Because people keep asking me about it, I’ve decided to put up a sort of online crash course on copywriting. This will be a series, published weekly or, you know, whenever I happen to feel like it.So just what is copywriting?
You probably know the textbook definition, but I’ll paraphrase it anyway: copywriting is the development of text and concept for the purpose of advertising, marketing, and/or public relations.
Note the word “concept” there—it’s a common misconception that copywriters are responsible only for the words on the page (or screen, billboard, whatever). Sometimes this is true; but more often than not, the copywriter is responsible for the whole idea behind the ad, from the visual element to the fine print. Gifted copywriters like my friend Marco are able to think both textually and visually, which results in seamlessly cohesive ads that bring image and message together to effectively achieve the goal.
And just what is the goal? To sell something. Whether it’s an image, an idea, a product, or a service, the job of a copywriter is to manipulate a specific or general audience into believing that said something is exactly what has always been missing from their lives; the proverbial pot of gold that will bring them health, wealth, and happiness if only they can manage to acquire or achieve it.
Yes, copywriting is salesmanship, although you’re not precisely required to make people buy something—your job is simply to make them want it. It’s also show business; or legerdemain, if you prefer—smoke and mirrors, transforming appearance into belief. I like to think that copywriting, to borrow a phrase from Andrew Lloyd Webber, is the art of the possible. Not the actual, or even the probable, but the possible.
I wouldn’t say it’s a career of lying for a living, because (a) it isn’t all the time, and (b) that wouldn’t be very good copywriting, would it? But if you are an idealist and determined to remain so, then stop right now. Do not become a copywriter; do not pass “go”; do not collect two hundred dollars. This is not the profession for you.
Not sure whether you’re an idealist or a pragmatist? (Copywriters are generally pragmatists; it’s the nature of the beast.) Then answer the following homework assignment, and we’ll see what you’re made of.
“No product is better than ours.”
What does this phrase mean?