By Mark Welsh

No offense to most brand voices but you wouldn’t want to sit next to them at a dinner party.


Bland, monotonous, and frequently drunk, this cacophony of droning dullards suffers from what Doctors call “Generic Voice Syndrome.” Talk about a squandered opportunity to forge a valuable connection with their audiences. They should be flogged and banned from dinner parties for life.
Brand voice is a powerful communicator of a company’s personality.  Done right it slices through the clutter to win hearts and minds. Done wrong it sends everyone rushing for earplugs.  Prefer the winning of hearts and minds strategy? Clear your throat and take my advice on how to...

in 5 tuneful steps



Note: All examples are culled from recent Mark Welsh Creative projects and collaborations.

Despite abundant evidence to the contrary you can’t have a voice without a personality. 
Brands are like people, memorable or forgettable depending on their personality.  Define your key attributes and use these to shape a personality and voice that people like and remember.  
TuneCore is the world’s premium music distribution company. For the global brand guide Mark distilled the brand personality into 5 attributes  

TuneCore global brand guide / attributes .  See more

TuneCore global brand guide / attributes. See more

Look to your own audience for brand voice inspiration, not at your competitors. 
Get to the heart and mind of the matter. Learn what drives and inspires your audience, listen to how they talk, and craft a distinctive voice that actually connects with their dreams and beliefs.  
Mark Welsh Creative developed a voice for TuneCore that mirrors the brand personality (above) and taps into the emotional mindset of independent musicians.

TuneCore / awareness campaign.   See more   Photography  Martin Crook    

TuneCore / awareness campaign.  See more 
Photography Martin Crook

A confident brand voice migrates from platform-to-platform with nary a hiccup or belch.  

Keep your voice consistent across all facets of your communications, from website and manifesto to social media, print, video, and even business cards.  
In collaboration with Design Army, Mark gave the fashion optical company, Georgetown Optician a witty and irreverent voice with strong calls to action.  From the award-winning video campaign to the company's Instagram, website, and print campaigns, the brand combines bold, provocative language and great design to catch the eye and hold it.  

Georgetown Optician / Instagram campaign  Agency Design Army

Georgetown Optician / Instagram campaign
Agency Design Army

Georgetown Optician / website, social media, print Agency Design Army   

Georgetown Optician / website, social media, print
Agency Design Army

Georgetown Optician / Instagram campaign
Agency Design Army

Tone is what makes people like us, or not.
Decide what your brand tone is and isn’t – witty vs. funny, earnest vs. ironic, warm vs. cool - and cement it in your brand guide.  
Net Generation is the USTA’s new youth tennis platform. As part of an initiative to grow tennis at the grass roots level, MWC developed a welcoming, empowering, inclusive, and heroic brand tone that speaks to a broad audience of schools, P.E. providers, and coaches nationwide.

USTA Net Generation / print, website, social media

USTA Net Generation / print, website, social media

5.  SPEAK UP! 
Small company or behemoth brand, use bold, provocative language to catch and hold the eye. 
Cafiero Select is a NYC homeware store and design firm with an ironic, irreverent voice. The company’s marketing comprises social media and e-mail. As guest editor Mark developed a topical and controversial newsletter that offers tips on surviving Apocalyptic times with “Armageddon chic” décor.   

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Mark Welsh is an experienced writer/brand builder who specializes in identity and voice. He has devised distinct brand voices for Jonathan Adler, Bloomingdale’s, Sephora, POPSUGAR, west elm, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and many more. 

YOU'RE INVITED TO "THE EYE BALL" (Bring your own glasses)

The best thing about being a freelance copywriter (no, it's not the sacks of cash) is the variety of assignments.  If it's not a brand guide, manifesto, or digital campaign it's a video featuring a short-sighted optical instruments heiress, a dodgy butler, and a cast of 50 hunting hounds, a.k.a. “The Eye Ball”.  Created for Georgetown Optician by Pum Lefebure and the amazing Design Army team, “The Eye Ball” is the sequel to the award-winning “Our Family Knows Glasses” (also scripted by me), and elaborates on the already elaborate story of the company’s optically obsessed owners.  Adweek raves, “It’s even more bizarre than the original”.  Thanks, I think. 


