Julian Gratton

My thoughts on the current state of British Copywriting

Back in May 1996 I gained placement at the Poulters Agency in Leeds as a Junior Copywriter under the tutelage of Graham Daldry; a fantastic and passionate Head of Copy who would go on to create the ‘Should’ve Gone to Specsavers’ campaign… the UK’s longest lived advertising campaign.

According to Tony Brignull, Copywriting is dead. As the DMA points out in this section of their site dedicated to Great British Copywriting, the statement is a bold and contentious one. But is it a fair one? As part of their campaign for Copywriting, the DMA recently held a number of events throughout the UK, where they screened the ‘Madmen v Mavens’ film that kicks off the debate about the state of Copywriting.

I was asked to Chair the event held in Manchester, and as part of the evening I was also asked to write an opening address and share my thoughts on the current state of Copywriting. Which you can now read below.

Back in May 1996 I gained placement at the Poulters Agency in Leeds as a Junior Copywriter under the tutelage of Graham Daldry; a fantastic and passionate Head of Copy who would go on to create the ‘Should’ve Gone to Specsavers’ campaign… the UK’s longest lived advertising campaign.

Within months I had gone from being on placement to having my first job and found myself writing radio adverts for Sharp Televisions, TV Adverts for McCain Oven Chips and Press Adverts for The Vegetarian Society.

The big buzz-word when I was a Junior was ‘Ambient Media’. In fact every book you saw around that time comprised Posters, Press Adverts, TV, Radio and Ambient Media.

And things pretty much stayed that way for a good number of years.

Then along came the Internet.

Like the influence of the printing press back in 1450, the Internet laid waste to the established order of things.

But whereas the printing press took over 300 years to shake the foundations of the Catholic Church and make Orator’s and Scribes redundant… the Internet has taken only several years to challenge the established order of ‘how things are supposed to be’.

Like it or not, the Internet changed what it means to be a Copywriter.

Thankfully, the foundations laid down by the great Copywriters of the pre-internet days mean that we have some impressive shoulders to stand on.

The techniques of the sell and the persuasion are still as relevant today as they were then. Compelling headlines, interesting and emotive body copy… they still exist… in fact Howard Gossage would be thrilled to learn that his opinion that ‘People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an advert’ is still as true today as it was then.

But being a Copywriter today requires an even greater skill.

Ultimately, the best campaigns start with a great idea.

It’s just that now, that campaign idea may be played out across message boards and forums as brands interact and create noise amongst gamers.

It may need Tweets, Facebook posts and Vine videos as it connects and creates dialogue amongst young mums.

It may need handy guides, buyer information and video content as it helps DIYers solve problems around the home.

It may require emails, text messages, banners, blasters, and pop-ups to alert Fashionistas to the latest trends.

And it might require YouTube Pre Rolls, Paid Search, Websites, Apps and Infographics to help people find cheaper car insurance.

All of this on top of the traditional Press, Radio, Poster and TV Advert.

Thanks to the internet and how Google promotes the need for new and interesting content and the creative platforms available to us all – I would say that Copywriting is in not only good health… but also in great hands.

I meet passionate writers every week. Every week you see great examples of Copywriting across a wide range of platforms that really have fun with the medium they are utilising. I love how the Internet has led to the self-publishing revolution. It has led to influential bloggers. It has given people with the ability to write the opportunity to make a name for themselves without relying on editors, publishers and critics.

But opinions on Copywriting today differ.

I’ve shared mine with you… watch the film and feel free to leave your own thoughts on the state of Copywriting below.