"We are not artists, we're not writing novels - we need to remember we're commercial writers."
- Nicky Bullard, Creative Director of Lida.
As demonstrated above, even within our own ranks, copywriters are sometimes not taken seriously as writers.
While it is possible to regurgitate the clichés, blasé grammar and boring sentence structure in so much of today's copy; a skilled copywriter will recoil at the prospect. Take this brilliant ad from Ogilvy (below), the big bold portion of the ad declares, 'Finally, contrary to popular belief, imagine, introducing, or, presenting, how to, think of it as, the reason why, hey, let's look at it this way, a never before, never again opportunity, for copywriters.' And underneath, the small print continues, 'You see, we are looking for writers who can think beyond the cliqued headlines.' Boring copy is forgettable copy, and forgettable copy doesn't sell.
For a novelist or a journalist, their voice is their own. Writing from their own inner monologue, the tone they set down on paper is a tone they choose and a tone they have complete control over. As copywriters, we are required to flit back and forth between writing styles and synonyms completely alien to us. We have to constantly adapt to brand tone of voice and put talent ahead of ego.
Great writing and, obviously, great copywriting demonstrates thorough knowledge of language. As the brilliant Pablo Picasso eloquently said, "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist." Some writers will stick to grammar fallacies drilled into them in school. 'Never begin a sentence with a conjunction', ''i' before 'e', except after 'c'' and the old favourite, 'never split infinitives'. But copywriting is not about following rules and depositing words on a page. Great copywriting comes from being confident enough to play with subtle nuances of language, perfecting the pun or labouring over lexicon. And by breaking these rules a great copywriter is able to skilfully write engaging copy which achieves results.
The copy on this Mozilla advert doesn't follow traditional rules, but that's the point. A clever play on words will take you far. As is the case with the ad below from Stella Artois.
For a good writer, sentence structure shouldn't be a struggle. While it may be possible to learn the rules, you cannot master the moxie without a complete love of language. To be a great copywriter, one must first and foremost be a great writer.