilarious. After all, who wants to twirl on the beach in a white dress when they’re menstruating?! What other genres of advertising get a flunking grade from the female perspective? This topic still boggles my mind. It will go down in history as one of humanity’s greatest mysteries: “How did they build those pyramids, and man, why was chick advertising so utterly lame?” In terms of genres, the beauty industry might be the worst offender, followed by household-cleaning products. If I see one more racially ambiguous woman smiling while wiping her kid’s grape juice mess, I’m going to lose it.

What place does humor have in political branding? I think as soon as you bring in humor, you get people on your side— which is the whole point of politics. In Obama’s No Mom Left Behind campaign, which asked Democrats to win over their moms’ votes through e-mail, my friend Julie Matheny and I wrote: “This is the part where you say the stuff you’ve used your whole life to get what you want. You know, phrases like ‘That sweat suit really brings out your eyes’ and ‘I love you.’” Maybe it’s just me, but I definitely trust someone more after they’ve made me laugh. I guess this makes me pretty vulnerable to funny con artists and murderers.

Do you notice a unifying theme among your favorite campaigns? My favorite projects to actually work on have been campaigns that talk to women. The landscape is wide open, and the insights come naturally, so whenever a client is truly willing to change things—and that is key—it’s crazy fun. That and the fact that there’s always wine and cheese at the briefings.

What’s the hardest part of copywriting? When you have to follow a client’s guidelines with which you disagree. It’s tough to be inspired and have fun with the work when you don’t believe in the direction it’s going.

How do you research before writing an ad? It’s different every time. I might watch some movies if I’m looking for inspiration on tone, or I’ll just go have a drink with someone who is the target audience.

What was your favorite part of working at Mother? I loved so much about Mother, but I think the best thing about the agency is that management there treats everyone like adults, despite the fact that we all behave like children. You get a lot of freedom to screw up, grow up and, hopefully, make some magic along the way.

Why did you decide to start freelancing? To travel. So far, I’ve been to Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Italy and Israel.

What work environment keeps you focused? I like to switch between different coffee shops in my neighborhood. Quiet ones are best because I can’t write while listening to music or conversations. And if I have to work at night, I need to be in my PJs, drinking wine.

What advice do you have for people just entering advertising? Learn to work by yourself—you can deliver regardless of who you’re partnered with, and that makes you worth your salary.

Brooklyn-based copywriter Kelly Diaz battles the evils of advertising—namely, sexism and self-seriousness—with irreverent, hilarious ads. In a profession that often keeps writers backstage, her down-to-earth style sometimes steals the spotlight. A former staffer at Mother New York and Venables Bell & Partners, Diaz has recently freelanced for Anomaly and Bartle Bogle Hegarty. She’s worked with clients from CB2 and Google to Target and Obama.
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