Agency: Design Army

Chief Creative Officer & Creative Director: Pum Lefebure

CEO: Jake Lefebure

Director & Cinematographer: Dean Alexandeer

Senior Designer: Lillian Ling

Editor: David Grossbach

Copywriter: Mark Welsh

ARE YOU MAN ENOUGH FOR CHRISTMAS? How to butch top the butch gift trend.

By Mark Welsh

If aliens flipped through the stack of holiday catalogs on my coffee table they’d think that New York men are a bunch of primal brutes who aspire to chomp cigars on the tundra, ditch electricity for Swedish oil lamps, and butcher their own meat in the wilderness, all while wearing a “scoured sheep's wool vest that provides indispensable defense against hypothermia”. The message for Christmas is clear.               

Luxury and comfort are out.  Itchy wool and frostbite are in.

Armed with pseudo rustic names like Guideboat Co., Huckberry, and Bestmade Company, this burly breed of retailer eschews basic necessities like heat, hairbrushes, and models, promoting instead a rugged lifestyle that sneers at hairbrushes and eats models for breakfast, preferably roasted on a spit.  



Evidently, the target audience for these brands doesn't just wear reindeer sweaters, they hunt actual reindeer clad in "a shawl neck sweater coat that protects through warrens of backcountry thickets".   They also pick their teeth with whiskey flavored toothpicks but that's another story. 

I've given my share of Carhartt boots and candles that smell like wet dog, but this year's testosterone-fueled gift selection is a whole other kettle of butch.  If you don't know a musket from a muskrat – or understand why anyone would want either for Christmas – take these suggestions for the hirsute, brawny, strapping, grizzled, and macho on your list. 


FOR HIRSUTE HUNTERS: Only sissies buy their elk meat prepackaged at the supermarket.  Burly blokes (and the thousands of un-burly blokes in Manhattan who wonder how the hell they got on this mailing list) prefer to bag their elk the old fashioned way with an American Longbow that’s been “fabricated around a locally harvested hickory core”.  Not suitable for boys under 5.

FOR BRAWNY BATHERS:  Is there a man alive who doesn’t dream of hauling a hot tub into the wilderness, filling it with sea water, and then freezing his bits off for hours while the water heats up to tepid?  Apart from me?  If so, this portable hot tub from Huckberry has his name tattooed all over it.  Driftwood sculpture, price upon request.

FOR STRAPPING STONERS: Elevate his (and everyone else's) holiday with an authentic Virginia Tavern Pipe crafted with a “long stem for communal use”, and wrap it up with something festive and green, available from better dispensaries in more enlightened states.

FOR GRIZZLED GOURMANDS: Keep the Le Creuset for yourself this Christmas, especially since the new “marine” shade looks so chic in my, I mean your kitchen. 

Instead give “a rare & restored cast iron dutch oven, recommended for "preparing fresh caught brook trout baked in clay".  Accompany with fresh caught brook trout and clay.  

FOR MACHO MIXOLOGISTS: “Sabering champagne is a guaranteed way to liven up any holiday soiree”, so claims the Huckberry catalog copy.   I’ll say.  

Gift your favorite drunkard a saber (the Jackson Cannon bar knife is recommended) and watch him whack tops off champagne bottles, blind onlookers with flying shards of glass, and ruin Christmas forever.  Accompany with a “Forest Service-approved” First Aid Kit in cheerful holiday red.  $88. 

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If you need further pointers you can find me in the wilderness.  I'll be the one whittling a log into a set of champagne glasses and knitting my chest hair into a vest. 








HOW TO LAUNCH A BRAND IN 30 SECONDS (and 2 years). The Marc Fisher-Karlie Kloss story.

