What is ‘copywriting’? (it’s time we had a few words)

What is copywriting?

Copywriting is writing copy. Copy, traditionally speaking, is the words that make up an advert. Nothing to do with copying (that’s AI’s job), or copyright (that’s a lawyer’s job).

Tell you what else copywriting isn’t. It isn’t spelling. It isn’t knowing the rules of grammar. It isn’t swinging in a hammock with a Margarita in your sweaty little mitts, waiting for Terry Tequila to whisper idioms in your lughole. Well, sometimes it is, but if that’s all it took, we’d all be Copywriters.

So, if that’s what copywriting ain’t, what is it un-ain’t?

As we’re all friends here, pull up a beanbag and I’ll tell you. Copywriting is the art and/or science of hooking a reader, tickling their tender parts and taking them for a wordy ride from A to B – with minimal effort and maximum payback. At its heart, there’s the skill of crafting big ideas and the chops to bring them to life. A proper Copywriter knows how to use headlines, sentences and paragraphs to cajole your reader into a state of ‘I don’t care what it costs, I want one’.

Copywriting tells the people who need to know – who you are, what you do, why you’re better than the rest and how your going to plop a cherry on the top of their lives. It wraps your business arm round their shoulder and says: “we know where it hurts and we’re gonna kiss it better”.

What does a Copywriter do?

The first thing they do is roll their eyes at family knees-ups, whenever someone says, “Oh, you’re a Copywriter, I didn’t know you went to law school”.

If you’re seriously thinking about getting into the copywriting game, you’d better get used to no one outside the design/ad world having a Scooby what you dooby. My advice; use one of three tactics to bail you out of any awkward job-swap conversation:

a) The snappy answer that removes all confusion. Something like,”Oh no, Cousin Cedric, I’m a dubblyoo-arr-eye-tee-ee-arr writer. I come up with the ideas and words for design and marketing and whatnot, you know like Beanz Meanz Heinz”.

b) The can’t-be-arsed answer that let’s people carry on thinking you’re a Copyright Lawyer. Something along the lines of, “Oh yes, I’ve wanted to swank about in a wig since I was in primary school”.

c) Stop calling yourself a Copywriter so you don’t even go there in the first place. Come up with something a bit more LinkedIn-Guru-Knobby, like an ‘Alphabet Activist’, ‘Punctuation Pervert’ or ‘Word W****r’.

Seriously, stop mucking about; what does a copywriter really do?

OK you’ve made it this far, so perhaps, just perhaps, you’re worthy of being entrusted with the magic formula. So pull your pants up, blow your nose and open those pores to soak up all the copywriting secret sauce that’s coming your way.

Secret sauce? There is no secret sauce.

Knickers! No sauce, no abracadabra. Copywriting is just head down, sleeves up, teeth-grindingly hard work, for year after bloody year. In a cold writer’s shed. Wearing a worn-out writer’s sackcloth. Drinking tepid writer’s gruel.

Think about it. The people you’re trying to speak to, through your beautifully constructed prose, couldn’t give a flying pig’s nipple about whatever it is you’re selling. Every day, they’re bombarded by a thousand headlines, a million slogans and a kerfnillion special offers.

Your crumb of copy is going have to work its pretty little patootie off, if it’s going to have a chance of being taken seriously. And so are you.

So, a copywriter’s job may be to write copy. But that’s only a gnat’s hiccup’s-worth of the job. Your Copywriter needs to get right inside your thing, right in its face, under its vest and into its heart. They need to get their noddle around what makes your pulse race and whatever it is that makes your ding, dong. They need to get their head around your customers, your market, your competition, your values, your tone of voice, your favourite fondue cheese – absolutely everything about you, your business and its place in the universe.

Copywriting – the actual fingers on keyboard bit – is just the last agonising, blistered step of a soggy, boggy marathon. You might be better off thinking of a Copywriter as part archaeologist, part detective and part nosy sod who can’t help but stick his or her big fat nose into your business.

When a copywriter does their job properly, they dig deeeep into your affairs. Goggles, forceps, oxygen and a thermos – it may take a while, it might even hurt a bit. But, when they resurface, they’ll be triumphantly clinging onto something magical and mystical – like a scene from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Missing Adjective. A glorious brain wrinkle that’ll make you different to, and more lovable than, everybody else in your sector.

Who uses Copywriters?

If you’ve got a brand to name. If you don’t know what to say or how to say it. If you’ve got an axe to grind. If you’ve got a website, a shop or a factory. If you’ve got stuff you need to sell. If you want to be rich, famous, loved or lusted after. Then you need a Copywriter.

Ambitious starter-upper or old hand brand that needs a new bag. You need a Copywriter.

Big brand idea, tone of voice definition, key messaging, website copy, ad concepts, social media content… You need a Copywriter. Basically, anything that involves artfully pushing persuasive ideas and words in the right direction. You guessed it, you need a Copywriter.

What does it take to make a good Copywriter?

The best Copywriters are complex beasts. They’re fascinated by the world – the big stuff and the stupid little details. They’re weirdly obsessive, annoyingly tenacious and worryingly fanatical about things that no one else gives a tosslet about.

They’re brilliant listeners, often socially awkward, a bit dorky perhaps. They might have a rubbish haircut and terrible dress sense, but behind that shabby exterior, they’re as sharp as rat’s teeth.

A really good Copywriter is a ruthless interrogator, the sort of person who likes to pick away at the details with a cocktail stick.

And a really, really good Copywriter does all of this invisibly, answering the unanswerable, possibling the impossible – a shoulder to lean on, while being a dream to work with. Someone who’ll make your life simpler than a two-piece jigsaw.

I’m thinking of becoming a copywriter, what do I need?

You’ll need a shovelful of all the above. You’ll also need to learn how to take criticism on the chin – pretty much every day, for the rest of your life.

Everybody knows how to spel better than you. Everyone can spop that typo you missed. Everyone reckons it’d be a slice of Battenberg to write headlines that refresh the parts other headlines cannot reach.

You’ll need to get used to ideas jumping out at you any time of night or day. In the shower, down the pub, just as you’re starting to nod off in bed – ugh! Keep a Dictaphone, notepad, waterproof notepad, pen, pencil and spare pencil with you at all times. It’s a pain in the crotchety groinal region, but there’s no way round it.

You’ll need to get used to asking daft questions, fighting off even dafter questions and defending the use of a semi-colon; even though it “isn’t grammatically correct”.

You’ll need to get used to having your lovingly nurtured, wordy tadpoles stomped all over. Then watch them being spat back out in a different order (then getting the blame for the stink storm they create).

Damn. I’m starting to question my existence here. But, for all the lows, there’s the occasional high, when writer and client work in perfect harmony. When ideas are allowed to breathe. When words make a difference.

Happy copywriting!

If we’ve put you off a career in copywriting, but you still need the goods, give us a bell on 01273 458568 or drop us a line at hello@dollopcreative.co.uk – we’d love, love, love to hear from you.

Contact Us

From dollop with love

If you’re running a cool start-up or medium-sized biz on a mission…,If you're into creative work that's not afraid to make a show of itself

…oh boy, we’re gonna get along like squirrels in a nut factory.

Give us a bell