October 19, 2012
Popular wisdom says the golden age of copy is over. Industry publications are printing obituaries for writing jobs right next to the want ads for creative technologists and developers. While we find these new roles essential and exciting, we also happen to think the skill of writing has never been more vital in marketing.
- We’re still moved by words.
Think of a piece of marketing or advertising that’s struck a chord with you recently. These ads from Nike, Dodge, and Levi’s, while all very different in tone, deliver an emotional punch because of their carefully crafted words. Even Chanel is using strong writing to differentiate its brand amid a sea of unimaginative fragrance ads. (Having Brad Pitt narrate doesn’t hurt.) Striking images are important, without a doubt. But we think the right words can be worth thousands of pictures.
- Everyone loves a good story.
And today, a brand’s message doesn’t end with the 30-second spot. How does the experience extend online, through Twitter, on Facebook, at the point of purchase, in public spaces, and through word of mouth? Good writers don’t stop at a catchy line: they create a narrative that surrounds the consumer, delivering relevant information with a voice that’s consistent and compelling. An unlikely case in point: UK feminine hygiene company Bodyform responding instantly, and hilariously, to a rant on its Facebook page. It takes confidence in writing (and agility) to pull that off.
- The world needs professional conversationalists.
The extension of a brand’s message online requires a writer who’s quick on her toes. Conversation marketing demands that a writer must not only be clever, or funny, or pithy (depending on the brand’s voice)—she must also be able to do it on demand. Old Spice has managed this brilliantly. There are also plenty of horror stories about brands that have crashed and burned.
- We’re too busy to read boring stuff.
Former copywriter Steven Pressfield recently shared his #1 lesson from working in advertising: Nobody wants to read your shit. Blunt words, but they’re true and relevant. Tight budgets and calls for measurement have fed a belief that writing should be a group-led, scientific exercise. Nothing is further from the truth. Consensus is the enemy of clarity. In fact, Seth Godin argues that a lack of standing or credibility is reason enough to ignore an opinion. The upshot? Creating or approving writing that’s bold, different, and fresh is no longer a risk—it’s mandatory.
- No one wants to be fed a line.
The best writing always derives from a fundamental truth. And today, that truth is more important than ever. Wherever consumers read your copy, there’s bound to be a fact checker who’s ready to refute your well-written prose. This environment requires a shift in thinking, from selling something to sharing a relevant attitude. To accomplish that, a copywriter must be a relentless consumer of culture and researcher of facts—because if he shirks that responsibility, consumers will find him out.