The copywriting community is too negative (or is it?)

The copywriting community is too negative (or is it?)

4 minute read

The copywriting community is too negative (or is it?)

4 minute read

The copywriting community is too negative (or is it?)

Art

Freelance Copywriter & Content Marketer

As a copywriter who spends (too much) time on Twitter, I’m getting used to logging on to this:

@johndoe

John Doe, Copywriter:

Guys, look at this crappy piece of copywriting by @brand, LOL:

[iPhone pic of billboard or newspaper ad]

Any writer worth their salt looks at adverts, articles etc. and sometimes thinks “that’s not what I would have done.” Unfortunately, Twitter’s 280 character limit rarely allows for the nuance of explaining how you’d have tackled it instead. 

The typical social media reaction, one I freely admit I’ve been guilty of, instead becomes “this sucks.” Sort of ironic given the huge popularity of the #copywritersunite hashtag with those in the industry…

There are plenty of reasons why “bad” copy goes live, and why our reactions to copy that we don’t like is very negative these days. The good news is that it’s not (always) our fault, but an understanding of why it happens might help us to frame our reactions differently.

Lack of control over the finished product

Every copywriter in the world has experienced clients coming back with feedback that conjures up the grimacing face emoji 😬. Or, even worse, seeing projects they’ve worked on go live with a bunch of edits (they never would have approved) because “the client liked it more that way.”

Many of the reasons – excluding things like failure by writer(s) to “sanity check” for sexism or cultural insensitivity etc. – that questionable copy goes live aren’t the fault of the copywriter whose work is being called into question at all.

When creating content, it’s not unusual for the opinions of experts to be drowned out by people who think they know better. As a result, copy is often created by committee and may deviate substantially from a writer’s initial direction.

The sad fact is that many junior copywriters are overworked and underpaid. In many cases, they know they won’t get paid until the campaign goes live. Can we really blame them for letting out a heavy sigh and saying that “the final result looks fine to me”?

The homogenisation of the written word

Remember when EVERY app in the world started using flat design? It certainly made everything look cleaner and more minimal, but it also made everything look...boring. Not because the tenets of flat design are bad, but because they were so over-used.

Are we at risk of trying to do the same with copy?

The desire to avoid risk has resulted in the rehashing and regurgitation of “safe” concepts (e.g. innovation, world-class, market-leading, revolutionary) that now appear tired and cliched. 

In the age of AI and automation, the human touch is more important than ever, and copywriters can’t be afraid to go against the grain in pursuit of engaging with their audience. Sometimes that involves the ability to “think different” [sic] and take some risks.

Basecamp is one of my favourite apps. It’s easy to use, and the company has a great tone of voice. It’s safe to assume that they’ve spent countless hours tweaking, optimising and poring over their conversion rates in pursuit of “the perfect homepage.” 

They haven’t found it. At least not according to Grammarly or Hemingway.

I ran Basecamp’s homepage through these popular writing apps and this is what they told me: according to Grammarly, the page is “very engaging” and “very clear” but the delivery is “very off.” 

It also highlighted other issues including “inappropriate colloquialisms”, “incomplete sentences” and “misplaced words or phrases.” Meanwhile, Hemingway rated the page as “OK” but determined 50% of the page is “hard to read” or “very hard to read.” 

These apps are useful tools but they fail to take into account the fact that different audiences react to words very differently. I don’t doubt that both conventional copywriting wisdom and these apps would dub the fantastic Jack Daniel’s ads in the London Underground, and other similar longform work, “way too long” considering their setting. But they work nonetheless.

An image showing a long form advert on the London Underground by Jack Daniels


A natural consequence of binary reaction

If you’re feeling guilty for calling out fellow copywriters and content creators on Twitter, don’t. In recent years we’ve been conditioned to view things on a binary scale. If we don’t agree with something on Reddit, we’re downvoting it. If we’re not stanning someone, they’re cancelled.

It’s no longer enough to just not follow someone on Twitter if we don’t agree with them. We can now erase their very existence for ourselves by muting or blocking them, creating a perfect little echo chamber for ourselves in the process. 

We’ve been trained to think that we’re the centre of the Universe (damn millennial snowflakes, eh?) to the extent that, if something isn’t for us, it’s worthless. But if the copy in an ad doesn’t resonate with you – yes, I’m thinking of everyone going off on *those* Diet Coke can slogans – you may just not be the target market.

An image of Diet Coke cans with different slogans on the side such as 'ok but no', 'yaasss'., and 'I'm out'.

As for copywriters and content creators themselves, it’s worth remembering that it’s impossible to please everyone.

Final thoughts

I would be lying if I said that there isn’t bad content out there. There always has been and always will be. And fine, I’ll admit it, sometimes pointing it out is good for a cheap laugh. It’s good for retweets too. But it isn’t particularly constructive.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that there are plenty of tweets complimenting the work of copywriters out there too. There's this tweet about Lynx, another about the longform Jack Daniels underground adverts, and this one about Muzmatch and their clever ad copy.

I’d always rather see these, in the same way I’d rather watch a truly great film than laugh at a bad one, because I’m more likely to learn something from them.

Great copywriters look at things with a critical eye, which sounds like negativity. But it’s not.

Where negativity focuses on what’s wrong with something, true critique is analysis with the aim of improving it. It’s very easy to pan the work of fellow copywriters but, unless we’re putting our own suggestions out there, maybe we’d be better off keeping our mouths shut.

