Aug 5, 2010
All that they never told you about copywriting but you should know nevertheless.
Okay, if you have come this far, then I would find it safe to assume that something about the heading interested you enough to make you want to read further. And I really hope that "something" is "copywriting".
Now, before I get down to the brass tacks, I would want to make a few things very clear. I am not any hotshot copywriter dropping pearls of wisdom. I am just a poor little copywriter who has been offered the chance to write what his profession is all about. And that is precisely what I will attempt to do here.
So what is copywriting? It is not, contrary to common belief, copying and then writing. And neither has it got anything to do with copyright laws and stuff. (There, I just lost 37 percent of my audience.) In fact, it's got to do with writing copy. And what is copy? Copy is all the written matter that you see in an advertisement. The most visible manifestations of this would be the snazzy headlines and baselines that grab your attention (at least they are supposed to) in ads and hoardings. A la 'Yeh Dil Maange More' or 'Thanda Matlab Coca-Cola'. And the jazzy jingles that sometimes (so irritatingly) seem to get stuck in your head - the 'Kya aap Close-Up karten hain?' kind.
So is that all there is to copywriting? Naah, if only life were that simple.
A copywriter is a person whose task it is to “communicate a given message to the target audience in the most interesting and effective way possible.” There, I just spewed a lot of jargon.
For the sake of clarity, let's assume there is this new car being launched in the market. The USP or Unique Selling Proposition (another high-fluting term which simply put means the “one unique feature of the product that can help sell it”) of this car is that it offers a never-before mileage of 25 km/l!! (Sigh, if only...). So the task here would be to inform consumers about the new choice that they now have and more importantly 'make’ them buy this car.
So where does the copywriter come in? It could be as early as the christening stage when the yet-to-be-launched car has to be bestowed upon with a name.
Then comes the actual advertising. Here the creative team (consisting of the copywriter and visualisers) is briefed about the task at hand, which is telling the people out there, that now there is this car which offers a never-before mileage of 25 km/l. The creative team now has to find out a way of communicating this message in a, hmmm, creative way. Creative enough to interest the consumer, tantalize him, make him drool over the car. And make him want to buy it!
The copywriter and the visualizer sit together and brainstorm. On certain occasions they might even decide to go watch a movie or contribute to the beer sales in town. They go through a process wherein they juggle the given facts about the car in their brains and try to see how they can present those facts interestingly. Sometimes it might be a smart visual idea (as is the rage these days). Sometimes it might be the more traditional copy-driven thing. Either way, the copywriter could be the one coming up with the visual idea or the visualize could be the one coming up with a copy-driven idea. So yes, even for the copywriter, it helps having a very visual mind. In fact, let me re-word that. It is absolutely necessary that as a copywriter you should be able to think visually.
Once the creative team has cracked an idea, the visualizer gets down to work on the design. And the copywriter gets down to work on the actual copy. This now, is a test of the copywriter's actual language skills. And yes, just in case I didn't state it explicitly enough earlier, a copywriter is expected to possess very good language skills and lots of them.
And, what all does the copywriter have to deliver at this point? There are press advertisements, complete with snazzy headlines and jazzy baselines. Then there are television commercials. These will again have to serve the purpose of delivering the same message, albeit through a different medium. Then of course, there are a million other collaterals like hand-outs, mailers, etc. But the basic purpose of all these varied pieces of communication remains the same - selling the car.
Now having read through all this (hopefully), you should have some idea about the role of a copywriter. But how do you find out if you can be one? What do you need to be one?
You need to have:
*A very good command over the language.
*An innate interest in things. A sort of curiosity about most, if not everything around. Because, at the end of the day, when you sit to conceptualize an advertisement, you will seek inspiration from your past experiences. You will undoubtedly have to draw from what you know.
*Excellent communication skills as copywriting is all about selling. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to be an orator. But you need to be good at putting across what you want to say, in a gripping and interesting manner.
*Immense amounts of energy. Agency life can be very sapping; the hours might be long. And if you don't love what you are doing, you might as well not do it.
For the few people who are still reading this and want to know how to go about getting into advertising, here goes. Approach agencies directly. Call up copywriters you know, creative directors you know. Contrary to popular perception, most ad people are actually nice. They don't bite heads off. If you have a portfolio of your writing samples to show, great. If you don't, they will give you copy tests, which do exactly that. Test your copywriting skills. And voila, you are on your way!
Ah, it seems like I forgot something important. The moolah!! The pay packages in advertising can start off at depressingly low levels. As low as 4000-5000 bucks a month. But once you have spent a few years in the industry, AND if you can prove your talent and worth, expect your equity to go rising exponentially. The sky is literally the limit.
Finally, should you even attempt to get into advertising because of whatever I spewed; neither the editor nor I shall be responsible for any untoward effects. But in the rare case that you do have some questions, you can always write me at email@example.com
Source: Experience with a bunch of ad agencies during my early career days.
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