What is copywriting?
It’s not journalism, it’s not writing novels and it’s not writing just for the fun of it. So, what is copywriting?
Copywriting, in simple terms, is the use of words to persuade someone to do something.
This could be to make a donation, click on a link, go out and buy a new pair of pants, write to their MP, sign up to a newsletter, reassess their opinion of a brand or hit the share button.
Art or science?
Many will tell you that copywriting is a science*, but in fact it’s an art†.
My job as a copywriter is, more often than not, to capture the attention of a marketing-saturated, ad-frazzled, disinterested punter. Once I’ve got them reading, I then need to persuade them that the widget I’m selling is the absolute best widget in the entire widgety universe.
This takes wit, guile and intuition. It’s an art form.
A love of words, the ability to spell and lots of writing experience are all handy, but without an intuitive creative spark; a scientific, data-driven approach to copywriting won’t save anyone.
Where does this artistry come from?
In the last 18 months, the stuff I’ve written has been ridiculously diverse:
• On-pack copy for a vodka brand
• Press ads for a law firm
• Social media posts for a genealogy website
• Web copy for a children’s nursery
• Video scripts for a car manufacturer
• Sales aids for teeth aligners…
I don’t drink vodka, I don’t hang out with lawyers and I’ve never traced my family tree.
I don’t own a toddler, I don’t run a 4×4 and I’m perfectly happy with my dodgy teeth.
So how am I qualified to write persuasive copy for any of these clients?
Beyond having a great brief and lots of background information, if I relied on the ‘science’ of copywriting, I’d probably still be at “Err…”.
The art is in getting my head around what the client needs to say and then slipping my feet into the moccasins/flip-flops/toe tectors/louboutins/high tops/brogues of the target audience, so that I pull all the right strings.
For this, empathy is the copywriter’s best friend.
Empathy is a wonderful human quality nurtured through the richness of life experience. So as copywriters, we’re fortunate in the respect that the more we do and the longer we live, the better we get at the job.
“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.”
– Dale Carnegie
Do you have to be born with it?
To a certain extent, yes. Like all art forms, there are plenty of chancers who get by with a lucky break or two, but then there are the maestros. Those that are born with an abundance of empathy and creative ingenuity.
To anyone who’s into copywriting, it will be no surprise to hear that I place David Abbott at the very top of the maestro category.
Mr. Abbott had a God-given gift for advertising copy. No doubt he worked hard at it, but without the creative seed that he was born with, I doubt he could have written this, one of his most famous ads, for Chivas Regal.
David Abbott makes it seem completely effortless. It feels more like a heart pouring out its contents than a copywriter selling booze.
Try doing that armed only with a spreadsheet of consumer insight data and a laptop.
“Use your life to animate your copy. If something moves you, chances are, it will touch someone else too.”
– David Abbott
Can it be learned?
By studying those that have the gift and then writing, writing, writing; again, yes.
If you have a love for it and are willing to put the effort in, there is no doubt you can get better at it. Put it this way, I am definitely a better copywriter now than I was a year ago. And unless I’m mistaken, I’ll be a better copywriter this time next year.
Can anyone do it?
However, the real question should be, can anyone do it really well? And the answer to that is most definitely, and fortunately for the likes of me, “NO NO NO NO NO”.
“I’ve learned that any fool can write a bad ad, but that it takes a real genius to keep his hands off a good one.”
– Leo Burnett
So, to recap, what is copywriting again?
It’s the ability to empathise, to intrigue and persuade. It just so happens that the tools we use to do this are words.
For more on the art of copywriting, have a look at:
* OK, there is a bit of science to it, but mostly that’s in getting the brief right.
† Let’s get this straight. The end result isn’t art. Advertising, commercial websites, brochures and the like can’t be compared to a Picasso or a Rembrandt. However, there is an art to the copywriting process.
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