Digital copywriting: what is it? It can be defined as the writing texts for digital. But this definition is not enough to convey what this treasure of words holds.
Everything starts from words: these are an essential part of the human being, the unit of measure of communication. They are the invisible instrument that can touch people’s minds and hearts. Of course, they are not the only ones: even the visual part of content reaches deep levels of connection and has a decisive role. Not for nothing, just some time ago I happened to say that digital copywriters and designers are two halves of a single entity, the evolution of that famous creative couple present in advertising agencies well before the digital: copy and art, the dynamic duo.
But the words… Yes, I admit, my first intent is to declare my love for words. Words have their own charm. We create them, a collective we that coincides with the society that is the cradle of them. Words, especially new ones, are a manifestation of the essence of society, of its needs and changes.
Whether they are written on paper or a web page, the charm of words resides in their triple essence: imagine words as a triangle, at each vertex corresponds to one of its dimensions.
The easiest is that of the signifier, not so much for this term but for what it represents: it is the manifestation of a word in written, verbal and phonetic form. What you find in the dictionary in bold, so to speak, and if you read it out loud you will have the tern dry.
To the signifier follows the meaning, the explanation that in the dictionary follows the lemma. A set of words that explains the previous one. This concept is already more complex although intuitively understandable.
The meaning can only be understood by those who already have previous knowledge of the language. Not easy peasy, lemon squeezy at all. We take it for granted and this is a pity because it gives less and less value to the learning of the Italian language in Italy, and the memorization of a richer vocabulary.
But back to our triangle. The third extreme is the referent, a mental image of the concept that the signifier evokes, and the meaning expresses. And from here we understand the importance and the potential of words, the right ones: they create and evoke images.
I ask you to take a deep breath and close your eyes: imagine being caressed by a light breeze that smells of salt. Your feet sink into a soft mantle of thin grains that slip between your fingers. Open your eyes again. Yes, you’re not at the beach, but you imagined it. And so am I with you, perhaps because it is where I would like to spend the whole summer.
All this to say that words have a three-dimensional power that must be exploited with ethics and wisdom. These two values are fundamental for a good digital copywriter, who must choose words with coherence and relevance, but above all with mastery and rule of the art, depending on the purpose and context.
But let’s go back to the use of words that a copywriter can make.
At some point during the journey to write this article I found myself behind my desk in the third row at the university, when I took notes, strictly on paper, during one of my first courses, as it happens in advertising.
The first advertisement, as a notorious academic manual tells, dates back to the end of the second millennium BC, and tells of the weaver Hapu, who had a shop in which they wove the most beautiful canvases of all Thebes, according to the tastes of each. Of course, the purpose of this first commercial message was not at all noble, because it accompanied a public proclamation to track down a runaway slave and wanted to optimize the expense of the ad. But it provides two very important ideas: you can say the right things even with a few words, and words have both a weight and a cost, then as today.
For decades words were the only means of commercial communication, then supplanted in the 19th century by the visual component with posters; one cannot but love Depero’s posters for Campari, an example of a moment of a deep connection between art, technique and advertising, in which the works of commercial communication were so beautiful for a need of the artist, who transferred this value to the client.
In the 20th century, there was new revenge of words thanks to the so-called scientific current, born in the USA since the 1920s. The practice of those years was that posters and announcements, filled with words, words of all sizes, everywhere: huge headlines, very long body-copy, with a rational or aesthetic-emotional cut that they were. The apotheosis of words. A dream for me, but that I am aware of being such.
But to stand out, maybe you need to add new ingredients to the recipe for perfect advertising, and that’s where my favourite commercial comes in: Leo Burnett. The slogan of his agency has become my mantra and is still summed up in my state of WhatsApp: “reach for the stars”.
Returning to us, Leo Burnett is relevant to my thinking because it defines the boundaries of advertising in a way that I share and embrace: it must be attractive and courageous, fresh and engaging, but above all human and credible. It must have the ability to create a good reputation in the long term, even if at the moment it has the strength to convince the purchase. Good advertising, honest and ethical. With people at the centre, which is our primary responsibility.
This journey through time, reviewed with the eyes of today, makes me appreciate even more the use we make of words in TSW. Why did I bother you with this flashback? Because it’s all considerations about the world before the web. But incredibly, they still have value, although communication has changed drastically: a new fundamental paradigm that not only sees people at the centre of attention of those who write the messages but even actors of brand reputation.
The web turns upside down or even upsets the weights and sometimes the roles, you have to be aware of it. And at the same time, we must keep in mind that our message risks getting lost in a sea of information, bigger than a tsunami. Then it becomes essential to stand out, be relevant and focus our communicative efforts towards people who want to listen.
Burnett’s definition fits perfectly with digital communication in TSW and digital copywriting plays a key role in this. Depending on the purpose we want to serve will follow different rules.
Digital copywriting therefore finds different areas of application. Here are the main ones I have the opportunity to try my hand at.
The rational advertising of the 1920s has become the communication aimed at conversion. Whether it is to invite to an online purchase, or to register for the newsletter or website, to read an article in a magazine, or to comment on content on social networks, digital copywriting for performance has its value, which is increased if it is honest and not misleading and if it reaches people who may be interested in that message, with a language in which they recognize themselves. And, if possible, a hint of creative flair.
Then there is the communication aimed at making a brand known and developing awareness. Often this means for a copywriter to embrace the world of the User Experience and write the texts for a website or a digital platform, that are in line with the tone of voice of the brand (fundamental, always!), dry and not redundant (also this rule should always apply, for goodness sake!), synthetic to be harmonious with design patterns, which help the navigation of the user. The text, in this case, contributes to a natural, pleasant and fluid experience. Not bad, ah? The most valuable aspect of UX writing is helping people to carry out the actions they want within a site; The second is that it gives space for both rational and emotional writing, depending on the customer, his needs and the page.
Another way to become known and offer thick content is through social networks. And here the challenge for a digital copywriter is always interesting for the different balances to be respected according to the nature and rules of the platform: the amount of text within the graphics, the different length of the copy of the posts and the consistency with the tone of voice of the customer. Creativity, within the boundaries given by the various channels, finds room to flourish, here too.
Then there is the informative communication, which wants to respond to people’s needs, expressed through online research: this is where the challenge is played out, in my opinion, the most exciting and, from a certain point of view, creative. SEO copywriting. This content writing partially merges with the one described for UX, and here lies the beauty: writing texts for sites that are short, clear, functional, customer-friendly, and that consider the keywords relevant to people looking for that topic. But writing for positioning on search engines covers also the wider territories of blogs, magazines, journals, guides: content marketing in its beautiful manifestation, for information purposes, to help people to know, without the filter of a brand, which in that case is only at the service of the user with interesting content. What is found by those looking for it. The fun part lies in the “stakes” that SEO provides, which are a stimulus for creativity and differentiating writing.
Digital copywriting is, therefore, an art, yes let’s call it so just this once, fundamental even in a world dominated by images, and it is a generous art: it serves its purpose, and is very happy to respond to it effectively and punctually. But it always requires a pledge: a lot of love for the words and your language, the desire to contaminate your knowledge with the most disparate subjects and the patience to reread what you write, whether micro or macro.