Search engines: how you have murdered the art of copywriting

At one time, advertising copywriters were almost the most important people in the ad business. Today, copywriting is offered as a side dish on most VAs‘ admin menus. Professional freelance copywriters today are lucky to get paid the same daily rate their colleagues got back in the 1980s.

Rolls Royce advert

Probably the most famous advertising headline ever, written by the legendary David Ogilvy – yet Google would turn its nose up at it.

What has happened? Search engines have happened, that’s what. Consumers no longer read advertisements; they tap in keywords. It doesn’t take talent to write keywords; it just takes a little skill in basic arithmetic.

Copywriting? Whassat?

As an esteemed and very much ex-client of mine once said when presented with my invoice for £180 (USD $230 approx) after I had brainstormed and researched a business name and tagline for a whole new division of his company, which they went on to use successfully, “what, a hundred and eighty quid just for a little bit of wording?

That just about summed it up for me and is mainly why I now work with book authors rather than mindless little Richard Heads (think about that one) like him.

The late, famous copywriter David Ogilvy must be turning in his grave

I didn’t like the man – met him when I was married to one of his employees – but by God he knew his craft. In the glorious illustration above, you can see how his use of a real quote from a technical expert just said it all, really. It said it all without saying anything much; discreet, elegant and effortlessly desirable, just like the product.

Needless to say this is probably the most famous press ad of all time, dating back to 1959. It sold a lot of Rolls Royces.

There’s a very good exposé of this series of ads and their predecessors by Mike Schauer on the Swipe-Worthy blog – check it out.

Clever copywriting? Google says nooooo

What’s truly tragic is that an ad like this today would be a total flop. Who on earth would search Google for quiet clocks when they’re looking for a car? Who would use a metaphor like that when all they want to know is how fast it goes and, er, how much one costs in India? To quote direct from Google page one:

People also ask
Can everyone buy Rolls Royce car?
Do they still make Rolls Royce?
How much is Rolls Royce 2018?
How much is Rolls Royce in India?

Another Google to see if there are any copywriters out there

I asked “why should I buy a rolls Royce” and found…

People also ask
Can you just buy a Rolls Royce?
How long does it take to order a Rolls Royce?
How much does it cost to maintain a Rolls Royce?
Does Rolls Royce have a lifetime warranty?

Aha, still no electric clocks, then.

Other famous copywriting that would fail the search engine test today

Giggling aliens talking about mashed potatoes? Probably the most famous commercial ever screened on British TV. Sold a lot of instant mashed potatoes.
But sadly, the aliens had to go. Google just doesn’t have an algorithm for subtlety.

Does anyone else regret the way the art of copywriting has been so badly devalued?

Have the search engines brought advertising down to being just a list of a product’s features that any bright twelve-year-old could write? With benefits written out in words of one syllable rather than portrayed in a clever, memorable way?

Don’t know about you, but I’m off to find an alien who likes electric clocks.
(What do you think? Please share your views!)