An aversion to conversion – the copywriter's perpetual struggle

Andrew Boulton is a copywriter with a decade of scribbling experience at places like Egg the online bank, some top agencies in the Midlands and once for a man who carved dolphins out of cheese.

He was nominated for the Professional Publishers Association Award for Business Media Columnist of the Year despite having little or no grasp of the semi colon. He has decent hair but a disappointing beard. You can follow him on Twitter @Boultini.

I shout instructions at my dog. Not your typical directions like 'sit' or 'don’t poo' but rather more inspirational ones like ‘believe in yourself’ or 'you can be better than cats and most children'.

In my copywriting life I am equally wishy washy when it comes to instruction. Or at least when it comes to the language of instruction. Modern scribblers are often being nudged towards this mythical new pursuit, ‘conversion’. Our words, so I am told, must now make people convert.

In itself it’s a faintly ludicrous notion. Words should no more cause a human person to ‘convert’ than they should cause ducks to wear bobble hats. Conversion is a not a natural state, it is a marketing conceit. And as such, conversion should not be the goal for a copywriter but rather the happy transactional by-product of a compelling, and ultimately persuasive, exchange.

You may be shaking your fist at me now. Marketing is conversion. Copywriting is a tool of marketing and thus the two are grubbily inseparable. I don’t disagree that copywriting must always execute the commercial goal of a brief. But briefing a copywriter to write purely to achieve conversion is fairly pointless if they are not first writing to achieve inspiration.

It’s a perpetual struggle for a copywriter. You are writing with a specific goal in mind but to focus too intently on that goal will always be at the expense of construction and, by association, that same bloody goal. It’s like eels within wheels, which if you think about it is probably a better saying.

Conversion is just the latest in a litany of fairly wanky marketing aims. Before we were writing for ‘sales’ or ‘leads’. Then we were writing for ‘clicks’ and ‘likes’. We’ve always been, and will always be, dipping our nibs into the ink of ‘go’, ‘do’, ‘get’, ‘buy’, ‘come’ and ‘look’. And this is fine. Nothing is more worthless than copywriting without an ending, and by definition that ending must always be a next step for the reader.

But a failure to separate the end from the means by which we arrive there leaves us with a lot of words telling us to do stuff and not a lot that prompt us to think, feel and understand. And then what are we? Dogs so uncertain of the rights and wrongs of their existence that they bark at their own testicles. I’ve broken that dog.

Follow Andrew Boulton on Twitter @Boultini

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