The Copy is dead. Long live the copy!

On reading the headline of Tim Riley’s post on The Drum’s website today I got a bit panicked. “Copy is dead” it declares. As I’ve only just secured myself a copywriter job, this was less than ideal.

Fortunately, Riley goes on to explain he is referring only to the existence of long copy ads and not copy in general. Phew. However, it got me thinking. Is copy’s place in advertising really becoming redundant, or is it just becoming less visible these days? Has copy put its days of being outgoing and extroverted behind it, now content to stay in on a Saturday night doing all the hard work while the visuals party on?

It all goes back to the age-old question, “Which should come first, copy or design?” As a writer, the answer seems obvious to me. I think in words, I dream in words, I process problems in words. If someone tells me their name, I imagine it written down and if I later find out they’re Caron instead of Karen it changes how I see them. Words come first, always. But then I would say that, wouldn’t I?

However, speaking to Fifth Ring’s Head of Creative made me realise that this might not be just my opinion. As someone from a design background, he also places copy before design. In fact, so highly does Fifth Ring rate the written word that almost half of our creative team are writers. This bucks the trend seen in other agencies, many of whom don’t have a single copywriter on staff.

Undoubtedly adverts now contain fewer physical words, relying instead on visuals to tell the story, but if these aren’t backed up by words then where do they get their impact? Without strategy, design is just pretty pictures. Look at the creative process - we verbally brainstorm ideas, write them down and pitch them in words. Words underpin every aspect of design, so much so that perhaps we shouldn’t be considering them as completely separate concepts at all. Creativity is creativity, regardless of whether you specialise in words or images. You can never completely separate the two.

So is copy dead? No. And personally I hope it lives on forever because a world where words don’t play a central role would be a much lesser place.

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