USA Today recently published an article by Michael Wolff about the death of good copywriting. It was called “What The Ad Biz Needs are Writers,” and it was thoroughly silly.
The premise was this: Modern marketing, including online marketing, has forsaken the virtues of the written word for flashy graphics and automated sales processes, brainlessly focusing on the conversion system as if it were a math formula or something to be mass produced. And the truth is that good copywriters haven’t disappeared, they’ve just been drowned out.
I’ll offer an idea: a key difference between good agencies and bad agencies is writers.
The Core of Online Marketing and Copywriting
If one thing from Wolff’s article caught my eye, it was this:
"The late Jay Chiat, then CEO of Apple's agency, Chiat/Day, once told me that every time a new person was put on his account, Steve Jobs, who was as shaped by good advertising as he was by innovative technology, would say "but can he (or she) write?"
A lot of online marketing agencies approach conversion like a machine. Here we joke and call websites “lead generation machines,” but we know they’re much more. They’re half organic. They’re living organisms. They need to grow and interact and respond. There is no formula that says “if you create X amount of landing pages with Y amount call to actions, you will achieve z results," and that's important. There can only ever be a blueprint subject to change and revision, a prescription won't work.
Online marketing is about replicating the personal touch of the one on one communication into a personal feel of one to many. When it comes down to it, tactics will only get you so far. It gets the average agency average results. At some point if you want to stand out from the pack you have to throw art into the mix. That’s why you see online marketing message boards like Warrior Forum talking about squeeze pages and Fiverr, why you get popup or popunder windows wherever you go, why your inbox is full of irrelevant spam.
There’s so many people making money by pitching “Make Money Online FAST” schemes and touting the same tired methodology that it’s easy to lose the faith, and a traditional online marketing education teaches the same bad habits. Everything is about immediate results, rather than long term strategy. But the good copywriters are still out there. All you have to do is turn on your television during the superbowl or visit AdWeek to see the work of some of the most inspiring storytellers in marketing today.
EDIT: As it happens, AdWeek has something relevant! This is very similar to what I've been working on in my own time--how marketing, fiction, and monomyth share a common ground--but I differ on a few of the categories. I'm a Joseph Campbell "Hero With A Thousand Faces" kind of guy. In the end, it's all storytelling.