How Copywriting has changed over the years

Salman Rushdie, Fay Weldon, F Scott Fitzgerald, Kenny Everett, Hugh Hefner, Rick Moranis, Terry Gilliam – some of the world’s best known novelists, personalities and business leaders.


Yes, but also copywriters.


Each of these great talents started their careers in copywriting. It was always seen as a place for those who were good with words to hone their skills. And copywriting was seen as an art, perhaps a dark art, but one that had immense power. Think of the amazing, zany personalities that Kenny Everett put on the screen and the radio. Imagine the power of imagination that led Hugh Hefner to envisage and create the Playboy brand. Reflect on the comic talents of Rick Moranis and Terry Gilliam. What kind of a career shaped these amazing individuals?

A demanding, craft-based one. When these copywriters learnt their trade it was the province of powerful and distinctive writing that won accolades and readers. And it still is today – F Scott Fitzgerald, Salman Rushdie and Fay Weldon developed their skills writing copy and your copywriter should be aiming that high too.

Ah …your copywriter. Yes, that person you hire to write your words. We have some amazing  copywriters in the team so we know what our trade has come to in the past decade or so and yes, I really doubt you’re putting ‘your’copywriter in the Salman Rushdie category. Okay, you might not want a writer with a fatwah hanging over them but be honest …could your copy enrage and infuriate somebody enough for them to declare it blasphemous? Could it start a global debate? Could you, the person who’s paying for it, quote one perfect phrase, one delicious strapline, one stunning slogan, that you’ve got for your money?


Naughty but nice, or boring as heck?


If not, why not?


Who do you think is reading your copy?


Google of course.

Your copywriter is SEOing the hell out of your text, isn’t he or she? And in doing that – in slapping it full of keywords, inverting sentences and using search terms as headers – he or she is probably also turning out the most boring set of sentences imaginable. I stole ‘naughty but nice’in my heading, by the way. It’s a strong search term for advertising and copy and the person I stole it from is Salman Rushdie himself, who devised it. Does your copy have that level of win? I’d bet it doesn’t because while the person you hired calls themselves a copywriter they aren’t …they wouldn’t know copy if it bit them on the bum!


SEO is important for websites, but if you really want a winning business you need more than a good website. You need:


A brand that burns itself into peoples minds

A business that builds itself into peoples lives

A bunch of fans who sell you to others so you dont have to sell yourself.


Like that? It’s called copy. It’s a trope, three sentences linked with a similar sound, ‘b’, and containing some aspirational ideas that most business people will respond to positively. It’s what makes my copy stand out from the crowd and we know it does because our  clients choose us over cheaper writers again, and again, and again. Because we know our craft and we have developed it over decades so that our words win customers, build businesses and create fans.


Probably the best copywriter in the world

Stole that one too, from a lager brand. Have you heard it? Of course you have. You’ve probably used it in conversation hundreds of times, both seriously and sarcastically, and every time you do your subliminal mind supplies a picture of a certain lager: tall and golden, foaming and cool, probably the best lager in the world …that’s good copy and it’s what made that brand into a world leader. That came from the advertising powerhouse that is Saatchi & Saatchi – probably the best copywriting talent spotters in the world.

Copy used to be powerful – and guess what? It still is. If you don’t believe me, look at Pinterest, look at the #fail meme on twitter – people share and share and adapt and share the same powerful, resonant words over and over again, and if they’re not doing that, they’re sharing the funniest failures of autocorrect. Words, beautifully placed in the right order or the hilariously wrong words at the wrong time, are immensely strong. Strength sells.

So does your copywriter give you strength and beauty? Probably not. You probably hired somebody who writes algorithmically, like a robot, for robot. But here’s the thing – robots don’t make purchasing decisions. Robots don’t cry and cheer and speak up for what they believe in. A robot doesn’t go and tell everybody it knows about the latest, greatest, thing it’s discovered.


People do that.


People – complicated, responsive, demanding, word-led, picture-inspired people. And if you’re not ensuring your copy works for those people you’ve simply hired a machine to write for machines and in the end those machines will put you out of business because while content is important for SEO, stories are what matter to people.


Don’t believe me? Try this. Go and look at every successful crowd-funded project you can discover. None of them are ‘Search Engine Optimised’. Most of them couldn’t get traditional business funding from banks and venture capitalists. What they did have was an amazing story and they told it with no holds barred, right from their hearts, in vigorous words and truthful pictures and those words and images walked right into the hearts of their readership and took up a place that caused those readers to pledge money, to share their commitment and to turn those stories into reality. We’re human – that means we’re illogical, unpredictable and yet persuadable.


Lend me your ears


Shakespeare said that, and if he’d been born in 1960 he’d have been a copywriter. The reason we still read his plays and quote his lines today is that he was the greatest persuader the world has ever known (unless you think it was Cervantes, or Milton, or Sappho, or Moliere or Rumi) but if Shakespeare had been born in 2000 I wonder if he’d have written SEO copy? I doubt it, because he was a genius.


If you want your brand to mean something, your copy to sing like an angel and your website to give readers something other than a keyword optimised experience, why not find a writer who wants to be Shakespeare, or Sappho, or even Hugh Hefner? One thing’s for sure, you’ll probably come to believe you’ve got the best website in the world …and wouldn’t that be worth it?

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