There are always the naysayers, naggers, know-alls, and the negatively inspired who will tell you that language is dead, the written word is a has-been, nobody reads anymore, and pictures are king. And for a moment, when you look out at the current state of communication and social media, not to mention the agonised writhing in the publishing industry, you might think them right, and rethink your chosen career.
But that would be daft.
Although we can’t underestimate the importance of images, it is actually difficult to explain a thousand words with a picture alone. It’s that nifty little comment, strapline or phrase that cuts across colour to say: this is what I mean. Never underestimate the importance of writing quality content.
Words as the whole point
• The first thing that people get wrong, is that they think copywriters think in words. They don’t, they think in pictures first. There is always mind imagery – the imagination – that produces the words, and it does so in vivid colour and action. In essence, copywriters are entertainers, their sense of connection is always theatrical; the play is in their blood and that presents a whole lot more than just the scenery.
• There is always a symbiotic relationship between a copywriter and a designer. They go together like a horse and carriage, etc, etc. Yes, you can get away with just a picture – but words add meaning and context, otherwise you could drum up ten different versions of what the picture means. Words take you further, they clarify, they emphasize, they create direction. In essence, they are the real creators of the journey.
• Don’t get carried away with your own cleverness when composing your words. And make sure the imagery connects with your message, otherwise you have a mix for confusion. Never dismiss the power of images. However, the copy should draw out the relevance of the picture with the right kind of punch.
• Be quick and concise when you are working with visuals. Too much copy can overwhelm the image and you lose impact. Copywriting is the delicate art of true balance between the picture and the message. The interaction between picture and words is fascinating – because sometimes the visual explains the message, and sometimes the writing does this. Neat connections that make sense to a viewer, are vital. The most important work a copywriter will do is ‘boil down, boil down, boil down’. You might start with 50 words when what you might finally end up with is 6. If they work, they work. This can be as relevant for long copy as it is for short.
• Making sense through brevity is one thing, but ensuring your message is compelling is another. Every word must count. The purpose is to catch attention. As a viewer or reader runs their eye over your message, it would be good to ensure they are entranced by the picture, but taken a little further by your copy. Doing this well means the recipient must be inspired to want something or do something. Reasonably, you might hope they will make a purchase right there and then – or carry your message long enough to be persuaded at a later stage, perhaps when they see further ads in your campaign. When your copy is to the point and in tune with your visual, you should hear a crescendo clash of cymbals in your reader’s brain – well, maybe not quite that…but an affect that can be hopefully measured in both emotional and actioned response.
• Present your copy in a story format. This often puts your visual in context. Information presented in narrative format is most often remembered – but remember that those elements which can be told by pictures should not be repeated in the copy. The copy and visuals should frame the story together. You need both words and pictures to convey a compelling narrative.
• The copy should actually tell a larger story than the picture alone. Emotion, mixed with the message and salient points, has real impact. Surprise, sympathy, intrigue, humour are the emotions that you need to evoke to engage your audience to the point where they will respond with questions and action. You can first capture interest with a visual, then complete the frame with written words to create an emotional response – or alternatively begin with your words. Emotions help engage your reader and can prompt them to ask questions and take action.
• Often, in developing a concept, a copywriter will see the whole communication already executed in moving colour and style in perfect harmony with his or her words. You then have to work with a designer to bring that vision to life! Along the way stuff is going to be lost or changed. Go with the flow. Possibly the hardest thing is to let go of some of your darlings because the designer might actually see a better view, or a cleverer way to connect. Building from one concept to another, until you have the look and feel of a final image to complement your copy, is the intelligent way to layer the richness and depth required to present effective mood, tone and impression.
• Bear in mind that not everything you write or brainstorm in your own head may actually be suitable for a picture. Maybe you have to change the copy – or think your way around the copy to find a better way to present it combined with a design format that will create greater aesthetic appeal, message impact, and viewer retention.
Any good website, blog, advertising, marketing, or info-graphic must have attention-grabbing visuals, complemented by arresting copy. The unique connection that exists between copywriters and designers is based on the fact they are both focused in expressing meaning in a quick glance, a snap revelation of the moment. They deal sometimes with big ideas but both have to know how to compress their message into a concise but powerful engagement. Language expressed by the written word is far from over. In fact, the exciting, new and imaginative journey is just beginning.