GOODBYE LONG-FORM, HELLO # HASHTAG
Copywriting is not dead, writes Katrina Petrenko.
Online advertising is not sounding the death knell for quality copy, writes Katrina Petrenko. Far from it
Words matter. For all you traditional copywriters wondering how you’ll fare in the world of digital, don’t give in to doubt and panic. Scribes have a place in this sea of snaps, stories and live feeds. Wordsmiths will live to tell another tale.
It might seem as though video content is everything. Yet without us logophiles, art directors would be treading water, lost in a world of symbolism and metaphors and visual tropes. And though “making it” in digital as a humble, démodé writer might seem like swimming up an especially unyielding and jagged stream, you will come out the other side a white swan in demand, a technician in your field.
If the likes of John Caples, David Abbott, David Ogilvy, Eugene Shwartz and Bill Bernbach are your inspiration, you are no doubt a prodigious originator of compositions. My only advice for you is to pick up your quill one last time, and draw up a heartfelt obituary for our beloved but not ever forgotten friend, long-form copy. No, the art of writing is not dead; it has simply taken on a new form.
Long gone are the days when people relished scrolls of copy and hung on to your every word. That goes for books (remember those?) and even more so for ads. I’m beating a dead horse, but we know the general populace would much rather look at pretty moving pictures. There’s no time to read any more, no patience, no desire. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: copywriting is not dead. And it matters now, more than ever.
We need no further proof of this than a casual glance at the current landscape. Here we are, truckin’ along in a post-truth world of doublespeak and alternative facts. Click-bait headlines have gone haywire and clashing narratives have left us at a loss for words, divided and unsure of what to do or say, what to believe and what to fight for.
This emerging dystopia is a little reminiscent of something we’re all familiar with – bad advertising. Lies, corruption, embellishments and hyperboles. Bruised egos, fabricated intelligence, apathy and grasping for straws. We’re spoiled for choice but starved of freedom. We’re told precisely what to fear and when to fear it, with no proof of why. What the world of advertising has in common with the world at large is quite simple. Now more than ever. It’s words.
What we say matters. What we read matters. To make it in this crazy world we need to speak in a manner that is simple, concise and to-the-point. We need to be provocative. It might be a simple headline, a Facebook post or a super on a screen. Gosh, it might even be a hashtag. Just look at how #BlackLivesMatter, #LoveWins, #BringBackOurGirls and #LikeAGirl started conversations, stirred up emotions, turned words into actions and inspired change.
In the age of digital, not only is less more, less is an art. If they try and tell you that copywriting is on its way out, show them some of the genius signs spotted at the Women’s March. If they try to tell you it doesn’t take a writer to write a social post, show them a few of the 45th president’s tweets. Do not let this rhetoric of digital visual craft dwarf your art or intimidate you. Words have power, and that won’t change.
As advertisers, our thoughts, ideas and beliefs have the ability to influence and change the world. As writers, we help create context and complete the story. And we don’t just write – everyone knows which half of a creative partnership really comes up with those award-winning concepts.
Evolve and expand. Think fast on your feet. Learn about user experience. Master content strategy. Heck, write some code. The battlefield isn’t just pen and paper and screens anymore. As writers we have the unique ability to learn new skills faster, to embrace change and solve challenges in ways others wouldn’t ever think about. Yes, we are writers. But this only means we can be anything we want.
The analyst firm Garner predicts that by 2018, 20 per cent of all content will be written by machines. Relax. Sure, this might work for an earnings report or a legal document. But for the kind of content that you and I create and consume, technology still has a way to go. Every time a different narrative needs to be produced, code will need to be rewritten. So for now, be the coder, and own it. #CopywritersMatter.