Why it’s more than just ‘a few words’, according to RBH’s copywriter Sarah Mullaney.
I can’t count the amount of times someone has asked me what I do for a living and then, when I tell them, been met with a blank expression. Granted, ‘copywriter’ is not the most obvious job title – I’ve had it confused with copyright law, with literally copying other people’s work (I believe that’s called plagiarism) and even with working as a personal scribe.
To avoid the awkward silence that the word copywriter nearly always brings, I tend to use ‘I’m a writer in advertising’ as my default response. Cue the Mad Men comparisons.
It’s probably easier to say, “Hi, I’m Sarah and I’m not a scribe, plagiarist, or (complete) grammar-Nazi.” However, I’ve also recently discovered that copywriters are the Tyrion Lannisters of ad agencies (according to Chimp&z Inc), if that helps any Game of Thrones fans.
I’m not alone in being a copywriter who doesn’t introduce themselves as a copywriter. In 2014, the DMA held their first British copywriters’ census, which later formed a wonderful little book called, ‘Why your copywriter looks sad.’ Of the 433 respondents, 40% called themselves a copywriter, 30% a creative, 14% a writer and 12% a content writer.
When asked what the biggest barrier to good work is, 54% said lack of respect for the value of copywriting. Is it any wonder then, that 28% believed that if a client was cutting back on budgets, copywriting would be the first to go?
I believe that part of this problem are the age-old beliefs:
- They’re only words
- Anyone can write
Just as colours and logos make a brand strong, so too does considered copy. It’s what makes a brand appear reliable, what connects with consumers on an emotional level and ultimately convinces them to part with their money. Equally, it’s the copy that, if done poorly, is capable of bringing down even the most exquisite, beautiful design.
This brings me onto the idea that while anyone can write, it takes real skill to write well.
One way to do this? Nailing the tone of voice, a task easier said than done. But, as Liz Doig rightly says in Brand Language: Tone of Voice the Wordtree Way, ‘You’re in charge of the words – they’re not in charge of you.’
Some of my favourite tone of voice masters lately are Cards Against Humanity, Just Eat and the, perhaps lesser-known, Palace Skateboards, whose irreverent product descriptions have their personality down to a T.
It’s no secret that people care about how they’re spoken to and are very quick to notice when a brand is trying too hard. This is where fellow kids come in. If you haven’t already heard of it, ‘How do you do, fellow kids?’ is a Reddit thread and meme sensation dedicated to mocking ads and media that try too hard to appeal to young people. A colleague alerted me to it when I may or may not have been attempting to shoehorn a joke into some copy. Lesson learned.
Savage but necessary, here are some examples of ‘fellow kids’ memes.
The way I see it is that you wouldn’t let someone with little to no experience do your dental work, rewire the electrics in your house or represent you in a court of law. So, when it comes to showcasing your business in a way that resonates with your customers, you need a copywriter who knows what they’re doing.
Because words have a power that cannot be underestimated. They matter, they always have and always will.