By Mark Welsh

If you’ve had the dubious pleasure of riding in one of NYC’s strawberry/curry/body odor-infused cabs this week you might have seen a 30-second video featuring the reigning supermodel of the world Karlie Kloss striding across the screen in a sleeveless tux and Marc Fisher boots.  Karlie’s voice over (written and directed by yours truly) lets us know that she is “making her marc” by empowering young women to get excited about coding.  She fixes her gaze on the camera and challenges, “how will you make your marc?” - and in less time than it takes for an (un-rigged) New York cab meter to click over,  Marc Fisher the renowned but anonymous 2nd generation shoe maker became Marc Fisher, highly visible, wildly glamorous, philanatropy-driven brand.

Karlie and Marc popped up again this morning in my freshly ironed New York Times.  Call me a luddite, but the hard copy catches toast crumbs better than an iphone or laptop, and when the Times is having a good print day the ads can look pretty great.  See below. 

SO, WHO ON EARTH IS MARC FISHER AND HOW ON EARTH DID HE NAB KARLIE KLOSS? It all began 2 years ago.  Marc had been designing and manufacturing best-selling shoe collections for decades and decided he wanted to align his passion for footwear with the greater purpose of supporting real life role models who make a positive difference (Calling Karlie!)  He partnered with Stacy Lastrina, the marketing consultant, shoe maven, and force of nature to help forge a new namesake brand from the loafers up.  Happily Stacy and I had worked prior to this, and even more happily she called me to collaborate once more.  The Marc Fisher brand guide was first on our list - as it should be.  Branding genius Joanne Reeves at Brand New designed it. 

MARC FISHER BRAND GUIDE: edited highlights

FAST FORWARD 18 MONTHS.  Brand guide firmly in place we then devised a consumer launch campaign that conveyed Marc's unique goals and philosophy - and sold shoes.  The resulting social media driven platform #Makeyourmarc recognizes the achievements of real life role models who inspire Marc and gives them financial support to continue their incredible work.  It encourages people to make a positive difference by posting stories and photos of inspirational women making their ‘marc’ on Twitter and Instagram.  For every photo tagged #makeyourmarc Marc Fisher donates $1 to a specific role model’s organization.  For every pair of shoes purchased, he donates $20.  

Or as it says much more succinctly on the fabulously written website... 

In a moment of synergy hatched in brand heaven (and finessed by legions of executives, agents, and lawyers), Karlie's bigger cause and Marc’s greater purpose aligned perfectly.  Marc supports the exceptional work of real life role models.  And Karlie is supporting young women to get excited about coding, a field that’s notoriously dominated by guys.  Earlier this year, the self-described “computer science nerd” founded Kode with Karlie, a scholarship program that empowers young women to code.  


SO, BASED ON ALL THIS HOW DO YOU LAUNCH A BRAND IN 30 SECONDS (and 2 years?).  If you've read this far you deserve an informed answer.  And perhaps a snack and a cocktail.  

1. DEVELOP A CLEAR IDENTITY AND STICK TO IT: No one loves or understands a schizophrenic brand.  Develop your identity before you hang out your shingle and have it stamped, approved and signed in CEO blood.

2. TAKE GUIDANCE FROM A BRAND GUIDE:  The brand guide effectively conveys who you are, what you do, and what you believe in – to everyone from management to reception.  These come in all shapes and sizes and comprise everything from the brand story and positioning to preferred colors, fonts, and in Marc's case, his unbreakable design rules and regulations.  


3. DEVISE A UNIQUE PLATFORM - AND STAND ON IT:  Don’t even think of launching without a vibrant and authentic social media platform.  The road is littered with those who tried.  

4. MOVE HEAVEN AND EARTH TO HIRE KARLIE KLOSS: Buy out her burgeoning vegan cookie empire if need be.  The girl is a savvy star with natural charisma and a social media following over 3 million.  Plus she's smart as a whip, driven to do good (not just talk about it) and looks you right in the eye when she talks to you.  Swoon.  I'd vote for her for President.  


