Copywriting showcase: Toronto Pearson Airport

Airplane noise copywriting


A few years ago, the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (they run Toronto Pearson) had a problem with noise complaints. They needed a copywriting team to give them messaging they could point people to and say “this is why we make so much noise, these are the factors that are fully out of our control, and these are the things we’re doing about what we can control.”

Sounds easy enough. Except that we had to essentially learn about airplanes, airplane noise, acoustics and how sound travels. Then we had to learn about how Toronto Pearson works. We learned how they mitigate noise through  runways positioning, and the shared responsibility of everyone involved in getting a plane off the ground to noise abatement; from the air traffic controllers to the pilots to the airlines.

When copywriting gets really fun

Obviously none of this can happen without thorough research. And what better way to do it than to get a private tour of the runways and the towers? Yep, we got to go into the air traffic control tower and watch the magic happen. A few observations from there:

  1. It was a lot quieter than we imagined it to be. Although, to be fair, our frame of reference was the control tower from Airplane!
  2. The folks in there are seriously dialled in to what they’re doing. That made us feel a bit better about air travel.
  3. Watching planes take off and land from the tower is pretty spectacular. It’s like a well-choreographed ballet.

As part of our copywriting research, we also sat down with a real-life audiologist who broke down the science of airplane noise. One of the more eye-opening takeaways was how much louder a plane is when its flaps are down. And, of course, the flaps are down when it’s closest to the ground so the noise is that much more pronounced.

But the most interesting thing we learned copywriting for this project was the flight routes in and out of the airport.

See, when a plane is coming to Toronto from the eastern United States (this makes up the majority of landings at Pearson), it comes in over Lake Ontario, then travels east away from the airport, makes a 270˚ turn and then takes a straight line in. The act of turning a plane does two things to increase noise.

First, because the plane isn’t straight, the noise from the wind friction is much more pronounced.

Second, because it takes more power to turn the plane, the engine is louder. But here’s the unfortunate part: the area of town underneath where the turn occurs happens to be one of Toronto’s poshest neighbourhoods. And when you put down $2 million on a house, you don’t expect to be bombarded with engine noise 19 hours a day. So, ironically, most of the noise complaints come from there, about 20 kilometres from the airport. Very few come from the area surrounding the airport, presumably because if you live near the airport, you kind of expect the noise.

And then, we wrote.

The project took about two months to complete, with a lot of back and forth from the team at the GTAA, the scientists, the airlines and, of course, our internal team. It had to be on point and accurate, but also accessible for the average person to understand so when the GTAA team directed them to the site, they would be satisfied with the answers they found.

The final product is fantastic

The website launched last month, we couldn’t be prouder of the work, and everyone knows more about where noise comes from.









Lyrics: Copywriting Set to Music

Like great copywriting, great lyrics will make you pay attention.

Come mothers and fathers throughout the land,

And don’t criticize what you can’t understand.

Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.

Your old road is rapidly aging.

Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand

For the times they are a-changin’

That’s from The Times They Are a Changin’ by Bob Dylan — whose lyrics were and are so powerful that he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Interesting conversation starter about that lyric:

He placed mothers ahead of fathers. Keep in mind that this song came out in 1965 when society was still patriarchal. So to put mothers before fathers was a big deal, especially for a generation that had spent the past 20 years protecting an American ideal that was being questioned by a guy with a guitar who couldn’t sing.

But then in the next line he refers to sons and daughters, reversing the gender order. Why do this? We’d argue that “your daughters and sons are beyond your command” would have been phonetically better because it has fewer syllables to trip up on.

So was Dylan saying that there was to be a temporary redefining of roles in society and then it was going to go back to normal? Or was he saying that social roles won’t change but need to be reconsidered by the elder generation?

These are the types of conversations good lyrics can evoke. And unfortunately, we’re getting fewer and fewer great lyrics.

We’ve felt this way anecdotally for some time, Something feels different about modern music — it’s lacking depth. But is it really? Musical historian Shane Snow looked into it empirically.

Snow analyzed a cross-section of North American songs from 1965, 1975, 1985, 1995, 2005 and 2015 to see what words were most used in lyrics. Then, he plotted those words into six word bubbles:


Lyrical word cloud from 1965


Lyrical word cloud from 1975

Lyrical word cloud from 1975

Lyrical word cloud from 1985

Lyrical word cloud from 1985


Lyrical word cloud from 1995

Lyrical word cloud from 1995


Lyrical word cloud from 2005

Lyrical word cloud from 2005


Lyrical word cloud from 2015

Lyrical word cloud from 2015

You’ll notice that “love” appears prominently across the board (no surprise there). But what we found interesting were the words that stood out as unique to the era.

In 1965, it was “nowhere,” which made sense given the uncertainty of the times and what was the beginning of the counter culture movement.

1975’s was “supernatural,” which, given the drug-induced haze society was in, and the post-1960’s answers everyone was looking for, made sense.

“Obsession” stood out in 1985, and that seems to be in lock-step with the over-indulgence of the 1980s.

Then, something interesting happened in 1995. Lyrics moved away from “concepts” and towards “utterances”: banal words that didn’t reflect anything except the vapidness of a mass-produced, over-exposed industry that was pumping out music for money instead of art. “Candy” and “raindrops.” Seriously?

2005 was more of the same, except we started to see the rise of words like “ain’t” and “yeah.” And by 2015 lyrics were completely devoid of concept. Not one word in that bubble is even close to statement-worthy.

We wonder if, by 2025, the pendulum will have swung back a bit. It should, given the state of the world today. If there was ever a time for artists to speak their minds, this is it. But with far too many places to consume music and way too much access for vapid lyricists to get their music produced, would we even be able to find it?

Only time will tell.