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Why a copywriter’s natural enemy isn’t the emoji

By Andrew Boulton

February 22, 2016 | 4 min read

As a copywriter there is no shortage of things to be furious about. Poke your head cautiously into most city centres and there will be some copy abomination glaring back at you, prodding your retinas with its brazen awfulness.

Lazy copy, flabby copy, copy that’s not as clever as it thinks it is – sometimes being a copywriter in the wild is easier when you simply don’t look up.

But amongst the legitimate targets of our ire and despair, I personally wouldn’t count the humble emoji.

The copywriter, as a guardian of language, would naturally be unsettled by these brassy little symbols, viewing them as a symptom of a mushrooming laziness in which even the use of sentences has become a crippling burden (as a species, we copywriters do have this capacity for melodrama when the alphabet is threatened).

But as well as a righteous guardianship of language we should also be pioneering its evolution.

Of course no one is arguing that soon, as we develop an ever more comprehensive canon of neatly summarising emojis, there will no be need for words at all. I doubt there will ever be a day where aliens gaze scornfully down at these silent and rudimentary creatures who are only capable of communicating through tiny cartoons of poo and pufferfish.

But a copywriter is responsible for appropriating the communication trends of the day. Of course, there is nothing more disingenuous than a cynically crafted act of ‘youth speak’ – the marketing equivalent of your dad wearing a baseball cap backwards and saying ‘shizzle’.

But, handled intelligently and with an appreciation for the native dialect, emojis can have a legitimate and impactful place in our craft.

A recent McDonalds campaign, for example, neatly (and rather sweetly) illustrates a series of terrible days – from phones dropped in the toilet to rainy holidays – that are made infinitely better by a visit to the fast food chain.

Expressed entirely without words, the ads are nevertheless clear and witty. Yes of course a similarly compelling result could have been produced with well-chosen words, but it pays a copywriter to understand when to put their pencil away.

And anyway, just because we’ve exchanged one form of hieroglyphics for another doesn’t mean the copywriter is suddenly redundant. Copywriting is first and foremost an exercise in expression. It is the art of first crafting a message and then delivering it in the most relevant way. This can be achieved with 200 words, with 2 words and with no words – the copywriter’s job is simply to say what needs to be said, in the way we wish it to be read.

Emojis, like ‘text speak’ may soon become an outdated and rather trite advertising technique. They may instead become an even more legitimate and flexible means of persuading an audience that a.) there are actually people behind brands and b.) that these people live precisely the same sort of life that they do.

So, I think the only possible conclusion can be thumbs up, smiley face, Korean flag, sad cat, paperclip. I rest my case.

You can follow Andrew on Twitter


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