The Power Of The Written Word(s)

The Power Of The Written Word(s)

Words are dead, right? I mean we're talking in characters now, aren't we? Or acronyms - save your reader valuable seconds, LOL. Or emojis - after all, a picture says a thousand words.

Only it doesn't. Not really. And especially not when you're selling products or services that do complicated, interesting things.

Companies hawking byzantine products or services are facing a serious problem. Copywriting, real copywriting, is on the decline. Real copywriting is an art form, like directing, designing, illustrating etc. It's driven by enthusiasm, ability and experience. All three are required to do the job properly. However all three rarely come together anymore.

Which is a shame, because great copywriting can activate nations. Great copywriting can put an itch in your brain, triggering neurotransmitters that diffuse across the synapse and make thinking about anything else impossible.

Great copywriting can shift the stuff at the back of the warehouse.

And here's the rub - writing itself has never been more popular. Blogs have increased from 27 million globally in 2006 to 133 million today. Self-publishing now accounts for 27% of the total digital book market. These are people who choose to write passionately about things that interest them, for no fee. They simply choose not to do it (despite the opportunity of being well rewarded) for the advertising industry.

To find the problem we don't have to look too much further than advertising's own elitist back door. Obsessed with the new (and never more so than when re-inventing a job title) Multimedia Designer, User Experience Consultant and Human Behavioural Analyst simply carry more cachet than the humble Copywriter. It brings to mind the age-old adage of the starlet who was so dumb she went to Hollywood and slept with the writer.

So what hope then, of restoring the long form copywriter to their rightful position as respected craftsman and agency superstar. Perhaps the lifeboat comes with the same title as the current balm to all other media ills - the ubiquitous 'content'. And whereas only months ago 'content' conjured up an image of rough footage, shot by a university grad on his smartphone and posted on YouTube, research suggests that long form written content is not the turn-off some would have you believe.

Search and content Jedi, BuzzSumo and Moz teamed up to analyse over 1m articles to understand the sort of content that gets liked and shared. They found that although 85% of content published is less than 1,000 words, long form content of over 1,000 words consistently receives more shares and links.

It also seems that the myth that mobile-first is a barrier to long form content has been busted. The Pew Research Centre, in association with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, explored how the rise in mobile devices impacts long-form content:

"These findings suggest that on small, phone-sized screens the public does not automatically turn away from an article at a certain point in time - or reject digging into a longer-length news article. Instead, the average user tends to stay engaged past the point of where short-form reading would end, suggesting that readers may be willing to commit more time to a longer piece of work," said Amy Mitchell, Pew Research Centre's Director of Journalism Research.

So format isn't the problem. Perhaps the issue to address is whether we even still need the services of the long form copywriter. Surely the creator/innovator of a service or product has the passion, conviction and knowledge to best instil its virtues.

Well, yes and no. It's no doubt that when it works, it really works. Michael Dubin, CEO of Dollar Shave Club, wrote and starred in their launch film Our Blades Are F***king Great - currently standing at almost 24 million views - and which was undoubtedly a key factor in selling the business to Unilever for an alleged billion dollars. It's hard to think of a way that you could have replicated the passion, anarchy and chutzpah that came straight out of the head of a man who'd decided to stick two fingers up to the entire male grooming industry. Likewise, James Lohan, CEO and author of the Mr &Mrs Smith brand brings an authenticity that would surely have been lost had they bought in a jaded, professional travel writer on a day rate.

But I believe these are the exceptions. And if you want to kill my interest in an obscure new business or a complex piece of technology, sit me next to the developer at a dinner party. Every good writer knows that great stories come from what you leave out, not what goes in. And as everything becomes smarter, more complicated and multi-faceted, the ability to create concise, impactful and memorable stories is no longer important to companies selling their wares, it's integral.

So as a Creative Director, where will I go looking for my next star writers? Well, I'll begin with passion. I want writers who want to write - and who can do so across different subjects. Amateur bloggers and columnists, scriptwriters and committed diarists need all apply. I want hungry, curious, grasshopper brains, who are then open to learning - to understand pace, cadence, tone and the all important edit (only geniuses get away with a stream of consciousness). But once found and trained they will be shown respect, valued, rewarded and revered. They are masters of the written word. There is little more powerful.


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