In the maelstrom of marketing activity with which we’re all bombarded on a daily basis, it’s hard to believe that advertising copywriting was once a lead creative skill in what was the most dominant aspect of marketing.
Clients of a certain age would be forgiven for being confused by the range of techniques that now contribute to sales success. We’re talking here about things like social media and blogging, SEO and the multifarious forms of online copywriting.
They would probably identify with some of the themes of this article – but what about today’s younger generation of marketers and copywriters? Are they missing a trick by overlooking the proven skill-sets of advertising and direct response – in particular, the value of the creativity that advertising copywriting brings to the party?
Nostalgia – or Amnesia?
There’s a general feeling around that advertising copywriting isn’t what it was: to wit, the nostalgia surrounding the ‘Mad Men’ phenomenon. In the 1970s and 80s when Saatchi & Saatchi reigned supreme in the UK, advertising was definitely at the ‘sexy’ end of the marketing spectrum. Today, it’s seen as a bit player in the marketing mix and, when it comes to ‘digital marketing’, advertising barely ranks as an ‘extra’.
Back in the day, to win your metaphorical ‘Equity Card’ (Equity being an actors’ union for all you non-UK readers) you had to have ad agency experience and know how to master the art of ‘creative concepts’. As that usually entailed working with an art director, there really weren’t too many entrees into the business other than securing a job in an ad agency. If you couldn’t master ‘creative concepts’, your professional life expectancy was just about nil.
Today, anyone who’s able to write a high school essay can call themselves a copywriter. Yes, the argument has been done to death, but these people are, strictly speaking, nothing other than ‘content writers’ – or ‘business writers’ at best. In fairness, this is in apparent response to the declining need for fully-fledged advertising copywriters whose conceptualising skills have been all but consigned to the scrap heap.
And yet, if you look around, advertising is still very much with us. As always, lots of TV ads are better than the programmes in which they’re sandwiched. The UK press still relies on ads for its livelihood and, it has to be said, some of the magazine ads in particular are masterpieces of creativity.
Unfortunately, this ‘creativity’ – broadcast or printed – doesn’t always include copywriting; or, to put it in the context of this piece, it doesn’t major on creative concepts that underpin truly great advertising. The reasons for this can be laid squarely at the door of the online tsunami which over-ran the marketing scene less than a decade ago.
Is Online Copywriting Creative?
The conventional wisdom on this – as it’s so rapidly become – is that online attention spans are very short, and most people are looking for information as opposed to a gratifying creative frisson. My own view is that, as technology continues to develop, the opportunities for delivering great images and copy to go with it have never been greater – and that applies to PC screens, tablets, mobiles and so on.
In other words, the lessons of creating conceptual advertising can now be applied far and wide. Whereas ‘Flash’ (with all its shortcomings) was until recently the best vehicle for delivering an exquisite visual experience, we now have a situation where most operating systems and computer memories can handle complex imagery with aplomb.
Why shouldn’t advertising copywriting skills be applied to web pages? Why shouldn’t a clever, benefit-led and linked headline be used to leverage the impact of a mind-blowing visual? If (as is now often suggested) every website page is potentially a landing page, it surely makes sense to maximise the creative impact with the use of persuasive concepts.
Yet more-recent ‘conventional wisdom’ has it that a web browsing experience isn’t solely about the search for information. Providing original and relevant content is obviously vital, but the differentiating and persuasive factor is surely the impact each page has on the senses and emotions of the site visitor. ‘Conversion’ is never by content alone.
Is Creativity Affordable?
Achieving the highest level of creative consistency throughout a website will usually come with a price tag to match – and herein lies the rub. As an example, there’s clearly no comparison between low-cost stock photos and specially-commissioned professional photography.
In many cases, the far higher cost of this could never be justified – especially in economically-distressed times. On the other hand, cost-cutting by sending a factory manager along with his latest digital camera, for instance, has to be self-defeating where the perception of product quality and quality website content is all part of the package.
A similar comparison can be made with the copywriting that goes into online projects. It’s a simple matter to fill a space with words, often under the misconception that site visitors buy solely on price/delivery time/product appearance without paying any heed to emotional drivers. Why not, therefore, corral an in-house individual who’s known to be ‘good with words’ to knock a bit of copy together? After all, it really won’t make that much difference. And just think of the money you’ll save!
Needless to say, I feel this kind of approach to online creativity is delusional. In most cases, it will be worth investing in experienced creative professionals, whether that’s web designers, photographers or copywriters.
Google’s Take On All This…
A more recent factor which Google itself has thrust into the spotlight is its requirement for well-written online content, in addition to its stipulation that original, high quality content of every type will always be a given.
By ‘well-written’, Google isn’t talking about basics such as spelling and grammar. It’s really all about the clarity of the argument associated with whatever keyword/subject matter is being featured on a particular page. It’s about how the original content has been harnessed to give the end user a rewarding and informative experience. Even more important – and outside Google’s remit to a large extent – is the creative and commercial impact this content will have on the reader.
Creativity can never be measured by keywords. It’s unlikely, either, that Google will ever be able to measure and rank ‘creativity’ – such is its subjectivity. The user experience will nevertheless be influenced by factors other than those that Google can measure. And so will the commercial performance of a website.
All other things being equal, creativity and ‘quality’ go hand in hand. When making online comparisons between companies and their products and services – which so many people do nowadays – creativity of the type provided by conceptual advertising copywriting can make the difference between a potential buyer choosing you… or someone else.
About the author:
Mike Beeson is a highly experienced UK copywriter, journalist and PR consultant. Mike’s company, Buzzwords Limited, was established over 20 years ago and is located in Knutsford, Cheshire (south Manchester). This article is the second in Mike Beeson’s ‘Talk Your Client Through It’ series. The first article featured Brochure Copywriting