Copywriters in the Digital Age: Essential or Essentially Extinct?
Over the last 35 years, I’ve worn a lot of hats in the agency business. CEO. Strategist. Account executive. New business guy. And a few decidedly less glamorous roles that come with running one’s own business. Through it all, there has been one constant in the way I describe myself.
I’m a writer. Always have been. Always will be.
A question I’ve been asking myself lately is if I were 30 years younger, what would my future look like? Is there a place for copywriters in the digital age? In an era of short attention spans, high visual imagery, bullet points, scannable text and steadily declining use of traditional media, are copywriters about to become extinct?
I think not.
In fact, just the opposite may be true. Good, effective, powerful writing may actually be more important than ever.
I’ve always thought that one of the advantages of writing for TV or radio versus print was the forced discipline of confining one’s message to the essentials that can be communicated within 30 or 60 seconds. When there are no constraints, there is no need for the discipline involved in serious self-editing. And while writing for new media does not typically apply time restrictions, there are certainly societal ones. Readers don’t have the time or inclination to read unnecessarily long sections of text. So it is more important than ever to get to the point and say what needs to be said as efficiently as possible.
That doesn’t mean text can’t be written in an interesting way, devoid of adverbs, adjectives, metaphors, symbols and good story-telling. Actually,
maintaining the reader’s interest is a critical part of the equation. The copy just needs to be written more precisely.
It’s been more years than I care to admit since I was an English major in college, but one of the few things I do remember was the concept of “mot juste” – using the “perfectly appropriate word or phrase for the situation”. I believe this is a concept that needs to be applied with more discipline to all contemporary writing.
So I submit there’s hope for the profession. Writing will survive the digital age and, indeed, good writing will increasingly be at a premium. We just have to write with more discipline, more precision and greater efficiency. In a word, smarter.
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