Everyone’s a Copywriter. Right?

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From Medium:

There’s a joke in the creative industry that “everyone is a designer”, making light of how infuriating it is to have someone (without a visual background) tell a designer how things should look.

It’s a huge and common problem, caused by a “client is always right” attitude — something we’ve all experienced, and all must endure. There is a point where you can actually see the lights go off in a designer’s eyes as their soul tries to escape their body — and that point is usually the 10th round of amends.

. . . .

Less talked about is the “everyone is a copywriter” problem. Today, we’re going to address that and dissect some of the things your copywriter is thinking when you decide that you’re also a midweight copywriter… but probably won’t say.

. . . .

Grammar “rules” are guidelines, not rules.

This will split the sea like Moses, but let us go ahead and say it anyway.

Much like design, copy is subject to the tastes, preferences and aims of the reader. Every now and then, you (as the copywriter) will come up against a self-professed “grammar nazi”.

It could be your client. It could be your co-worker. Heck, it could even be legal. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re wrong, but most of the time…

They’re an idiot.

You know how the saying goes that the ‘wisest people know that they in fact know nothing’? The same applies to grammar.

Language changes every year and in turn, so does grammar. The only time we ever really hear about it is when something controversial is added to the dictionary, like ‘lol’ or an alternative definition for ‘mug’… but it happens far more often than we realise.

There are often two (correct) spellings of every word and three (correct) executions of a punctuation rule. The rules change due to the rest of the words in a sentence, the academic style it’s written in, the context and even the medium. Therefore, unless someone has been studying the dictionary nightly since they were eight years old… the confidence of a grammar nazi is usually just drastically misplaced naivety, or the outward evidence of some deep-rooted childhood trauma. Whatever way you want to look at it. I’m not putting words in your mouth.

There are two types of grammar users.

The chances are, you (the copywriter) are a descriptivist grammar user and whoever is challenging you is a prescriptivist grammar user.

There is no reasoning with a prescriptivist. They’re lunatics.

Prescriptivist grammar users were not made for creative writing. They were born for legal and medical professions, where the grammar use is so intense that sentences no longer make sense whatsoever. Prescriptivist grammar users often desperately hang on to the “rules” taught to them in school till their dying day, killing any sense of fun or creativity by creating adverts that read like a terms and conditions section.

Descriptivist grammar users are generally the creative ones. They know the rules of grammar, but also how and when to play with them. They don’t particularly care when the rules are violated if it enhances understanding or clarity. As long as the message is communicated clearly (and doesn’t read like it was written by a child, your Mum trying to text, or someone who lurks in the Daily Mail comments section), then it’s good to go.

. . . .

Like authors, creative copywriters have a license to do whatever the hell they want with grammar. They’re well within their rights to spell things wrong if it makes a point, abandon grammar altogether when necessary, and even make the grammar worse for the sake of a catchy line.

. . . .

Apple’s “Think Different” should, by prescriptivist ruling, say: “Think Differently”… Yep, punchy.

If a prescriptivist had gotten hold of “Got Milk?” before it was published, it would read: “… Do You Have Any Milk?”

McDonald’s ‘I’m lovin’ it” should read: “I am loving it.”

. . . .

Each and every day, your copywriter will have to evaluate your full stops (or lack thereof). Your quotation marks (or lack thereof). Tone down someone’s excessive use of the exclamation mark. Prune unnecessary semi-colons from someone trying to look clever. Remove a misplaced ellipsis that has taken the headline from hilarious to cheesy in five seconds flat (or worse, borderline funny to outright creepy).

Everyone has a tone of voice, whether they realise it or not. Accents aren’t limited to the spoken word. Everyone has subtle habits, preferences and tendencies that they project onto the written word. It’s the copywriters job to wade through those tendencies and deem whether they’re acceptable or not.

Link to the rest at Medium

Many years ago, when spam telegrams were still a thing, PG worked for a very large advertising agency.

He was an account executive, which meant that he was responsible for the business, communications, etc., connections between the client and the agency. Part of the reason for that role was to save the agency’s creatives from insanity and to translate responses to criticisms from the client and responses from the creatives to those criticisms into accurate, but far more palatable language.

Client: “Why did your creative director want to show a chihuahua eating our dog food instead of a German Shepard or Great Dane? Doesn’t he/she know that only pansies own chihuahuas plus chihuahuas don’t eat enough dog food to keep this company afloat. We want to sell dog food, not win awards for cute television commercials.”

PG to Creative: The client thinks most dog owners won’t understand the humor behind a commercial that shows a chihuahua growing to the size of a horse after eating the client’s product. Maybe we can split the difference and use something a little larger, like a beagle and get to the same place.”

Per the OP, PG would also field copies of letters the client had received from The Deadwood Gulch Society of English Teachers and Librarians objecting to the lack of a period at the end of a sentence in a dogfood ad.

Yesterday’s post by Kris Rusch is also relevant to the OP.

5 thoughts on “Everyone’s a Copywriter. Right?”

  1. As a former ad agency friend once told me, “The wealthiest clients usually walked away with the worst advertising because they were able to keep demanding changes. The guy whe came in with the fewest resources and had to take what we offered usually walked out with the best ads.”

  2. That applies to everything these days, it seems. In making things easier to do, the technology provided the opportunity for people to twiddle with it more.

    When I was in the Army, we still printed paper copies of slides and then printed them on transparencies. If something changed before the company commander presented, he talked to it.

    …And at work, once we had the technology, people make changes, and make changes, and make changes. We’re trying to print 15 color copies for the meeting in 2 hours. No, wait! I have another change! The presenter changes a few sentences on three sides. Print new slides, pull out old, insert. Fifteen minutes before, we’re about to bolt up to the conference. One more change! We finally get up there, and the speaker walks in with a CD ROM. “Here’s a new version.”

  3. Spam telegrams? Seriously? I would have thought that telegrams were too expensive for spam, in the sense of unsolicited mass direct advertising.

    • Spam is nothing new. Here is an article about telegram spam which I found after a brief search: http://mentalfloss.com/article/75440/how-spam-people-telegram-according-1928-handbook. There is a link at the end of the article to the handbook. The handbook on telegram writing tips is quite interesting reading.

      One interesting fact, communication security was a concern back then as it is today. Governments and businesses used cipher codes to encrypt sensitive information sent by telegrams to prevent prying eyes reading them in case they were intercepted. During WW1 governments issued regulations requiring all non-government telegrams be transmitted in the clear so the censors could read them.

  4. As for grammar rules, part of the issue is that what grammar nazis think of as grammar rules aren’t any such thing. They generally are issues of preferred style. But this doesn’t mean that there aren’t real grammar rules, as linguists, who actually study language, understand it.

    The thing is, adult native speakers don’t consciously notice the real rules. They are ingrained. Listen to a toddler speak and you will hear violations of real rules, such as trouble with irregular verbs.

    Here is an example of a real rule, that you won’t hear a native speaker violate. English has a construction called a “phrasal verb” consisting of what you would recognize as a verb followed by a particle, which would traditionally be classified as a preposition. An example is “put on,” in the sense of putting on clothing. English also as a peculiar rule about phrasal verbs that take a direct object. The object can follow the phrasal verb, or it can be stuck in the middle. Unless, however, the object is expressed as a pronoun, in which case it can only be stuck in the middle. Hence:

    John put a shirt on.
    John put on a shirt.
    John put it on.
    *John put on it.

    This rule is no ingrained in native speakers that even linguists didn’t notice it until around a half century ago, and most people don’t consciously know the rule even exists. But listen to people for whom English is a second language. Phrasal verbs give them fits.

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