Editor's notes: This post was updated October 17, 2018.
I think it’s important to point out the distinction between copywriting and copyright. Oftentimes, we get questions about patents or property rights, and while there is a slight overlap, what we do is significantly different. A copyright protects one’s art, inventions, or ideas, whereas a copywriter creates advertorial content.
Some companies have a designated marketing and advertising professional who writes their blogs, brochures, flyers, newsletters, pay-per-click ads, and webpages, and others go to an agency to get a clearer perspective. But in essence, a copywriter’s goal is to develop content that attracts a target audience, that is web-ready, has a clear call to action, and reads as smoothly as silk. To avoid confusion in the future—if you’re ever in the position to describe what a copywriter does, say “they write copy,” not “they copywrite.”
What is a Copyright?
A copyright is exclusive legal protection for authors, artists, and inventors from plagiarism. It gives them legal grounds to sue anyone that uses their content without consent.
In essence, it allows the creator to take full ownership of the media they produced or product the invented. If that’s what you’re looking for, check out these links below:
You get the idea. Go to Copyright.gov to protect your ideas, technology, art, and more. Fun fact: books, articles, and photos are copyrighted the moment they come into existence. That being said, it’s still a good idea to date all your work.
What is Copywriting?
Copywriters do nearly anything that involves the written word (except for maybe skywriting and tattooing). Our job is to create and discover “all of the available means of persuasion” (thanks, Aristotle).
Copywriting is generally written with an advertising, marketing, and conversion-focused goal in mind. At first glance, copywriting may seem like nothing more than a few simple words written about a product or idea. In actuality, it’s an invaluable means of building a strong brand, crafting compelling advertisements, and boosting your business.
Words Are Everything.
Copy doesn't always get presented to its audience through the written word. Infomercials, how-to guides, and video series all greatly benefit from a good script. To take it even further, think about radio advertisements; all of these commercials need copy written before hitting the airwaves.
Damn Right, We're Writers
Why not just say “I’m a writer?” While there is definitely something to be said for simplicity, there is even more to be said for specificity. The distinction can be seen clearly in the element of persuasion that is visible in good copywriting.
However, context is also important. If the writing is for an advertising agency or a web developer, it's most likely copy. If you’re a journalist, novelist, or poet, you’re probably a writer. Many creatives wear both hats: they write purely for the story on some days, and write persuasively on others.
Remembering the Difference
Here are a few notable copywriters, some real, some fictitious to highlight what copywriting is:
Josephine “Jo” Foxworth: She was an advertising executive and essential writer for McCann Erickson, and later founded her own company, Jo Foxworth Inc. In 1997, the prestigious Advertising Hall of Fame elected her into their elite group of exceptionally accomplished artists, academics, copywriters, creative directors, and “Mad Men.”
Peggy Olson (fictional): Speaking of Mad Men, remember Peggy Olson? She is the right-hand woman to Don Draper. Played by Elisabeth Moss, Olson is a brilliant, sharp-witted, creative copywriter who climbs the ranks from secretary to second-in-command of her department. Interestingly, she ends the series working for McCann Erickson.
Sir Alan William Parker: Born February 14, 1944, Parker got his start as an advertising copywriter, and currently works as a film director, producer, and screenwriter. In his late teens, he started writing copy for television advertisements and garnered a multitude of accolades for his clever commercials. What was Parker’s motivation to write copy? To meet girls. If only Peggy Olson weren’t fictional…
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