As a copywriter who spends (too much) time on Twitter, I’m getting used to logging on to this:

@johndoe

John Doe, Copywriter:

Guys, look at this crappy piece of copywriting by @brand, LOL:

[iPhone pic of billboard or newspaper ad]

Any writer worth their salt looks at adverts, articles etc. and sometimes thinks “that’s not what I would have done.” Unfortunately, Twitter’s 280 character limit rarely allows for the nuance of explaining how you’d have tackled it instead. 

The typical social media reaction, one I freely admit I’ve been guilty of, instead becomes “this sucks.” Sort of ironic given the huge popularity of the #copywritersunite hashtag with those in the industry…

There are plenty of reasons why “bad” copy goes live, and why our reactions to copy that we don’t like is very negative these days. The good news is that it’s not (always) our fault, but an understanding of why it happens might help us to frame our reactions differently.

Lack of control over the finished product

Every copywriter in the world has experienced clients coming back with feedback that conjures up the grimacing face emoji 😬. Or, even worse, seeing projects they’ve worked on go live with a bunch of edits (they never would have approved) because “the client liked it more that way.”

Many of the reasons – excluding things like failure by writer(s) to “sanity check” for sexism or cultural insensitivity etc. – that questionable copy goes live aren’t the fault of the copywriter whose work is being called into question at all.

When creating content, it’s not unusual for the opinions of experts to be drowned out by people who think they know better. As a result, copy is often created by committee and may deviate substantially from a writer’s initial direction.

The sad fact is that many junior copywriters are overworked and underpaid. In many cases, they know they won’t get paid until the campaign goes live. Can we really blame them for letting out a heavy sigh and saying that “the final result looks fine to me”?

The homogenisation of the written word

Remember when EVERY app in the world started using flat design? It certainly made everything look cleaner and more minimal, but it also made everything look...boring. Not because the tenets of flat design are bad, but because they were so over-used.

Are we at risk of trying to do the same with copy?

The desire to avoid risk has resulted in the rehashing and regurgitation of “safe” concepts (e.g. innovation, world-class, market-leading, revolutionary) that now appear tired and cliched. 

In the age of AI and automation, the human touch is more important than ever, and copywriters can’t be afraid to go against the grain in pursuit of engaging with their audience. Sometimes that involves the ability to “think different” [sic] and take some risks.

Basecamp is one of my favourite apps. It’s easy to use, and the company has a great tone of voice. It’s safe to assume that they’ve spent countless hours tweaking, optimising and poring over their conversion rates in pursuit of “the perfect homepage.” 

They haven’t found it. At least not according to Grammarly or Hemingway.

I ran Basecamp’s homepage through these popular writing apps and this is what they told me: according to Grammarly, the page is “very engaging” and “very clear” but the delivery is “very off.” 

It also highlighted other issues including “inappropriate colloquialisms”, “incomplete sentences” and “misplaced words or phrases.” Meanwhile, Hemingway rated the page as “OK” but determined 50% of the page is “hard to read” or “very hard to read.” 

These apps are useful tools but they fail to take into account the fact that different audiences react to words very differently. I don’t doubt that both conventional copywriting wisdom and these apps would dub the fantastic Jack Daniel’s ads in the London Underground, and other similar longform work, “way too long” considering their setting. But they work nonetheless.

An image showing a long form advert on the London Underground by Jack Daniels


A natural consequence of binary reaction

If you’re feeling guilty for calling out fellow copywriters and content creators on Twitter, don’t. In recent years we’ve been conditioned to view things on a binary scale. If we don’t agree with something on Reddit, we’re downvoting it. If we’re not stanning someone, they’re cancelled.

It’s no longer enough to just not follow someone on Twitter if we don’t agree with them. We can now erase their very existence for ourselves by muting or blocking them, creating a perfect little echo chamber for ourselves in the process. 

We’ve been trained to think that we’re the centre of the Universe (damn millennial snowflakes, eh?) to the extent that, if something isn’t for us, it’s worthless. But if the copy in an ad doesn’t resonate with you – yes, I’m thinking of everyone going off on *those* Diet Coke can slogans – you may just not be the target market.

An image of Diet Coke cans with different slogans on the side such as 'ok but no', 'yaasss'., and 'I'm out'.

As for copywriters and content creators themselves, it’s worth remembering that it’s impossible to please everyone.

Final thoughts

I would be lying if I said that there isn’t bad content out there. There always has been and always will be. And fine, I’ll admit it, sometimes pointing it out is good for a cheap laugh. It’s good for retweets too. But it isn’t particularly constructive.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that there are plenty of tweets complimenting the work of copywriters out there too. There's this tweet about Lynx, another about the longform Jack Daniels underground adverts, and this one about Muzmatch and their clever ad copy.

I’d always rather see these, in the same way I’d rather watch a truly great film than laugh at a bad one, because I’m more likely to learn something from them.

Great copywriters look at things with a critical eye, which sounds like negativity. But it’s not.

Where negativity focuses on what’s wrong with something, true critique is analysis with the aim of improving it. It’s very easy to pan the work of fellow copywriters but, unless we’re putting our own suggestions out there, maybe we’d be better off keeping our mouths shut.

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About the author

Art

Art is a freelance copywriter and content marketer based in the UK. He's worked with both startups and large corporations on topics ranging from gamblng and fitness to tech and business issues.

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