Copywriters are called upon to write about many things. For the most part, their political and socio-economic views are of no consequence. Products and services don’t usually come with a health or wealth warning. For copywriters with more acute sensibilities, however, there are certain ‘no-go’ areas where ethics enter the fray. Think: cigarettes, alcohol, defence products and, yes, political parties (to name just a few).
An area which may appear unexpectedly on the list of certain copywriters would be financial products and services. In case this surprises, maybe we should revert to the demise of Lehman Brothers, the run on Northern Rock, the PPI scandal, and manipulation of the ‘Inter-bank Rate’ (AKA ‘Libor’). Forget, if you will, the scourge of ‘Payday Loans’, the controversy surrounding the Co-Op Bank, or even the continuing trend for bankers’ bonuses to exceed most people’s ‘norms’.
If you’re a copywriter who’s been briefed to come up with the goods for a website (let’s say), for a brochure, press or TV ad – how far will the influences of the outside world colour what you write? Copywriters, of course, are expected to be impartial, but financial matters are so much part of the warp and weft of our Capitalist society, it’s difficult to be totally objective. Somewhere along the line, even a diehard copywriter runs the risk of being influenced by their own political, economic and social leanings!
A Human, Financial Face
Despite what some people may think, copywriters are only human. OK, they set out to persuade targeted consumers to behave outrageously when it comes to spending their money, but that can be explained away somewhere along the rainbow from caveat emptor to mea culpa. Naïveté knows no bounds where greed is part of the equation.
Can the same culpability be levelled at journalists? The BBC’s economics guru, Robert Peston, for example, or – on a more political level – Jeremy Paxman, John Humphrys and Andrew Marr? After all, these are guys who write for a living and then compound it by broadcasting their thoughts to millions. Paxman famously hid his political persuasion for the 25 years he anchored BBC2’s Newsnight, whilst Andrew Marr does a solid ecumenical job on his Sunday morning slot on BBC1.
The point I’m making is that financial matters will always be tied up with the wider world of politics. How we earn a living and what we do with our money involve important personal decisions we make every day against an ever-changing political backdrop. Anyone in the UK who is writing about financial affairs – and financial products and services – will be subject to the same influences as everyone else.
Writers, One and All
Copywriters and journalists alike will have their own political viewpoints ranging from rabid Tories to little-Englander UKIPPERS to ‘champagne Socialists’. (Add your own labels for anyone in between!) A good recent example where subjectivity enters centre-stage is with Payday Loans.
Here, you have a toxic mix of social irresponsibility, financial expediency brought about by economic austerity and individual fecklessness borne of an intrinsically avaricious society. Any copywriter writing about Payday Loans – no matter what their political persuasion – would surely need a proverbial sick-bag handy when they pen phrases such as ‘We’re a responsible lender’. With interest rates charged at upwards of 4,000% APR, even the middle-class English clergy have raised their gilded sceptres.
As mere mortals, financial copywriters have a tough job on their hands, wrestling with their conscience – and this in the midst of a society where everything must be monetised. Every micro-hectare of brown-field land must be developed. Every sporting surface must be sponsored. And every man’s home must be his thrice-painted castle – because, in the UK, that’s what it says on the tin.
About the Author
Mike Beeson is a highly experienced UK journalist, financial copywriter and PR consultant. Mike’s company, Buzzwords Limited, was established over 20 years ago and is located in Knutsford, Cheshire (south Manchester).