By Mark Welsh

The latest RH catalog hit New York city last week, and by “hit” I mean mercilessly clobbered. 

Weighing in at hefty 325 pounds (or thereabouts) this unappealingly shrink wrapped collection of 5 “source books” prompted shrieks of “Oh no they didn’t!” at Post Offices from the Battery to the Bronx and filled New York’s emergency rooms with sprained and (even more than usually) disgruntled mail carriers.  Nursing a wrist injury and a grudge, my dedicated mail lady Connie summed up the feelings of many as she tossed letters into slots with the precision of a carnival knife thrower.  “I signed up to deliver mail through sleet, snow, and hail, she huffed.  “No one ever mentioned the  Mother@#$%&^% RH catalog”.  

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m an ardent fan of catalogs and have written literally hundreds for clients including Bloomingdale’s, Joe Fresh, west elm, and Ann Taylor – a sprinkling of which I’ve included here for purely self-promotional purposes.

But do we really need to receive all 5 at once?  Talk about incite bad will among 99 pound weaklings, 6th floor walk-up dwellers, and trees. 

Without further ado or adon't here are my...



COMMIT THE PERFECT CRIME.  Bludgeon your annoying neighbor with his/her copy – and shred the evidence. 


ASSIST A LITTLE PERSON.  Bind copies together with duct tape to create booster seats, platform shoes, and steps.


STOCK YOUR OFF-THE-GRID OUTHOUSE.  Who needs a composting loo when you’ve got 468 pages of free TP?


GO FOR THE INSURANCE MONEY.  Turn our the lights and “accidentally” trip over your catalog.  You’ll be surprised what a bruised knee and a good lawyer will net you.  (Approximate 30G).


CALM YOUR NERVES.  Paper walls with the catalog’s greige, ecru, and burlap-hued pages and fall instantly into deep taupe sleep. 


TAKE A FIELD TRIP.  Introduce your catalogs to their ancient tree forebears and watch them weep inky tears. 


RETURN TO SENDER UNOPENED.  Or better yet, drop it off at your local RH store and let them deal with it. 


By Mark Welsh

I was doing a spot of low-impact networking this week when an embryo walked up to me and gave me his business card. Though he was barely old enough to walk or talk - let alone drink - his card read, "Creative Director". Perhaps the curl of my lip gave me away, but he gathered I wasn't all that impressed and shuffled sullenly back into his stroller.   

Back when I was a slip of a copywriter with little more than an afro and a spare typewriter ribbon, the words "Creative Director" instilled equal measures admiration, envy, respect, and fear. Backed by decades of experience, great taste, and the ability to inspire a motley crue of hungover copywriters and art directors, they were brilliant talents and equally great characters.  Think Don Draper, minus the brooding. 

During my Ogilvy days my favorites included an Englishman with a lustrous flop of silver hair who wore custom-made silk dentist-shirts;  an intimidating lesbian straight out of an Otto Dix painting who compulsively applied lip gloss every 5 minutes; and (by far my favorite) Ross Sutherland, a fellow New Zealander with great wit who'd accost uptight account executives in crowded elevators and loudly whisper, "Ken, you're a very attractive man. Don't think I didn't notice", just to watch them wince and squirm.

So, in a world where every man and his dogwalker is laying claim to being a Creative Director, what qualities should you look for -in addition to an impressive business card?





  • INSPIRES GREATNESS. (Or at least very good-ness)   
  • MINES GLIMMERING NUGGETS OF BRILLIANCE.  And helps finesse and polish them to perfection.  
  • STICKS TO THE PLOT.  Especially when others wheel wildly off it.  
  • KNOWS A GOOD IDEA when he/she "adapts" one.
  • CUTS OFF THE BEER AND WINE before the late night thinking goes south
  • IS WITHHOLDING WITH PRAISE.  Until it's deserved; a mindblowing concept in 2014.  

