I read Rory Sutherland’s engaging blog post in Campaign today validating the continuing need for great copy in advertising. The only thing it was missing was a purposeful discussion on the subject within the digital world, so that’s what I’ll attempt here.
In our digital industry, we are seduced by the ever-expanding list of things technology allows us to do, in one click, we have access to tests validating our career choices, apps telling us how to develop our career path and so on and on… With the emergence of technologies, we exist in a wonderland of visual excitement and pioneering knowledge.
It’s a great place to be. Even glancing back for a moment, our industry has been one that has up till now been sustained by audiovisual excitement of subservient poultry, wayward balloons and smartphone apps that really do make it look as if you are drinking that beer. We have been the Willy Wonka to the Cadbury factory of the good old traditional ads.
But social media has brought about one fundamental change and dusted down a discipline that I was worried had almost expired within the so-called ‘new media’ agency.
I doubt very much that readers can point to a piece of digital work whose awards were garnered by its masterful use of copy; the Ogilvys, Bernbachs, and Abbotts would have little to detain them if they were to be brought into a judging panel for digital work.
Yet, when I flick through my social media accounts, there is one thing that exerts a stopping power so great, I feel like a galloping, excited greyhound that’s just forgotten that it was tethered to a concrete wall.
You can see great copy coming. As you flick down the endless retweets and automatic blog posts, it’s almost like your eye sees the great words before your brain has had time to start reading. Beautiful writing never goes out of fashion, and it’s just about to become very important indeed.
On Twitter, there are certain people whose avatars are a prompt to stop scrolling out of pure habit. Charlie Brooker, Richard Herring, and Paul Carr are all people who have the power to captivate you with no more than 140 keystrokes. They make you smile, think, flinch or disappear into a fit of giggles. On the other hand, there are people who should hold far more sway in the digital world who are truly undermined by the high volume and low readability of what they put out there. Please take a bow to Robert Scoble, Piers Fawkes, and Guy Kawasaki. Don’t get me wrong – once I connect with what these people are on about, they are as compelling as anyone, but words aren’t their forte.
I have seen precious few brands that have invested in a truly arresting voice. Typically, their social media efforts are a mixture of platitudes, harmless observations and @answers dripping with well-intentioned banality. Granted, Brooker, Herring, and Carr all push the boundaries to certain limits, and brands have reputations to manage.
But these same brands manage to approve the creation of advertising campaigns that are just as provocative and arresting as their social media voice should be. They need to develop a voice that is invested with the same brilliance and power as an ad campaign. Only this time, you add spontaneity. If that terrifies you, then it’s a good confirmation of how things have changed. In terms of great examples lighting the way, it’s all a bit limited. Aleksandr Orlov from Compare The Meerkat is only one I can think of, but I’d love to have some more voices to listen to.
So the recommendation is simple. Talking isn’t enough. Brands should actually pluck up the courage to write something involving, human and compelling. And for heaven’s sake, write it well.