The Revenge of the Writers

by JC Hewitt on September 15, 2010

The written word was supposed to be obsolete - but the written word has surged back to prominence.

In the latter half of the 20th century, radio and television defined the culture. Books, magazines, and newspapers steadily declined in cultural importance relative to these new forms of media.

A funny thing has happened to habits of media consumption. The companies with the fastest growth in advertising revenue – Google and Facebook – rely on ads that are largely text-based. Search engine optimized marketing material must also be textual to be legible by search engines – at least until automated speech-to-text software and inexpensive services like SpeakerText become common.

When young people communicate with one another, they’re doing so primarily through SMS, Facebook updates, and e-mail. They’re developing habits of writing and reading on a daily basis that were foreign to their parents, who were raised by Captain Kangaroo and Howdy Doody on the major television networks. Text, not voice, is the modern communications medium of choice.

Any modern marketing campaign must now be weighted towards text – either through blogging or by building a website.

The Old Becomes New Again

Take a cue from long-form written advertisements from the 1920s like this one for Pepsodent toothpaste. At the time that the company paid for that ad, very few people actually used toothpaste. Pepsodent attempted to differentiate itself from the competition by developing a formula that would erode the “film-coat” of teeth. Note how the ad contains a direct response component to promote sales and to make the ad measurable. Advertisement metrics are not a recent phenomenon.

Ironically – according to The Man Who Sold America, a biography of the founder of the Lord & Thomas ad agency responsible for that Pepsodent ad – later studies discovered that the chemicals in Pepsodent actually damaged teeth, which later pushed the company to develop a new formula.

Even if the claims later turned out to be false, you can still learn from the copywriting masters of previous eras. SEO is important, but there’s much more to copywriting than coming up with the right keyword density.

Your web copy needs to explain the problems that your company solves, how it does it relative to the competition, and why customers should buy from you.

Showing off some personality drives sales, too.

Groupon is essentially a direct mail ad agency. Technology and the social web makes it possible for people to share the advertisements with each other without going through a media intermediary. Notice how Groupon advertisements are both informative and funny, with a distinctly absurd style. People don’t see them as ads – they see them as deals.

Writing drives business. Your logo alone will never convince anyone to buy from you. Only language can move hearts and minds to action.

[Photo credit: Valeria Solaris]

  • http://www.marcana.com Mark Brimm

    Great post, JC! And a great defense of good writing as a lasting virtue.

  • http://www.marcana.com Mark Brimm

    Great post, JC! And a great defense of good writing as a lasting virtue.

  • http://www.marcana.com Mark Brimm

    Great post, JC! And a great defense of good writing as a lasting virtue.

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