P.S. I clawed my way to Ogilvy CD status at the ripe age of 33, but after years wasted in focus groups I returned to what I love most; copywriting, developing brand voices, and typing 'til my fingers are raw.  

Feel free to drop me a line to see how we might work together. 


By Mark Welsh

WHEN I BEGAN AS A COPYWRITER AT OGILVY AND MATHER, THERE WAS NO SUCH THING AS ASIAN MODELS. This was Australia in the early '80's, so there was no such thing as black models either.  Fast forward 30 years to the behemoth economy that is China, and suddenly it's a whole new kettle of bibimbap.  Blessed with faces that both reflect and hypnotize the world's fastest growing luxury market, Asian models are now raking in the yen, yuan and (hard won) won*.  They're so omnipresent that you can't swing a cat at Milk Studios without hitting Liu Wen or Tao Okamoto.  Which makes the casting choices in the new Air France ad campaign even more dumbfoundingly dumb. 

Riffing on the travel poster style of the 30's, each ad depicts different models styled to represent Air France destinations; a stoned blonde for San Francisco...a Botticelli-style temptress for African American in dazzling sequins for New York...

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...and then suddenly - like the food poisoning one gets from eating Duane Reade sushi - two white girls appear, be-wigged and made up to represent Tokyo and Peking.  

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My liver-spotted Scottish granny looks more Asian than this, and she's been dead for 20 years.  

Qu'est-ce que cela, Air France?  Was Du Juan already booked?  Had Fei Fei Sun gotten hit by the Avian flu? Did the harried Creative Director at Air France's ad agency say, "We don't have the budget for another girl; just slap some Asian makeup and a wig on those Ukrainian chicks".  Probably.  

Call me literal, call me pedantic, or just call me to ensure such glaring faux pas don't occur in your advertising, catalogs, or brand books. 

*South Korean won only.  


By Mark Welsh

After 30 years subverting language for craven commercial purposes I'm hardly qualified to get all "Grandma Grammar" on anyone's ass about what's proper and what's not.  But an overused abbreviation is ambitiously sweeping the world right now, and none of our dangling participles are safe.  It goes by the name of "ampersand". You may know it by its street tag:

 The ampersand has been prancing about in brandbooks & catalogs & advertising a lot of late, sucking in it's prosperous belly and masquerading as the exact equivalent of and - which it isn't and never will be, no matter how seductively it loops and swoops.  And should be used in the majority of cases, while & should be used in just a few (see below).  & just because it's quicker to write & than and, doesn't mean it's okay to interchange them willy nilly like no-one will notice.  I noticed, and i've been grinding my teeth in my sleep about it for months.  Thanks a lot &.  

Herewith, hereby, and heretofore, the rules and regulations of AND vs. & (that no one ever asked for). 



& is appropriate in business names, like "Rich & Honest Bank" or "Grammar & Grandpa's proofreading"

& is okay when space is limited; e.g. long lists and tiny disclaimer text that no one ever reads anyway

& is used to indicate a closer collaboration than and in film credits for stories and screenplays, etc. 

And & is made for beautiful logos in a way that and sadly is not.

Stay tuned for next week's rant about the exclamation mark: Overused or merely misunderstood?!!!!!


By Mark Welsh

New Zealand's geographical remoteness has made Kiwis an inventive, resilient, canny, and most of all, highly attractive lot. (Did I mention that I'm one?). I've called New York city home for 30 years, but my dark heart still swells with pride whenever a Kiwi triumphs over the country's incovenient location, just left of the earth's sink hole. Lorde winning a Grammy for song of the year.  Dame Kiri te Kanawa discussing claret with Lord Grantham in a Downton Abbey cameo.  The few halcyon days when Team New Zealand looked like they were going to take home the America's Cup. (Let's not revisit that particular pain).  Add to this much abbreviated list of super-achieving Kiwis the inventive, canny, resilient, and yes, highly attractive fashion designer, KAREN WALKER (below left). Her label shows each season at New York fashion week but she runs her global empire from the relative sanity and safety of New Zealand.

