Words not pictures

By The Drum, Administrator

March 24, 2005 | 6 min read

Copywriting is more than an art. without well crafted words many marketing messages would be lost. With that in mind, The Drum asked four of Scotland’s leading copywriters why words are so important. We started them off with “copywriting is important because...” and asked them to add their thoughts and then pass it on to the next writer on the list. Over the page is what they created between the four of them.

Copywriting is so important... because communication is so important. It’s the ability to connect with the right person and say exactly the right thing in the right way (a small sentence for something with infinite variables). Which is why good copywriting is so important: it’s problem solving. It’s figuring out the most effective way to communicate in any defined context. You need clear thinking and a shocking intimacy with the English language. You need to be alive to words, their impact, their wonderful ambiguity and dangerous frailty. You need to love rhythm, pacing a sentence with little breaths, big gasps and interesting gulps. You need to leave space for covert and overt inferences. To weave a logical thread without a knot in sight. And ensure it’s all so fluid and slipperily smooth, it slides the message imperceptibly into someone’s mind, while fixing them with a smile and making them feel the ads always read better than the editorial. But it’s never about conning. It’s about grabbing someone’s focus for long enough to tell them true benefits – and respecting their ability to make up their own mind. Good copywriting is never about imposing a standard style. It’s a spooky ability to inhabit your client’s skin and speak with their words. It’s a schizophrenic skill – living simultaneously inside your target’s mind, thinking their thoughts and anticipating how they might open to your message. Which is more challenging when you’re required to target more than one audience with the same piece of copy.

Liz Holt

Rubbish! Codswallop! Baloney! Hull bits. Nah, just kidding. Everything Liz says above is true. And she’s said it in 250 words. Precisely to brief. The challenge is for me to do the same. Fill this space with 250 words. Familiar? Copywriting is without fail bound by constraints, whether they’re word counts, brand guidelines or more generally the appropriateness of the business context. But hey, it shouldn’t be dull. Heavens to Betsy, no. Here’s a good rule of thumb: good copy should display the three Es – it should be engaging, energetic and entertaining. Yes, entertaining. It doesn’t have be Les Dawson or even Little Britain. It can be as serious as, oooh, I don’t know, The Singing Detective. But it needs to hook the reader. Because it’s what carries the message. Simple as that. Why invest thousands of pounds in funky design if the read isn’t good? Now, picking up on Liz’s point above about the target, I wouldn’t necessarily write like this for an accountancy rag. Then again. But this is The Drum. The readers of which are more than likely cynical (some more tempered than others), but they’re also folks who like to create an effect. For many of us, our lives depend on it! So, copywriting is important for the client because it’s the key medium for your message and copywriting is important for the designer because it gives your communication wellie. Coming in at 250 words exactly – bravo! – here’s the qwerty-notched baton, Simon. Good luck.

Stuart Delves, Henzteeth

Thanks, Stuart. 501. Which as every darts fan knows is the start of the game (even though I seem to be in the middle of one here). So let me step up to the oche. Take aim. And let my words fly, swift and true, towards their target. Phhhhhhht. Did that hit the mark? Hard to say – because words, in isolation, can’t convey everything. And neither can photography, nor graphics. These disciplines (even when they’re being undisciplined) work best as a team, each telling their own part of the story. Take this spread. If it was solid text, you wouldn’t read it – no matter how beautifully crafted the words. Conversely, if it was a single image, you might be entertained. But would you feel any better informed? John Berger once said that seeing comes first; words only later. But it’s the words that allow us to interpret what we’re looking at. So copywriters have the difficult bit (at least that’s what we tell our clients). Be it an advert, a brochure, website or whatever, it’s our job to make good on the promises made by the art director. The flirty sod. And because copywriting is so important, it should never be left to some bloke armed with a PC and a thesaurus. Or worse, a designer. Of course, I don’t need to tell you, dear reader, how important this all is. You know we’re worth every penny. Which reminds me. We did say a pound a word didn’t we, Gordon?

Simon Platt

A pound a word, Simon? That’s the dream. Maybe the four of us should form an evil copy cartel, and squeeze the Scottish marketing industry for all it’s worth. You could have the white fluffy cat. I could be in charge of the underground monorail. Liz and Stuart could fight it out over the mind-control ray. Heck, we can ALL have a mind-control ray. Or maybe not. The truth is it’s not really necessary. I reckon most clients understand that copy is important. Or rather, they realise it’s important to pay someone else to take away the pain of writing the brochure/ad/website/fortune cookies. Because no matter how much we want to be at the heart of the communication process, we’re often workaday technicians – tippy-tapping away at our keyboards because someone else is too busy to do the same. That’s the hollow reality – but it’s a fair enough deal. The big benefits come when a client realises that words are right at the heart of their brand: their verbal identity, if you will. Think of those brilliant Economist ads by David Abbott. Or those little facts which Prêt a Manger use to stuff wonderfully arcane information into our brains. Copywriting is so darned important because personality is so darned important. And no matter how hard we try, it’s really difficult to have a personality without actually saying something. The pictures can only ever take you so far. Words speak on behalf of our clients. And that’s what makes them so vital.

Alan Black, Blackad


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