The case for compelling copywriting

Is anyone else out there still writing persuasive advertising copy? Some would argue that powerful imagery and photography have made copywriting redundant in today’s digital world. It’s certainly true that many advertisers and their agencies seem preoccupied with visual imagery, be it photographic or illustration, at the expense of well written copy. Just a headline would do, but often today it’s left to  the visual alone to tell the story, with just the brand logo for company.


Is it just a passing fad? Or is it the beginning of the end for advertising copywriters? Perhaps it’s just a consequence of the fact that most agency creatives have followed art director career paths, learning the rudiments of their trade at one of the many art colleges available to them rather than taking up an obscure copywriting course?

There is a place for visual-only advertising, of course, but let’s not denigrate the worth of well-crafted, compulsive copywriting. A visual alone may well be effective in creating instant engagement between brand and consumer. But the same can be said of well-crafted copy. People still want to read and hear words, whether online or in print.


‘Texter’s thumb’ is now regarded a serious medical condition affecting some of those more enthusiastic social networkers among us as they exchange digital, hideously abbreviated text messages and Tweets from their mobiles. And the spoken word is as popular as the written one, with 90% of the UK population listening to the radio, and new digital stations launching every week.

Actually, that’s where the argument in defence of copywriting begins. Because words are simply sounds which are ‘heard’ in our heads, in our imagination. And sound is much more intrusive than sight. Don’t believe me? Try turning off the volume when you next watch TV, just view the picture for a minute or two. Then turn the volume back on and turn around so you can’t see the TV screen. Which is the more intrusive medium, the more powerful – sight or sound?

It’s sound, of course. And there’s a neuroscientific reason for that. Sound enters through the ear to the auditory cortex of the brain and on to Wernicke’s area of the brain where words are attached to it. Then, as with words actually read, to ‘Broca’s area’, the part of the brain where language is processed, and on to the prefrontal cortex where judgment and emotion take place. The adjacent motor association cortex then initiates action. So no action without words.


But the words have to be impactful, and memorable. They must surprise, shock or amuse so they can stimulate the appropriate action. If your aim was to persuade someone to do something you’d tell them to do it, or you’d write it down – you wouldn’t show them a picture of what you’d like them to do. So by all means enhance the message with an attractive, stimulating, or shocking visual, but you’re asking a lot if you expect this alone to be acted upon.

So well-written copy should retain its rightful place in contemporary advertising. And hopefully, further extension of the internet and all things digital may give life to a new generation of worthy wordsmiths.

A picture or a thousand words? Six simple words managed to pose the question.

© andysellers

Building brands through strategic insight, creative concepts & direction, copywriting.
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