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A word’s worth: how effective is good copywriting really?

By Andrew Boulton

April 24, 2013 | 3 min read

I once tweeted that a particularly unpopular footballer was about as welcome at opposition grounds as a Criminal Record Check at 1970s Radio One. It was not by any means hilarious, my tweets rarely are.

89 retweets later and I was entirely convinced that I was Jimmy Carr, only with a smaller face, cheaper suits and more financially invested in the fundamental infrastructure of this country.

And this is the copywriter’s condition: wonderful things we write can make little impression. Bland and uninspiring things we write can, for no reason whatsoever, be incredibly impactful.

I have read beautifully constructed ads full of eloquent language, intelligent structure and purposeful composition. After reading them I have thought how splendid they were (and how ferociously unfair it was that I didn’t and/or couldn’t write like that). Then I do nothing. Short of admiring the piece of work itself I do not act upon it and, shamefully, many times I entirely forget the painstakingly crafted piece of copywriting I had found so admirable.

Sadly, I suspect there are many who appreciate the excellence of a piece of copy without then undertaking the action it had demanded of us. Worse still, I imagine there are many more who consume even the most exquisite copywriting work at only the most cursory level of consciousness.

All the copywriters I know tell me that an excellent piece of writing will make them incredibly proud. Yet they are invariably frustrated by their ineffectual copywriting, especially in a communication they feel had been well constructed.

Copywriting is not an art, but it bears a resemblance to art in terms of the creative process. Combine this with the fact that the purpose of all copywriting is to elicit a (usually commercial) response and you have a precarious situation. A poorly received piece of copywriting of which the author thought highly, hurts on both the aesthetic and fiscal levels.

Conversely, copywriting that is functional without being especially inspiring can be incredibly effective, generating the kind of commercial outcome that is the fundamental goal of any piece of marketing communication. Should copywriters find these circumstances more satisfying than producing something that is truly brilliant, yet ineffective?

And that is the equilibrium that must exist within copywriting. Great writing and successful writing may not always be the same thing, but it’s the writer responsibility to treat them as one.

Just like it’s your responsibility not to steal my excellent joke and claim it as your own. 89 retweets you know.

@Boultini

Andrew Boulton is a tax-paying copywriter at the Together Agency.

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