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Old Copywriting Techniques Are Back From The Dead

Content Marketing

Just when you thought copywriting had adopted a new persona, it’s become very clear that the old techniques are making a comeback.  Or is it the case that they never really went away?

Consider if you will: ‘the creative concept’; quality content; and the ‘direct response’ copywriting approach now being advocated for standard web pages and landing pages.

These are all techniques that add more power to a message.  In the challenging economic times of the moment, this is all part of getting ‘more bangs for your buck’.  Everything mentioned above was central to the creative copywriting work of 30 years ago when everything to do with marketing was offline.

As the conventional wisdom of online copywriting became set in stone, the message was that people read differently on the web.  They would therefore have no truck with being ‘sold to’, partly because reading from a screen is supposedly a more ‘intimate’ experience.  That now seems faintly ridiculous because most things that we read – in books, newspapers or whatever – are always one-to-one writer-to-reader transactions!

This precious attitude was consolidated with the emergence of social media, where ‘people power’ was vested in their independent capacity to destroy brands and reputations.

Although there is some truth in the notion that the balance of power has shifted in favour of the consumer, marketers are still faced with the challenge of how best to persuade customers to buy their products and services.   Mass market advertising may not have the same level of influence as it once did, but even niche media – online and offline – have a major job to do in a highly competitive marketing marketplace.

This has been amplified in recessionary times to the extent that persuasion and manipulation have become the black-hatted Siamese twins of this still-young decade.  Using an online metaphor is applicable across-the-board, but in an SEO-dominated marketing environment, it has additional resonance.

Yes, black-hat SEO still goes on despite Google’s valiant attempts to stamp it out.  However, the overwhelming majority of marketing professionals are realising that SEO of whatever hue will not in itself be enough to win through.

Apart from the fact that SEO is now a cut-throat, ultra-competitive force in a world where there can only be ten web pages listed per ‘Page One of Google’, it’s clear that product differentiation can be better achieved using the proven and traditional marketing techniques to support SEO activities.

To take ‘creative concepts’ as an example, the applicability of creative themes never went away, but their relevance was brought into question in an online world where keywords were king.  Why waste time (and money) thinking of clever visual ideas with matching benefit-led headlines when all that’s required is keyword-rich content?

In the pre-online marketing era, eyeball-grabbing visual ideas and stunning photography linked to an equally brilliant headline simply blew people away.  Brand personality was reinforced, a flame was lit in the soul of the public’s desire to consume, and sales enquiries would come flooding in!

Admittedly, this is a slightly idealised scenario, but cleverness or humour gave a brand an extra dimension – and this was largely as a result of a copywriter and art director batting around a bag of ideas.

In the offline world, creative concepts were used most widely in advertising and on billboard posters.  Creative themes also worked well with brochures and direct mail packs.  Now, it would seem that the online environment is ripe for some visual excitement, especially as more sophisticated software and increased computing power help to make this possible.

In many ways, arresting online images are an integral part of Google’s drive for ‘quality content’.  Quality will be rewarded in the SEO stakes, whereas re-cycled, uninformative, badly-written and presented web pages will be looked upon with a certain disdain as being ‘not quite up to the mark’!

Creating ‘quality content’ falls largely into the copywriter’s domain.  It’s not totally about original, informative and well-written text of course.  Deciding what content should appear on a web page is also part of holistic creative thinking – or, dare it be said, ‘conceptual thinking’.

Things like videos, charts, Powerpoint presentations and the results of original surveys all contribute towards what is new, quality content.  In the written sphere, the quality of articles and blog posts are also important in generating the ‘likes’ and links that contribute to SEO success.

More overtly, the ‘direct response’ style of copywriting which is making a comeback on web pages and landing pages, is directed unashamedly at persuading people to buy or sign up for a company’s wares.  Who would have thought four or five years ago that something so ‘vulgar’ as off-the-page selling could ever besmirch the pristine world of the web?  And yet, desperation is often the mother of invention.

Economic woes have driven many people to the extremes of inventiveness to win market share.  For legions of other people, it would seem that the tools of success were there all along, right under their noses.  It just needed a few traditionalists to point them out.

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  1. Mike, agree with your general point which essentially boils down to original, creative, quality content is and has been essential for decades.

    Copywriting is needed but in collaboration with content marketing, especially in a post-Penguin era where content marketers/brand journalists need to think of the consumer rather than keyword-stuff content. There’s a time and a place for commercial/salesy writing but not when you’re trying to engage readers early in the buying cycle.

    While the foundation of original, quality content remains, online content marketing is a completely different beast – especially with million dollar factors like social media entering the fray. As the underlying base of social media is about building discussions and engaging in conversations, content marketing is best suited to these platforms.

  2. I hear what you’re saying Ashley. Today’s commercial imperatives often take precedence over ‘creativity’. Content marketing has its place but it can only be the vehicle and never the persuader.

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