Opinion

Understanding the art of modern copywriting

In a digital world driven by the churn of short-form content and the dwindling attention span of consumers, copywriters today have to be so much more than wordsmiths – says J. Walter Thompson’s Leon Traazil

Reports of the death of the copywriter in the digital era are greatly exaggerated. Yes, the nature of our industry is changing at lightning speed and the Mad Men days when the well-spoken, outspoken, quick-witted copywriter drove ideas and dominated meetings are over. Today, there’s a slew of other experts who have an equally dominant voice. It’s all about integration and collaboration.

But copywriters still matter. Now more than ever. You need the same quick wit, sharp eye and and well-tuned ear to write good, well-crafted digital copy. The ability to say much with little is a gift that keeps on giving in today’s world.

Not many have that gift. A quick glance at your social news feed is enough to know that ‘news’ content with headlines ending with “and what he did next will BLOW YOUR MIND” just doesn’t cut it anymore. I personally stopped clicking on such stories a long time ago. It’s a clear indicator there remains a gaping hole in the industry, where a wordsmith would have once worked some magic.

Equally in advertising, we face the same challenge as the online headline writer. Our copy has to be sharper, faster and more pointed than ever before to encourage a reader to linger long enough to get it. However, the role of a modern copywriter is about so much more than simply words on a page. Here are just a few examples of what a young creative at an agency can expect to deal with.

Conceptualisation

A copywriter has historically worked closely with an art director to conceptualise campaigns. But, now those demands are changing. It is not just about the slogan, the tagline, but also about how the campaign is imagined. Every idea also has to match the client’s brief and span the customer journey, across on and offline channels, with sales and the return on investment in mind at all times.   

Versatility

In a world where images or video takes precedence, a copywriter’s role could not be any tougher. In the era of Snapchat and Instagram moments, content is becoming shorter. This has placed more constraints on written form expression. So copywriters must have the wit and skill to tell a story that’s short and snappy before the consumer’s attention is lost. But how do you entrap a consumer in the first three seconds of a video or in a six-second ad on YouTube? The devil is in the detail.

Contextualisation

Of course, to accompany any visual or set of moving images the copy has to be written contextually. With the advent of social media, every platform is a separate channel with a different audience and context. This has to be taken into consideration with every activation. Regional or local language also has to be simple and clear in order to allow for  translation. Only then can you achieve the understanding across multiple markets ,while at the same time still sounding inspirational. That’s a difficult line for anyone to tread.

Therefore, the modern-day copywriter has to be both versatile and agile, not just sharp with words as historically has been the case. In the high-speed and highly-fragmented media environment, these are skills that can make or break brands. Mad Men it isn’t.

Leon Traazil is a regional account director at J. Walter Thompson Singapore

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