Copywriter Andrew Boulton writes about the fight to rescue our belief in words.
If there’s one thing more appalling than someone who loves their job, it’s someone who thinks their job makes a positive difference to the world.
Copywriters, you’ll be disgusted to learn, often fall into both of these camps, earning them the distinction of being one of the few professions that almost perfectly divides their immediate world into people who don’t understand what they do and people who don’t want to hear about it.
Unsurprisingly, your author is very much one of those frightful hogs who believes very much that copywriting ‘can’ (if not always ‘does’) nudge humanity into fulfilling and uplifting choices.
The obvious, and perfectly understandable, counter-argument to this is that we sell unwanted items to the credulous, and propagate a dreary culture of ‘stuff’. There’s no real defence to this, our professional existence is defined by our capacity to persuade, and most often that act of persuasion is to substitute ‘want’ for ‘need’ in the minds of people who could almost certainly be spending their money in better ways.
But, the very fact that our words not only seed desire but drive action confirms that the copywriter has the capacity, if not the occasion, to make the world a more pleasant experience.
Now, I’m not (quite) self-indulgent enough to pretend I can persuade anyone that copywriting is a medium for universal altruism, in 500 words. But I do feel like, at the end of this year in particular, copywriters find themselves under a familiar, but far more pronounced, social obligation.
Without wishing to sound too shrill, 2017 was a year where words got kicked in the balls.
Language has always been used to evade, diminish and antagonise, but this year we’ve seen precious words used with the very worst intentions.
And I’m not just talking about the obvious offenders (his name rhymes with Clump and he has the hands of a grabby otter). Newspaper headlines, social media discourse and, yes, even our own sacred parish have all (perhaps with the best intentions, perhaps not) used language to frighten and divide.
Seeing this unfold, anyone with a professional investment in the power of words is likely to have winced their way through 12 months of froth, fury and chubby-fingered tweet storms.
Even from a purely selfish point of view, it is bad business for any copywriter to witness the erosion of trust in the things we read.
But, rather than toss my Scrabble tile coffee mug on the bonfire of presidential vanities, I feel like we, one of modern life’s weedier vocations, have been presented with the opportunity to fight.
In the same way that David Hieatt wrote that people in the brand business should begin by defining their enemy, I would urge copywriters young and old to do precisely the same.
And, unequivocally, our enemy is the misuse of language. I’m not talking about pedantry or the insular little cabal of sniggering at clumsy lines, I’m talking about the fundamental preservation of a word’s value.
I doubt this should manifest itself in thousands of be-cardiganed copywriters storming Twitter HQ, armed with immaculately apostrophised placards.
Rather, it is a matter of us holding ourselves, our agencies, our peers and our clients to higher standards when it comes to defending the integrity of the alphabet. Copywriters are, as we know, exquisite liars, but it’s for this very reason that we bear such a unique responsibility for the truth.
We have no control over what idiots say or what idiots believe, but we have a larger-than-average say in whether the printed page becomes a battleground or a playground.
For less-than-immaculately apostrophised thoughts, follow Andrew on Twitter https://twitter.com/boultini