No fool in the marketing department, Ms. Walker's ad campaigns stand out for all the right reasons, combining arresting portraits of unexpected models with socially relevant messages. Eschewing younger (and no doubt more expensive) models, the brand's 2013 eyewear campaign featured portraits by Advanced Style blogger Ari Seth Cohen of (really) Grande Dames wearing (really) fabulous eyewear.  Despite the difference in our genders, and to a lesser extent our ages, I wanted a pair.









For spring 2014, the brand partnered with the United Nations' ETHICAL FASHION INITIATIVE to make screen-printed pouches for eyeglasses. (EFI creates and supports the work of artisan groups in Kenya). To help raise EFI's visibility Ms. Walker made (another) synchronistic modeling choice, turning the spotlight on the Kenyan artisans who cut, sewed, and screen-printed her eyeglass pouches and enlisting them as the campaign's models.  

Photography: DEREK HENDERSON. (And yes, he's also a Kiwi).


By Mark Welsh

Today is Edward Gorey's birthday.  For those of you born after me, (take a number), Gorey was the author and illustrator of darkly surreal masterpieces like , "The Epileptic Bicycle", "The Unstrung Harp", and my favorite, "The Gashlycrumb Tinies", the darkest most twisted A-Z you'll ever read.  Back when I was a be-afro'd young copywriter, I once spied Mr. Gorey parading down Fifth Avenue - the very emodiment of one of his characters - in a floor-length Russian sable coat.  I was instantly smitten.  His wicked wit and dastardly rhymes are the wings beneath my words.  Or some such. 

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A signed Gorey print from "The Remembered Visit" 1979, (below) is the only decor in my otherwise decor-free workspace. The copy reads: DRUSILLA WAS TOLD SHE WAS GOING TO MEET A WONDERFUL MAN WHO HAD BEEN OR DONE SOMETHING LOFTY AND CULTURED IN THE DIM PAST.  Pure absurdism. My favorite kind. 


"The Gashlycrumb Tinies" A-Z (below)

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Is it coincidence that New York Fashion Week and The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show occur at the same time every year?  Or is it a ploy hatched by fashion's pack of nomadic hairdressers to do a bit of double dipping while they're in town?  The man braids at Hood By Air sure looked like the dreadlocked mops on the Hungarian Komondors at Westminster. The back combed coifs at Ruffian were just like looking in a mirror - if you were a white Standard Poodle.  And the white poufs at Thom Browne certainly owed a debt to the ratted up fur of Westminster's winning Bichon Frise.  Or was it the other way round? 

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BICHON FRISE (above).  THOM BROWNE (below)

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KOMONDOR (above).  HOOD BY AIR (below)

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The art of creating desire, by Tom Ford

The only thing I clearly remember from the blur that was Fashion week is “the black silk pantsuit” in Tom Ford’s blindingly well orchestrated show on Tuesday.   And I haven’t even seen it. 

After a six year absence from the field, Mr. Ford catapulted himself back to the top by employing one of the oldest marketing tricks in the book.  In a week of instant, constant, unremitting access he did the unthinkable and the brilliant.  He withheld all photos, relying instead on descriptions (i.e. words) alone to give each outfit magic.  God love him.  By denying entrance to all but house photographer, Terry Richardson, Mr Ford not only created the most talked about, least seen show of the week (only 130 guests were invited), he also taught every marketer and his Mother (that’d be me) a deft lesson in how to create desire. No doubt every outfit he showed is already spoken for sight unseen.  

Annoyingly the pant suit doesn't come in a 40 long. 

NYT's Cathy Horyn's contraband picture of Beyonce, fresh from the Tom Ford runway.