Death of the copywriter

21 Nov

During my 20+ years of advertising copywriting, I have been witness to a ponderous and depressing evolution.

Where once we wordsmiths sweated over every word, now we are happy to get it out on time and move on to the next pressing job. I can look back at my notebooks from years ago and see that I attempted a hundred iterations of a line before finally settling on the perfect one. Today I measure my free time to write in chunks of minutes, not days.

Certainly I’m faster and better at it than I was. But the industry simply doesn’t demand it of me anymore.

When was the last time you tucked into a beautiful long copy ad and marveled at the clear-headed logic and slinky prose? In the hit and run culture of today’s advertising, indeed modern living, where attention spans have necessarily had to diminish as multi-tasking has increased, we have just about enough time to smack the consumer on the head with a hilarious image and move on. The ubiquitous website sign-off is the new seduction: Visit www to find out more…

Hastening matters further is the increasing trend towards interactive and experiential advertising – facilitated by the agency but created by the consumer – which has also reduced the need for the writer to wield his or her literary chops.

Neil French, my first copywriting mentor, would pour over every word of my copy, so I developed as a writer, naturally enough, assuming the consumer would forever do the same.

But the heat is clearly off the copywriter now.

We are victims of forces we can’t control. With the ever-increasing importance of instant messages and experiences, we have watched our craft decline, resigned to seeing our best articulations relegated to blogs like this.

Where is it all leading?

Next blog post: Rebirth of the copywriter

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6 Responses to “Death of the copywriter”

  1. Dave Thackeray November 23, 2009 at 1:41 am #

    Jaded, despondent and disillusioned – the clarion call of a classical copywriter in this modern maelstrom of life.

    While I indubitably concur that progress renders much of yesterday’s strategy for copywriting excellence redundant, I find the pace of change incredibly inspiring, challenging and refreshing.

    I strive to stretch my creativity and thirst for versatility any which way to sate client and consumer impartially. This ‘evolution’ towards a constant craving for the quick hit sometimes takes me way beyond my comfort zone and into new realms of creativity unmatched by copywriting efforts in days of yore.

    Much better to seize the bull’s horns than to lament the passing of days of yore.

  2. dougbrowncreative November 23, 2009 at 5:23 am #

    I think you can do both. And I will try to express the new opportunities in my next post: Rebirth of the copywriter. Thanks for the comment David.

  3. tom November 23, 2009 at 11:16 am #

    In this 21stC 24/7 society, there’s still a few places where people have the time to appreciate the efforts of the artisan wordsmith.
    I guess the question to ask is, what locations do you find people in a state of near rigormortis: fixed location, fixed gaze, terrified of engaging on any level with other people? Leaving them with the time and impetus to read a long ad.

    My list:
    – Metro stations – namely The London Underground
    – All elevators/lifts
    – Urinals
    – Cash-points/ATM’s
    – Airport security check points
    – Any US border crossing point

  4. dougbrowncreative November 24, 2009 at 7:27 am #

    i think you’re on to something. In fact, given the need for diversion in these situations, wouldn’t it be downright irresponsible – verging on criminal – NOT to provide something lengthy to read?

  5. amy@turbinecreative.com December 4, 2009 at 11:59 am #

    Just adapt! Don’t cry. Don’t bemoan. Simply think in new and improved ways. There’s no reason to think you can’t express yourself fully and have no thought left unthunk in 140 charac

  6. dougbrowncreative December 4, 2009 at 2:38 pm #

    Agreed. And in further response Amy, I would direct you to my follow up blog, mentioned in the second comment here.

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