‘A copywriter? What’s that?’
If I had a pound for every person that’s asked me that question, I’d probably
be a millionaire by now have 50 quid or something.
Seriously though, I get asked this a lot. And it’s become even more common since I started my own business.
‘Ah, you run your own business? That’s excellent, what it is you do?’
‘I’m a copywriter.’
So what exactly is copywriting? And what does a copywriter actually do?
That subheading makes no sense, does it? I don’t care, I like it.
Before we move on, let’s get the copyright conundrum out the way. Despite what some people think – including my hairdresser and a guy I met in my local pub – a copywriter has nothing to do with copyright.
Don’t get me wrong, I obviously make sure I’m not plagiarising someone else’s copy. But I write copy, not right copy.
Well, obviously I write right copy. Never mind, you know what I mean.
Well, simply put, a copywriter is exactly what it says on the tin – a writer that writes copy. But what exactly is copy?
The term copy is also used in journalism and publishing to refer to the text in newspapers and magazines, but when it comes to copywriting, we’re talking about the words you see or hear in a business’s advertising or marketing material.
So if you were to Google what a copywriter is, you’d find a pretty accurate definition:
A person who writes the text of advertisements or publicity material
Most copywriters do write the text of advertisements and publicity material after all. But not all do.
Some copywriters may only write copy for the likes of internal comms, user guides or application forms, which when you think about it, aren’t really advertising or publicising a product or company at all.
Now, in the advertising heyday of the 50s and 60s, copywriting was simpler. Not simpler to do – not by a long shot – but simpler to understand.
Copywriters, generally working in advertising agencies in London or New York, would write copy for TV, radio and print ads.
Think of all those famous ads from the past. Volkswagen. Coca Cola. J&B. All written by copywriters. Side-by-side with art directors. Working hard. Drinking harder.
Now think of Mad Men. Picture Don Draper. Doing what the hell he wants, when the hell he wants. Got that image in your head? Great.
Because copywriting is nothing like that these days.
As much as I wish it was, my life is nothing like Don Draper’s.
Like the man himself, I do help businesses promote their products and services and persuade people to buy from them.
But unlike Don Draper and the real-life ad men of the 50s and 60s he was based on, I write much more than advertising copy – and in way more places than newspapers, television and radio.
Yes, I write copy that promotes and persuades. But I also write copy that helps and informs. That educates and entertains. That apologises. That sympathises.
As you might expect, I write a lot of copy for companies’ websites. I also write my fair share of online forms for the likes of banks and insurance companies, so next time you’re applying for a credit card online, you could have me to thank for making your life that little bit easier.
And next time you’re listening to the radio and hear a company’s ad, that could very well be me. Not the guy actually talking – that’s a voiceover artist. I’m just the word guy.
And as a word guy, I write lots of words in lots of places.
Like the ads you see when you search for something on Google. Or the emails you get from companies promoting a product, service or event. Or the text you see when you use your favourite app. Or the words you hear when you watch a company’s video on their website.
Those words are all written by me. Or a copywriter like me.
Wherever you look and whatever you’re doing, you’re surrounded by copy. It’s on billboards and bus stops. Websites and apps. Newspapers and magazines.
Copy will be helping you. Entertaining you. Informing you. And without even knowing it, it’ll be persuading you. To do something. To change something. To be someone.
That’s copy. That’s what a copywriter does.