The copywriter’s unwritten responsibility
Copywriters have an unwritten responsibility to elevate the discourse because they’re in a great position to do it for these reasons:
We have to tell the truth
Truth is tough to find these days. What’s real? What’s fake? Who has an agenda and what do they want people to think? This skepticism has tainted our relationships with news media, artists and filmmakers, governments and each other.
But a copywriter is immune to this distrust because they aren’t going to lie to consumers unless they want angry clients and far fewer consumers.
We have unimpeded access to hearts and minds
People can avoid certain news outlets, reject certain music or art, or unsubscribe from anything displeasing. But they can’t hide from copywriters because clients pay big bucks to put copy in front of them.
According to Forbes Magazine, the average person is exposed to between 4,000 and 6,000 ads a day. If the average ad has twelve words of copy (some have three, some have 30), that’s 48,000 words a day on the low end, equivalent to War and Peace’s 587,287 words every 12 days. No one’s competing with that.
We’re trained to create resonance
People remember ads for a reason. Psychology Today has a very interesting piece detailing one way this is true: appealing to identity. But another reason a copywriter’s words are so much stickier is because of the experience the reader has with the product or service the copywriter is selling.
A copywriter selling face cream says something about feeling 16 again, the face cream does what it’s supposed to do and the reader (now the customer) actually feels it. They don’t have to manufacture the feeling in their minds or convince themselves it’s real. They can see it and touch it.
These three realities help copywriters through the clutter
And if you ask a copywriter what they do with these advantages, they’ll say something like “move the needle,” or “make the client look good.” And they should say both these things. It’s their job.
But we’d argue that a copywriter’s built-in trust, unfettered access and ability to make words come alive can be used for something more important.
5 ways copywriters can, should and must elevate the discourse
For the reasons above, a copywriter is in a unique position to start conversations about societal wrongs. Consider this ad for Tide. See how well it normalizes a married gay couple? No commentary. No fist-shaking or fist-pumping. Just a legitimate reason to buy Tide.
Elevating the discourse is having the courage to unapologetically demonstrate what’s right.
This isn’t to say the whole truth needs to be told. Some truths are better left for customers to discover on their own. But anyone can respect someone who can take what might be a rather boring truth and make it interesting through research and storytelling.
Elevating the discourse is demonstrating an effort to find, understand and share the truth. Proving it’s possible to be truthful and interesting will make us less tolerant of snake oil.
Invite understanding through intelligence
Words exist to convey ideas, not to get in the way of them. People who use big words are hiding behind them. For proof of that, check out the comments section of any online article. The commenters with nothing important to say always use the biggest words.
At the same time, elevated discourse is more than a string of facile words. Tight ideas presented pithily are what we should all be striving for. Demonstrating it is just as much about teaching as it is about selling.
Elevating the discourse is not going out of the way to make people feel inferior about having a perfectly average vocabulary. Talking to people at their level makes them much more likely to talk back.
Think about what someone’s doing when they stop to read, hear or watch something. They’re putting their entire lives on hold and focusing their attention squarely on one thing. It’s a massive compliment to the sender, and that attention should be rewarded with something they can use.
Elevating the discourse is respecting a person’s willingness to listen and giving them a reason to feel that their time was well spent.
For Pete’s sake, listen
Elevating the discourse is knowing when to shut up.