Just when you thought copywriting had adopted a new persona, it’s become very clear that the old techniques are making a comeback. Or is it the case that they never really went away?
Consider if you will: ‘the creative concept’; quality content; and the ‘direct response’ copywriting approach now being advocated for standard web pages and landing pages.
These are all techniques that add more power to a message. In the challenging economic times of the moment, this is all part of getting ‘more bangs for your buck’. Everything mentioned above was central to the creative copywriting work of 30 years ago when everything to do with marketing was offline.
As the conventional wisdom of online copywriting became set in stone, the message was that people read differently on the web. They would therefore have no truck with being ‘sold to’, partly because reading from a screen is supposedly a more ‘intimate’ experience. That now seems faintly ridiculous because most things that we read – in books, newspapers or whatever – are always one-to-one writer-to-reader transactions!
This precious attitude was consolidated with the emergence of social media, where ‘people power’ was vested in their independent capacity to destroy brands and reputations.
Although there is some truth in the notion that the balance of power has shifted in favour of the consumer, marketers are still faced with the challenge of how best to persuade customers to buy their products and services. Mass market advertising may not have the same level of influence as it once did, but even niche media – online and offline – have a major job to do in a highly competitive marketing marketplace.
This has been amplified in recessionary times to the extent that persuasion and manipulation have become the black-hatted Siamese twins of this still-young decade. Using an online metaphor is applicable across-the-board, but in an SEO-dominated marketing environment, it has additional resonance.
Yes, black-hat SEO still goes on despite Google’s valiant attempts to stamp it out. However, the overwhelming majority of marketing professionals are realising that SEO of whatever hue will not in itself be enough to win through.
Apart from the fact that SEO is now a cut-throat, ultra-competitive force in a world where there can only be ten web pages listed per ‘Page One of Google’, it’s clear that product differentiation can be better achieved using the proven and traditional marketing techniques to support SEO activities.
To take ‘creative concepts’ as an example, the applicability of creative themes never went away, but their relevance was brought into question in an online world where keywords were king. Why waste time (and money) thinking of clever visual ideas with matching benefit-led headlines when all that’s required is keyword-rich content?
In the pre-online marketing era, eyeball-grabbing visual ideas and stunning photography linked to an equally brilliant headline simply blew people away. Brand personality was reinforced, a flame was lit in the soul of the public’s desire to consume, and sales enquiries would come flooding in!
Admittedly, this is a slightly idealised scenario, but cleverness or humour gave a brand an extra dimension – and this was largely as a result of a copywriter and art director batting around a bag of ideas.
In the offline world, creative concepts were used most widely in advertising and on billboard posters. Creative themes also worked well with brochures and direct mail packs. Now, it would seem that the online environment is ripe for some visual excitement, especially as more sophisticated software and increased computing power help to make this possible.
In many ways, arresting online images are an integral part of Google’s drive for ‘quality content’. Quality will be rewarded in the SEO stakes, whereas re-cycled, uninformative, badly-written and presented web pages will be looked upon with a certain disdain as being ‘not quite up to the mark’!
Creating ‘quality content’ falls largely into the copywriter’s domain. It’s not totally about original, informative and well-written text of course. Deciding what content should appear on a web page is also part of holistic creative thinking – or, dare it be said, ‘conceptual thinking’.
Things like videos, charts, Powerpoint presentations and the results of original surveys all contribute towards what is new, quality content. In the written sphere, the quality of articles and blog posts are also important in generating the ‘likes’ and links that contribute to SEO success.
More overtly, the ‘direct response’ style of copywriting which is making a comeback on web pages and landing pages, is directed unashamedly at persuading people to buy or sign up for a company’s wares. Who would have thought four or five years ago that something so ‘vulgar’ as off-the-page selling could ever besmirch the pristine world of the web? And yet, desperation is often the mother of invention.
Economic woes have driven many people to the extremes of inventiveness to win market share. For legions of other people, it would seem that the tools of success were there all along, right under their noses. It just needed a few traditionalists to point them out.
Thank you Mike! I posted this on my social networks with a note that it made me smile first thing this morning to read this!
For years “people” said what was good or not so good on the web. Most of these “people” had never put more than a few words together in their lives. They knew something we didn’t though. How to put a web site up on line.
That was their total benefit. And then they pontificated about what could and could not be done. Or rather what they could and could not do.
Clients are realizing once again that good ideas are their brands lifeblood. And they need to be articulated. Yes written down.
And yes, executed well. On whatever channel they are choosing to use.
And lets not forget, the world of marketing is overwhelmingly still TV.
Welcome back writers. Welcome to a world of better ideas.
Executed brilliantly in ink and pixels.
Well said, Mike. I’ve been writing for over 20 years and as you so rightly pointed out, the more things change the more they stay the same. Hopefully, quality prevails.
I’m with everyone above. You can almost hear a collective sigh of relief out there…forget ‘revenge of the nerds’, it’s ‘revenge of the words’….
Love your witticism in your “revenge of the words” phrase. May I borrow it?
Great post Mike, and you are spot-on right about quality starting to reign supreme in the first “Highly coveted” search page results.
Story-based copy and themes have always outperformed all other styles of direct response marketing, this has not changed in the last 100+ years.
Despite all of the “creative” thinking there is: if a good story (in pictures, or words) which evokes a strong emotional response – is not present – there will be a weak
response to the message. End of story.
Best To All.
Stephen E. Monday
The digital guys are akin to teenagers (“why don’t you leve home while you still know it all?”). As you point out, they are rediscovering stuff that many of us have been trying to tell them for years.
Technology changes. People don’t. If you want to sell them stuff it’s foolish to overlook what has worked for years and to sneer at wisdom!
What a relief to get back to basics! Many of us older copywriters started in print…and the original skills are second nature and hard to overcome. Glad we can just roll with it again.
I’ve thought this to be true all along, but if you talk to most established ad agencies or look at their websites, they’ll tell you that it’s all about branding, brand loyalty, and using branding to develop market segmentation. This seems to be such an article of faith, that a lot of the folks who would benefit most from Direct Response don’t even want to talk about it. Now we can tell them what was old is new again.