Throughout history, copywriting has been integral to the success of millions of advertising and marketing campaigns.
The copywriters of the past have produced some ground-breaking work, composing captivating content and sellable stories that got heads turning, ears flapping and tongues wagging. Over the years we’ve seen some sensational writers: John Emory Powers, Bernice Fitz-Gibbon, Stan Freberg, David Abbott. Many creative people spent time in their early career as advertising copywriters – Salman Rushdie is one example.
Now, with the rise of the internet, the nature of copywriting has undergone (and is still undergoing) some significant changes. Here’s how copywriting has evolved, and what today’s copywriters need to bear in mind.
Back in the day
The purpose of any writing, including copywriting, is to persuade, inform or entertain. Naturally, the focus of copywriting often tends towards persuasion – we want people to buy a product, sign up for a service, or choose one brand over another. The intent is commercial, and has often sounded that way. History’s copywriters were, for the most part, specialists in advertorial copy with a background in English or Journalism, who worked at creative advertising agencies. Such a thing as a freelance writer was unheard of.
Having been ‘sold to’ for decades, today’s consumers respond less readily to conventional ad copy. We’ve seen and heard it all before. And what’s more, we consume content in different ways.
Some things don’t change
Let’s start by looking at what hasn’t changed. For one thing, we know that regardless of medium – be it short or long-form copy – effective copywriting comes down to being able to tell a compelling story. It’s still about getting in your target audience’s head. Both then and now, the primary objective is to accurately pinpoint your audience and say something that will be meaningful to them, in order to inspire action. Perhaps more importantly, we want to inspire action towards our intended brand, and away from its competitors. It’s about finding that USP and drilling it home, along with a juicy call-to-action.
Likewise, we still lean heavily on emotion, just as much as logic. Humans are emotional creatures; we are led just as effectively by an emotional impact as a rational one. The best copywriting plays on both aspects, creating genuine feeling while supplying us with the ‘why’.
What’s more, we must still be accurate (there’s no excuse not to proofread, especially with tools like ProWritingAid), we must be able to grab the reader’s attention in a matter of seconds, and we must make our first impression the right one. No pressure, writers.
A digital earthquake
So, let’s talk about the internet. It sure has shaken things up a bit. Along came digital copywriting, the younger sibling of traditional advertising – previously an only child. The internet has created a different kind of role for copywriters, bringing with it blogging, SEO, social networking and ecommerce, amongst other things. The world communicates differently to before. And now, so do copywriters.
The growth particularly in ecommerce has been unprecedented, with accessible store builders lowering the barriers to entry so that anyone with an idea for a business can get set-up online. But what they lack in sales staff and a hands-on experience, ecommerce stores must make up for with content that blows your socks off. It’s a 24/7 sales tool, and it can work wonders or destroy your entire business – depending on how good a writer you’re working with.
As society changes, so advertising must change. Disruptive advertising is old-school, and what we’re starting to see much more of instead is inbound marketing. Brands that provide useful, actionable, relevant and entertaining content, which draws customers in because it’s inherently valuable. We do not feel sold to. We feel informed – and we see that you are too. Today’s buyers are research-led: they will go where their internet searches take them.
The modern copywriter
So, while the modern copywriter retains some of the distinctive traits of their predecessors, they have also come to adapt to the changing landscape they find themselves in. They sit alongside everyday internet users: writing reviews, recommending products and services, managing social media and writing blog posts. Great digital copywriting is almost undetectable, such is our constant exposure to the online world. Seamlessly connecting user with advertiser, the average person perhaps wouldn’t be able to tell whether something has been written professionally or not, unlike your traditional banner ad. Almost everyone is promoting something on the internet, in some way.
Copywriting is as important as it’s ever been – arguably more so. The digital medium is the ideal platform for the written word, as well as content and visuals that work together. That’s before we’ve even touched on video – the scripts for which will be written by copywriters too. More than 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute (Source).
Modern copywriting is becoming more conversational, more benefit-led, and more about building relationships with consumers. So where will this take us?
The future belongs to storytellers who specialize
While you may not be writing the next best-selling novel, copywriting is undoubtedly one of the best ways to make money with an English, Arts or Journalism degree. The number of agency and freelance copywriters has never been higher – and demand is growing. It’s a booming industry to get into with a lot of different niches, and the flexibility to work from anywhere in the world, provided you have an internet connection. Ideal for parents, carers and travellers alike.
Legit brands understand the importance of good content: it’s one of the biggest differentiating factors in today’s marketplace. If you want to stand out, you need to sound distinctive and have something valuable to say. It’s simple supply and demand, and it’s escalating on both sides. So as a copywriter, it’s important to sound distinctive – and have something valuable to say.
Today’s marketers increasingly search for copywriters based on what they specialize in. Niching is the new black: if you can capitalize on the one thing you write about really well, then your chances of making a good living from copywriting are much higher. That, along with a good working knowledge of SEO copywriting, will stand you in good stead for the future.
Some digital copywriters may kid themselves into thinking that copywriting is a young industry, but the truth is, it’s been around for hundreds of years. Hell, even a Wild West ‘wanted’ poster shows some level of copywriting in a primitive form. What is changing is the platform, and the way we ‘sell’ to online consumers. Storytelling is going nowhere. But perhaps the more outdated customs will become relics of copywriters past.