The Death of Copywriting

My friend IB, a well-known marketing consultant, says that copywriting may be fading into the sunset.

“Copywriting is not as valued as it used to be,” she maintains. The reason: marketers today are gravitating toward other marketing tools.

Home-made videos create buzz on YouTube. Blogs are content, not sales copy. Print advertising is in decline. On the Web, researching and optimizing for keywords seems to be more important than “copy.”

Copywriters, do you agree? Are you finding that, in the age of Web 2.0, copywriting has diminished in importance?

Or does the old rule “copy is king” still hold?

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287 thoughts on “The Death of Copywriting

  • I spend most of my time writing sales copy: sales letters, emails, landing pages, etc. And I’ve never been busier.

    Web 2.0 stuff is interesting — perhaps even groundbreaking — but at some point in the process someone has to actually sell something. And in both print and online marketing that someone is the copywriter.

  • No more copywriting? So, no more sales letters, brochures, newspapers, catalogues or magazines? No more direct mail? What about email marketing, SEO type stuff, websites, etc…if words are required to get some sort of sales message across, how could it ever go away?

  • QUALITY copywriting has become more scarce. More people are writing. But a lot of it is so poorly written that it fails to sell as it should.

    Good copywriters have more to offer than ever. And the need is growing.

    So I perceive an opposite impact. It’s not the death, but the revitalization of the written word.

  • Does the old rule “copy is king” still hold?

    Depends on the experience someone has with the product or service after they’ve bought, based on the copy.

    Everyone is now a reporter, a rater, and if the copy doesn’t deliver what the buyer expected, the news will spread.

    More than ever, copy should stop promising what the company cannot deliver.

    e.g. copy: “Customers are our most important asset.” Then when you call customer service, you get the “Thank you for holding. All lines are busy, your call is important to us…” for 45 minutes.

  • All the tools you mentioned are traffic tools (videos on Youtube, seo, blogs). Companies still have to sell something. In all the excitement over Web 2.0 it seems many companies have forgotten that important fact. If your business doesn’t sell something, you won’t be in business very long.

    Let’s also mention that other sales tools such as audio and video on the web in addition to the written word still need a well written script. Good luck trying to sell in video online without a script written by a good copywriter!

  • I’m with Steve. I’m swamped. I write e-newsletters, landing pages, sales letters, and entire Websites. (And yes, I optimize the copy, too.) I have people who call who say, “I want a *professional* writer to write this copy.”

    I think IB is wrong. Many companies do value good writing and are willing to pay for it.

  • I think there’s more work than ever, and I still benefit from lots of demand from companies for push marketing materials.
    But the fact that some traditional PR/marketing companies are betting the farm on social media is a big deal. I think all of us writers are a little nervous about the ramifications of user-centered media. Our narratives get chopped up, re-framed, filtered out, like never before.
    So yeah, I think copywriting isn’t dead, but the art and science of it, and its execution, is changing pretty fast.

  • You wouldn’t think the demand is decreasing by the number of on-line ads seeking copywriters. Seems there’s work everywhere. I believe the demand, especially for quality work, will be there in the future (unless people stop reading entirely!). With specialization among employees, outsourcing and (as Ted mentions) the increasing lack of quality work, the demand for quality copywriters should continue, despite the growing presence of Web 2.0

  • Marketers will always need great copy, companies will always compete for more market share, people will always seek to influence!

    I wonder how long IB has been a copywriter? When change comes, it usually brings more work, not less (think the integration of brand and response, and the addition of the Internet to the marketing mix).

    As a copywriter, my clients are still asking me to get them in front of hard-to-reach decision-makers, and as a coach, I’m seeing my students get plenty of work from their sometimes unusual niche markets.

    From my perspective, Web 2.0 has evened the playing field for new copywriters and the oldsters. Everyone is scratching their heads, trying to figure out how best to allocate resources when there’s so much available!

    Right now top ad agencies are scooping up small shops that specialize in new media in order to appease clients who fear they’re missing out on opportunities.

    Ever since the Internet became a new marketing medium, marketers have bemoaned the stress of “channel fragmentation.” With the new media revolution, it’s now more fragmented than ever!

    So to meet the challenge I work with many of my coaching students to offer more than copywriting. I help many of them see past just writing copy and study marketing so they can offer help with strategy.

    What’s more, I remember when people didn’t know what a copywriter was (they thought I worked in law). Now even Realtors® are hiring copywriters!

    No, I think copywriters are needed now more than ever, but that we need to read, study, and analyze marketing options so we can offer great copy in ADDITION to smart strategies!

  • Bob, I’d be interested to know what IB is using to back up her claims? Does she have hard, factual evidence that copywriting is in decline. Or are these more just unsubstantiated generalizations and anecdotal evidence. The marketplace always trumps personal observations. And all the stats I’ve seen from the DMA and the catalog industry shows showing strong growth for the future.

    Earlier this year, HR giant Robert Half named copywriting as one of the top careers to get into because of employer demand.

  • Probably copy writing will be in almost freakish demand as companies try desperately to sell in this marketplace. But if they don’t deliver on all your wonderful copy writing promises, no copy writing in the world will save them. Customers will talk, report and rate companies based on their experience with them, and the more you promise that they don’t deliver, the worse they’ll look to the end user.

  • Kim, HONESTY is the most powerful copywriting technique of them all.

    Here’s one of my favorite quotes about this:

    “Credibility is like a necklace. Break the strand at any point and all the beads go scattering. When you introduce even one dubious claim into your sales pitch, the thread of credibility will snap and your reader may reject your entire argument.”
    (Richard Bayan, Words That Sell)

  • Chris Marlow hit the nail on the head. These days it’s not enough to be a copywriter. You need to understand the strategy behind the copy — and be able to recommend the right marketing strategy, too.

  • Bob,

    In answer to your reply to Dianna:

    No, all copywriters don’t supply strategy.

    Based on my work with entry-level copywriters, they don’t usually have the skills OR the confidence to position themselves as strategists.

    Case in point: It took me many years of agency work to “get” the strategy part. And even you say in your marketing that all this new media stuff is a pain. So I say, learn copy but also work toward strategy every day. It will make you more valuable!

  • And one more question. Who actually is IB? If they’re willing to pose a buzz-worthy idea that posits the “death of copywriting,” why are they not willing to give their name?

  • Bob-
    As Mark Twain said, “The reports of my death are an exaggeration!”
    Styles and attention spans have changed. (You pointed out years ago that email messages need to be shorter than regular sales letters.) And more business have gone online.
    I do find that I’m getting more requests to write landing pages, online video scripts and online PR. But whatever you call it, it’s still copy. And yes, it still has to be rooted in strategy. Or else, it’s just typing!
    Morty

  • Hi Bob. . .interesting question. I think there are two things to keep in mind when the norms we’re used to anticipating begin to shift away from our comfort zone. First, it’s not as bad as it seems. And second, if you shift your own horizon a bit, you’re likely to see these newly perceived threats as opportunities instead.

    Like the others here, business is keeping my busy. And despite all the attention being paid to non-traditional forms of writing (particularly the free kind), I find that people come to us because they’re looking for people who can write as well as hold their own with the marketing folks.

    One other thing worth noting. In 2007 all the bloggers in the world might love working for free and spreading these word-of-mouth campaigns for companies all for the “glory” of it, but I’ll bet my money that won’t last forever. When people working for free (or only for swag) start to catch on to how much money the folks behind the blog are really making, we’ll all be back to square one again.

    Cheers,
    Doc

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