Everyone’s a copywriter now. So you have to try harder.
Updated: Mar 31
My son’s 12. He’s addicted to memes – those poster-like lines slapped on pictures of cats, Korean despots, grumpy babies and luminous orange presidents. He churns them out faster than a sausage-machine operative on crack.
Without knowing it, he’s experimenting with the rhythms, the humour, the word play, and visual interplay that his dad uses as a copywriter. They’re borderline offensive half of the time, but sometimes they hit the mark, occasionally they’re really funny. No wonder great ads aren’t the talk of the school yard anymore. The kids are creating their own talking points. It’s not just snickering 12 year-olds who have mastered short form copy. Every tweeter, poster, vine creator, snapchatter and facebooker, is becoming a dab hand at attention-grabbing lines. Obviously there’s a lot of dross out there, but there are also plenty of genuinely funny, witty and insightful lines written by people who don’t think of themselves as copywriters. Like Robert A Petersen:
Or Ken Jennings:
Or Joanne Wyld:
What does this mean for copywriters?
It means that being clever with words isn’t enough. Everyone can do smart little bits of writing, so copywriters have got to try harder. Here are some of the things we think distinguish copywriters from sharp-witted social posters:
1. Stay strategic
It’s easy to get distracted and wander off message. For social posters wandering is half the fun. Keep your objective front of mind and make sure it stays there. Keep asking yourself: ‘What are we trying to achieve here? How does my copy help?’.
2. Be persuasive
Rhythms, humour, surprise – these are all part of the persuasive lexicon. But there’s a whole arsenal of persuasive techniques that the social poster would never dream of – after all, they’re not trying to persuade. But you are. You’ve written something funny? Now make it funny and persuasive. Check out our wall of persuasive techniques – and use them.
3. Resist overdoing it
Look at the stuff that works well. Often the best tweets and posts show a restraint that would put many copywriters to shame. The ones we’ve included here let the picture do the work. Sometimes copywriters can’t resist writing to show how clever they are with words. Put a sock in it.
4. Don’t try and be funny
Found written humour used to be confined to bits of graffiti on the backs of vans and in toilet cubicles – now it’s everywhere. You can’t outcompete them. Be persuasive, stick to the insight you know resonates with your customers and everything will be well. If it turns out to be amusing, consider that a bonus.
5. Tone of voice isn’t a substitute
Tone of voice isn’t a substitute for copywriting. It’s a very effective tool for building a corporate culture or brand loyalty. Not so great for persuasion. Memes, posts, tweets all have bags of attitude and tone. If you want to get results, don’t rely on tone.
6. Don’t try and go viral
Thankfully, the time of clients asking to create something ‘viral’ seems to have passed. Almost. The temptation to leverage the power of the internet for free with some hilarious video about a drain cleaning product still exists for some clients. Somewhere there must be an aircraft hangar-sized server full of all the videos and stunts made to go viral. The best thing about a soundbite culture is that copywriters learn from it too. You can pick up a whole host of tricks and techniques surfing online. And it’s a constant reminder that all the world’s a copywriter and your job has been reduced to a bit part. Unless you try harder.