A balding, middle-aged man is bent like the Hunchback of Notre Dame over a cramped desk in the farthest recess of a 50-floor office park. Neither banished nor excommunicated by his ad team, he chooses to be the lone wolf; it’s his novelistic ambitions that have set him apart from the pack. He is pale, pasty, and his white Oxford shirt is ringed with sweat stains. He crunches words 14 hours a day, coming up with radio jingles, slogans and catchy TV promos; he writes product descriptions for a seasonal catalog that’s thick as War and Peace and despises the fact his writing career amounts to “Incredibly absorbent towels in the finest 550-gram Turkish cotton….” He has self-esteem issues and visits a shrink on Tuesdays and Thursdays, where the word Hack has come to embody Freudian, Jungian and Lacanian overtones.
In their early careers, writers as diverse as Dorothy Sayers, Don Delillo, Salman Rushdie, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Joseph Heller all worked as copywriters. Fitzgerald’s claim to fame was the copy he did that ran on the side of streetcars in Iowa: “We Keep You Clean in Muscatine,” while Dorothy Sayers introduced the world to the wildly popular “Just Think What Toucan Do” that appeared in every Guinness ad from Kilkenny to Boston. All of these writers eventually fulfilled their dreams of becoming novelists, and this, no doubt, is how the copywriter stereotype came to be. Copywriting was a way station on the path to greater literary ambitions.
Today, however, in the age of digital media, this idea couldn’t be farther from the truth. Copywriters are rock stars, queen bees and alpha males. They’re cutting edge and on the cusp. They’re visionaries who have their fingers on the pulse of global trends. The web site copywriter is the wave of the future. When they stop to grab a cocktail after work in plush, mahogany-walled bars, people approach them and say, “You do copy, right?” The old pick-up lines “Are you an angel, because your texture mapping is divine, or “Are you Google, because you have everything that I’m searching for,” just won’t fly anymore.
Ok, so that new school image of the modern copywriter is as equally as hyperbolic as the old school stereotype, but you get the idea. In the ever-changing world of digital media, there’s more opportunity for a copywriter to grow, hone their talent and expand their career. Copywriters have become content writers, and content writers are publishing their own eBooks, minting their own blogs and have their hands in every internet cookie jar available to them.
There are some things, however, that never change. It was once a rule of thumb that copywriters had 6.5 seconds to engage the consumer. Chances are that still holds true today. In other words, the next time someone says, “You do copy, right?” it gives you just enough time to size them up and reply, “You better believe it.”
Damon H is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.