Has the internet killed off clever ad copy?

Back in the dark ages when copywriters got paid huge whacks for coming up with clever-clever advertising concepts, we (copywriters) had a wonderful time thinking up ideas that dug out people’s emotions and imaginations to appeal to their innermost desires for sex, rock ‘n’ roll, business supremacy, fashion accolades and quite a few more.

Ah, but we only had the slow media then

Let’s face it; print, TV, radio and other media in pre-online days were useful in as much as their messages, along with your messages about your brand, stayed around for a while – so consumers had the chance to absorb, digest and ultimately appreciate any subtleties that the ad campaigns put forward.

And many ad campaigns in those days where you could use the “slowness” of the media of the day to build up intrigue, suspense, curiosity and ultimately fiendish interest, worked – superbly. But would that approach still work today?

The internet: no time for creative subtlety

Much as I love the online environment and everything it stands for, I must say I do have a few regrets when I consider how its vibrant immediacy has pushed away the chance to tempt and inveigle consumers with subtle branding and clever advertising come-ons, over a period of time, cloaked in nuances and hints.

Online communications have made such earlier, printed approaches look stupid and vapid, and quite rightly. But how does that leave the online copywriter in terms of terminology and phrasing that zings with pre-internet sales oomph, when the online consumer public is saying “never mind the advertising b*llshi*t, just tell us the facts?”

KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid

Much as we copywriters (well, I’m a “former” copywriter but still get asked to write ads) would love to let our creative fantasies loose as we did in the past, in our current environment where no-one has time for amusing metaphors any more we need, in many cases, to forget being clever-clever and work with “doing what it says on the tin.

Is this wrong? I don’t think so. In fact I think it’s quite a good thing, much as it pains me to say goodbye to the time and space the older media allowed us to use. In my view, the “cut the crap and get to the point” culture is a lot more honest in many ways.

It means that brands have to make their statements by doing rather than talking about it, because there’s no time for the long, slow build-up branding that was possible with the print and even TV campaigns of the past. Advertisers might regard the immediacy of the “click” as a powerful response device and so it is – but it only takes one more, similarly fast click to disappear your message, too. You really do have to get it right, first time, and there’s no time for frills or fanciness.

What do you think? I really would be interested to know.

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  1. I like it simple. Besides the copywriter I think almost everyone benefits from the “KISS” approach. Businesses don’t have to pay billions of dollars for some clever piece of copy, as for consumers it’s a lot clearer what they get.

    • Very true, Allen. Although some older copywriters might mourn the passing of ad copy as a gentle art form, the internet has provided us writers with fresh, different challenges – e.g. offering a brand or product benefit in a mere few words. Ironically, it’s often harder to write concisely and simply than it is to write in a flowery way…

  2. I don’t think being ‘clever’ was ever the decent copywriter’s objective. Being engaging, more like. And thought-provoking enough to achieve a sale.

    In my opinion, it’s these qualities which are generally absent from online copy. The emphasis is not on the quality of writing, but on the technology of the medium, and copy is seen as just another piece of code filling a box. I have rarely worked with an online team which knows or cares about what copy should say, or which has thought about anything approaching a strategy.

    You do get the ‘does exactly as it says on the tin’ request quite regularly from online specifiers, when they convey the kind of simplicity they’re looking for. Ironically, ‘does exactly as it says on the tin’ was itself a clever (for want of a better word) advertising line, the standard and longevity of which we don’t get to see in new media, with little call for the kind of writer who are capable of coming up with similar.

    As a result, I think we are indeed seeing the demise of the copywriting craft, and with it, compelling copy. Pity.

    • I’m not sure I agree with your definition of “thought-provoking” copy, Jeremy, but the end result here is the same whichever way you look at it – the internet and its associated culture have castrated the older forms of copywriting.

      Consumers and B2Bers no longer want or have time to have their thoughts provoked; they just want to know what’s in it for them, right now.

      It’s a shame in a way, I agree, but we move with the times. Thanks for dropping by.