Are You Writing Copy, Or Content?

June 08, 2010  |   Posted by :   |   Copywriting,Corporate Writing,Slideshow   |   5 Comments»

“People read what interests them. Sometimes it’s an ad.”Howard Luck Gossage, ad man legend in the era of Mad Men.

So it’s come to this: We don’t write copy anymore, because people don’t want to be sold.* We write content, because people want information to help guide their decision making.

Heaven forbid we tell a good story somewhere along the way.

Call me out of touch, but I still believe there is a place–even on the World Wide Web–for good copywriting.

Not hyperbole. Not shock value. No measure of hubris. No litany of talking points riddled with features (and few insights). But genuine copy that, I dare say, is as entertaining as it is persuasive.

Down with The Five-Dollar Article.

C’mon, 200 words for five bucks? How did our craft become so devalued? Who started these content mills anyway? How did we allow writing to become such a commodity?

Is the Web really that hungry for words–any words?

Good thinking matters. Good copy matters. Whether you’re a 30-year veteran, or a new writer just starting out. Whether you work in marketing communications, corporate communications, investor relations–or all of the above. Inside a company, or own your own.

As Gossage advised us a half-century ago, we still have to do the hard work–the work that matters most: Say something that will interest your audience.

They just might read it.

*By the way, this argument is far from new. Long before you and I were born, people didn’t want to be sold. But they’ve always been willing to buy, if the message is compelling enough. I’m not sure content is up to the job. But good copy? That’s another story.

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5 Comments for this entry

  • Jim Haynes

    June 14th, 2010 on 10:35 am

    The difference is that the copy and content mills you refer to are usually done by amateurs, or even those for whom English is a second (or third!) language, as no experienced or veteran (read: effective) copywriter would ever work at such rates! And I agree with your assessment of “content” vs. “copywriting” – to me, content is sometimes as simple as a product review, some basic definitions or a spec sheet. Copywriting, on the other hand, is exactly as you have defined it ~ a well-crafted, cohesive message that tells a story, or has an interesting angle or perspective, that gets my reader thinking – and considering my product or service offering along the way. The “content” you refer to is basically throw away copy, and designed only to generate SEO value – but what good is a post or article that represents your company or your brand in such a way, and that has just about a zero percent chance of ever converting into a customer or client?? Give me one article or post of the second type, one that actually drives a purchasing decision, over a hundred of the $5 posts that you mention! On the web today, I certainly feel the focus has shifted from QUANTITY, to QUALITY.

  • Andy Bartling

    June 14th, 2010 on 11:20 am

    Amen, Jim. What the world (wide web) needs now is quality, sweet quality.

  • Andy Bartling

    June 16th, 2010 on 1:32 pm

    Corporate Writer Insider Note: Here’s a poignant comment from the Linked In Copywriter’s Guild group:

    “‘Content’ writing (Demand, Elance, etc.) is to writing as ‘stock’ became to professional photography: a death knell. The mills are stock-piling generic ‘articles’ (often mash-ups that regurgitate misinformation) to sell to giant companies that just want words on a page to get people to a site with ads to click on. “

  • Andy Bartling

    June 24th, 2010 on 10:45 am

    Corporate Writer Insider Note: Here’s a new comment from the Linked In group: Certified Professional Writers Association:

    “Content mills are successful because they appeal to those who always wanted to be “a writer” – and why not? For a long time, being “a writer” was charismatic or sexy to the romantic and to the intellectual – and they appeal to those in countries where five dollars a day is pretty good money.

    Yes, it devalues the craft. So, just as DIY and cheap imports devalued the crafts of just about any skilled trade you can think of, the professionals have to know and show why there’s a difference.

    Unfortunately, we don’t have the safety net of legislation requiring certain tasks to be performed only by licensed professionals; we can only rely on our knowledge of the craft, and the quality of our work, and focus on the markets that demand quality over quantity.

    Given time to settle, the cream still rises to the top*, and as long as people want information and stories in a readable form, writers will have a profession.

    *of course, in the watered down, mass produced stuff, even the cream is a bit on the nose by the time it’s risen.

    Just think of us as the three to five star restaurants among the fast-food outlets – we cost more, but provide much better value for the money spent, so we attract a smarter clientele.”

  • Andy Bartling

    June 25th, 2010 on 12:43 pm

    Corporate Writer Insider note: Here’s the latest comment from the Linked In group, Certified Professional Writers Association:

    “Andy, I really like your blog/website. Nice work. As to the post, I write both copy and content (looking back I’ve never made the distinction). The most important factor is “Who is the reader?” That dictates style, tone, length, and the intensity of the sales “pitch”. Never have delved into the content mills or Elance-type sites. I wouldn’t get out of bed for what these people are accepting for their “work”. Just makes my stuff look that much better to my clients :-)”