The Copywriter As a Castaway: 4 Pillars of Copywriting

A person stranded on an island who tries to spell the word HELP in humongous letters made of rocks, twigs or fire is taking a shot at true-blue copywriting. Nope. It’s neither about the feeling of desperation nor the envy-inspiring ability to eke out a living while vacationing in a beach resort. Certainly, some topnotch copywriters earn six-digit salaries while doing their work on fabulous islands, while others do yell for help every darned day. But neither is exactly the point.

In its basic form, copywriting involves the following elements, which, as you will notice, are also found in the communication scenario involving the poor castaway:

1.An urgent message that needs to be articulated. Obviously, the castaway needs to get a very critical message across, one that literally involves a life-or-death situation. In copywriting, messages might not be as potentially life-saving as the word “HELP” set aflame on the castaway’s beach is, but they are no less urgent. Just try to recall some of the advertisements you’ve seen, read or heard lately and you’ll be surprised at the frequency of messages that have the terms “do or die,” “sink or swim” and “now or never.” These terms have been used for decades in the field of advertising and marketing, so much so that they have already become jaded and dreaded clich├ęs, but they illustrate the fact that the art of copywriting involves infusing a sense of urgency to the message being communicated. Express Writers’ primer on copywriting cites “urgency” as the first element in an all-U formula for excellent copywriting.

For example, many copywriting materials are deliberately made to sound funny or to look sexy in a very serious attempt by copywriters to keep the audience’s attention glued to the message, leveraging the immediate and fundamental impact of humor or sex on human psychology. That’s because for businesses that hire copywriting agencies, the process of getting their messages across to their respective markets significantly affects their profitability and hence, their future survival as business organizations. This fact has only become clearer and more pressing as globalization and digital technology transform industries into highly competitive landscapes, very similar to the ancient arenas where weak and unprepared gladiators perish by the hundreds.

2.The use of words to convey the message. Don’t wonder or laugh at this one. Restrooms still use symbols to prevent-or at least reduce-gender confusion, and it just takes the particular direction of a thumb for a Roman emperor to decide a defeated gladiator’s fate.

While it is often true that a picture can paint a thousand words, words remain the primary mode of communication, at least for humans. Words also have an intrinsic power, especially the written variety. The word “spell” links the written word with the realm of magic and it is not difficult to imagine why. Just send an honest email to your obnoxious officemate using the exact words you have been heroically keeping to yourself and see what that sort of thing can conjure (pun intended). But seriously, can you imagine a particular picture that will be more effective in helping out the castaway than the simple written word, HELP?

Technically, copywriting is the process of writing the words that are used by individuals or organizations in marketing, advertising, public relations and sales. The written words, called “copy” in the industry parlance, will then be transformed into the relevant form and transmitted through the relevant channels: as printed words for a physical or online newspaper, as narration or dialogues in a video or TV ad or as audio file or script for a radio station. Regardless of the channel or the final form, the copy-the written word-is the ultimate source-or soul-of the message. Check out how the high-end, UK-based firm, Rule of Three, encapsulates the power of the written word on their site.

3.The existence of an audience for which the message has been created. The castaway has written the word “HELP” in the hope that somebody, hopefully a literate English-speaking person, will glide by or sail near the island and see the urgent message. By writing a word or setting it aflame on the beach, the castaway is attempting to get someone involved in the situation. Copywriting also involves an audience. In fact, in the field of copyrighting, the audience is as important as, or even more so than the message.


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