How Copywriting Got Devalued – and What Happens Next

Coder or copywriter on their laptop

How Copywriting Got Devalued – and What Happens Next

Coder or copywriter on their laptop

Yesterday, I had a conversation with someone who wants to explore being a copywriter and I found myself feeling depressed. Here’s why.

Copywriting – the words you read in an article, in a social post, in advertising – is really important. It’s right up there with the importance of the right image. Visually, the image appeals to you or draws you in, but it’s up to the copywriting – the words – to grab you and engage you.

Bad writing – “stuffed” with keywords, for example – is painfully obvious because it’s not interesting.

Read that again – the writing needs to be interesting or you lose your reader. Poof! They’re gone.

How to avoid bad writing

How do you prevent that? Write interesting and engaging content. Good copy. Now we’re back to a topic I’ve written about before – in fact, I wrote an ebook about this.

You can create interesting and engaging copy (or content) through storytelling. Really good stories engage people emotionally. They draw you, the reader, into the path of the tale and hold your hand, accompanying you along the way, showing you the beautiful sights, appealing to your five senses (seeing, hearing, touching, etc.)

For thousands of years people have been drawn in by stories.

Good copywriting, then, engages us at that level. That’s why people love movies and books that tell great stories.  And that’s why where we are going now – with copywriting – won’t work.

It’s similar to where software coding was decades ago.

The story of programming – a cautionary tale

What happened there is an interesting story because the exact same cycle of production is happening in copywriting. With programming – when the internet started and grew rapidly – there was a hunger and need for more and more programmers to write code. Think of every website. A coder (or more than one coder) had to program it.

How did the software industry find this talent? It went to whomever would show up to do the work, in-house and then contracted labor. If the goal was to “get the job done,” it would be given to the lowest priced option. Over and over again, it went to the new guy on the block who got the work by under-bidding. Programming work got sold on price and became a commodity, in ecconomic terms. And with a commodity, the price gets driven further and further down as people compete to get the work.

So instead of paying U.S. workers to develop code, it went overseas, where wages are lower. But what happens when a product becomes a commodity, and it goes to the lowest bidder, is that sometimes the lowest bidder doesn’t do the best work.

It took about 20 years for the software industry to realize that they’d driven all quality out of programming. But they did figure it out – and now the production cycle has come full circle; really good coding has moved back to the U.S. and programmers are being paid higher wages to create high quality work.

My prediction: copywriting is next

I’m betting this will happen in the copywriting/content world, too. Right now, we’re in the downswing. People are looking online for the “cheapest way” to get content written and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now being used to “write copy.”

While this may work for purely factual pieces (think about the Sports Column, presenting only the facts about the game, the most valuable players and what they did, etc.), it won’t work for a lot of other uses.

Not until we teach software to write really good stories.

Because that’s what it needs to do. Grab you by the shirt, pull you towards it, breathe into your face so you can smell the garlic and wince, and then release you. I don’t see that happening any time soon with AI written copy.

In the meantime, people will still keep driving down the cost, buying writing as though it’s a commodity. As long as workers in other countries are willing to work for five cents a word (so they can feed themselves and their families), it will be farmed out to them. Until that work is taken from them by software that crams keywords in a way that Google doesn’t find objectionable and people will tolerate.

Then, organizations will look at the data and realize that while they are “getting copy written” it’s not truly engaging their readers. Then, they’ll revert back to the human way of writing – writing well and telling good stories.

Until then, we’ll continue to watch the decline of good writing. Not sure how to get engaging written content for your organization? Contact me and let’s talk.

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