Copywriters: day two

Some quotes that stood out for me:

‘There is hardly any writing in it, is there?’ – Tony Brignull on social media. Tony, Tony, Tony… That is simply and clearly untrue. Maybe you’ve never seen a Facebook page or a blog, or perhaps you’re just being wilfully obtuse. Either way, it doesn’t reflect well on your ability to contribute to this debate. Even if we don’t count blogs as ‘social media’ (Tony might have been referring only to Twitter and Facebook) the number of words cranked out is hardly an indication of the quality of the argument. In fact, I once heard a great copywriter explain that ‘a 48-sheet poster is a wonderful opportunity for a copywriter to use five or six words and one picture to tremendous effect.’ That writer was Tony Brignull in the video I posted yesterday. If you can have a great impact in five or six words, why not in 140 characters? Some Tweets get retweeted many thousands of times, and not just because they were written by Justin Bieber.

‘We have a youngster…who loves the craft, and he reads a lot,’ – Nicky Bullard, CD LIDA. I’m sure it was just a throwaway comment, but using ‘he reads a lot’ as a justification for the quality of a copywriter is the kind of thing that makes me laugh and cry. I laugh because everyone who aspires to any kind of professional writing career should read a lot. It’s the lowest bar of all, like saying a young guitarist ‘listens to lots of music’. I cry because we must be in some kind of society where reading a lot is unusual enough to be remarkable. Was it Mark Twain who said there’s no difference between being unable to read and being able to read but not doing it?

‘Copywriter is a bit of a misnomer now,’ Matt Longstaff, ACD at AKQA. He didn’t get a chance to explain that, but I’d like to suggest the ‘nomer’ is just fine. If we take copywriting merely as written communication on someone’s behalf (that doesn’t take into account scripts etc., but I’ll use that smaller definition to make my point), it now exists in many other media while retaining its original locations, none of which have become obsolete. The ‘Mavens’ then seemed to agree that a copywriter should be able to work in all disciplines (although Matt then made the excellent observation that ‘just because I can drive it doesn’t mean I can win the Formula One’. I’m not sure that was relevant to the versatility of a writer, but it’s a good lesson in general). This was countered by Mr. Brignull who pointed out that print writers aren’t always great at TV and vice versa. Tony is absolutely right, and has been proven so by the careers of many print creatives who ‘can’t do TV’, and TV creatives who can’t put together a 500-word argument in a press ad. So I wonder if the same is true of the new disciplines: can a great tweeter write a script for a branded video game? Would a blogger be able to manage the narrative of an experiential event? I think the ability to produce writing that is intended to be read should cross media, but other writing may be more specialised.

Let’s see if I can cobble any more nitpicking together for tomorrow.