Rebirth of the copywriter

23 Nov

I recently interviewed a very young student who desperately wants to become a copywriter and I asked her what she thought copywriters did.

She answered that copywriters came up with the slogans and art directors made the pictures. That made me smile: a perfect sepia snapshot of the business 40 years ago.

The writer came up with the snappy jingle or pithy pun, followed by the copy waffle, and the art director furrowed her brow and decided that Hanes underwear man needed to be draped over an unmade bed in a New York loft. All very MadMen.

My how things have changed. These days the copywriter has to be a brand champion, a loyalty strategist and a linguistic economist. Who has time to sit around reading ads? The days of the self-indulgent copy wallow are toast.

About time too.

When I interview writers today, I take for granted that they can write. What I’m looking for instead is an appreciation of the exigencies of the writer’s role in today’s ad agency, and areas of particular expertise.

In our complex and segmented world, where results are replacing awards on the writer’s resume, it’s becoming rare except in smaller agencies to find generalist copywriters. Increasingly there are specialists by industry or segment (healthcare, financial, NEOs) or by media (Web, traditional media, catalogues).

You’re accountable for what you write like never before. So that now the thoughtfulness you put into your choice of words is not to impress an Awards Show judge in New York, but to generate the click through that will ensure the success needle moves.

Does that mean all the fun has gone out of the job? NAH! If it seemed that my last post was a eulogy to the glory days of copywriting, let me assure you that I believe the real test of the copywriter’s skill is just beginning.

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2 Responses to “Rebirth of the copywriter”

  1. Dave Thackeray February 16, 2010 at 4:28 am #

    Have to say the transformation in mood expressed by this article is clear to see, Doug. A much more inspiring and thought-provoking parable than your mercy cry to the world, of yore!

    I’m mesmerised by the opportunities we have to excel in the New World Order. But we cannot ‘wait and see’ – we’ll all have to work harder than ever to grasp the subtle nuances of new technologies and understand how we can apply our efforts in those directions.

    Podcasts, vodcasts, screen presentations and dynamic press releases: the opportunities and challenges are almost limitless. But that’s what makes life exciting.

    Thanks, Doug, for this great post.

  2. dougbrowncreative February 16, 2010 at 5:48 am #

    Thanks for the comment Dave. It may surprise you to know that I wrote “Death” and “Rebirth” on the same day. Two sides of the same coin. We copywriters are conflicted!

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