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The Art of the Copywriter

Iconic copy led ad for The Economist
One thing that always surprises me is the way people often undervalue the profession of copywriting. The fact is that good copy can make or break a communication.

They say that ‘a picture paints a thousand words’. True enough. But it’s rare that a picture alone can tell the full story. Think how many advertisements there have been that don’t have a single word on them. Whether it’s the brand strapline or a pithy headline, almost all communications rely on some form of copy to enhance the messaging.

In fact some of the best ads of all time have been copy-led. Who can forget the famous Rolls-Royce ads written by David Ogilvy. What better way to explain the unrivalled build quality of this vehicle than his headline ‘At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock’. Evocative, thought-provoking, insight-driven – just brilliant.

In more recent years, possibly the greatest exponent of copy-led advertising has been The Economist. Iconic ads such as ‘Great minds like a think’, ‘Be too clever by three-quarters’ and ‘Leave no answer unquestioned’ prove that strong copy lines alone can generate cut through.

With this in mind, it’s bizarre that some people still feel they are fully justified in making their own amendments to the work of these highly skilled creative professionals. I guess they must think that because they write every day – presentations, proposals, letters, emails etc., they’re qualified to change the copy that a writer has spent hours carefully crafting. I’m afraid they rarely are. Most of us can cook but we wouldn’t dream of walking into Gordon Ramsey’s kitchen and adding our own finishing touches to a dish he’d prepared, would we?

Changing copy can make a substantial difference not just to what is being said but also how that message is received and regarded by the reader.

I’m not saying that clients and account handlers should not have input into the words that are produced by the copywriters – far from it. I’m merely asking them to respect the art of the copywriter and avoid taking matters into their own hands.

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