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October 5, 2009
The New Linguistics

Language evolves. Just ask William Safire, may he rest in peace.

From guttural noise, to ancient tongues, spoken to written—how we communicate, how we persuade continues to molt and mutate.

I used to tell the proofreaders at Arnold we had a “language” for the Volkswagen “Drivers wanted” campaign, with its own rules and syntax. Then they’d hold us to it. Darn them.

The words we use are so often based on place and time. Subjective. Fleeting.

Being a creative person has always been, in part, a job of competing with popular culture. Your real competition wasn’t just the ads created by other creatives, it was any great film, album, novel or distraction and the way in which that art adjusted our common understanding of a common tongue.

But we don’t compete with just creative ideas anymore. We compete with insight, validation, debate and data. We compete with knowledge and technology. Our audiences often know more about what we’re selling than we do.

Simply put, as advertising’s audience gets smarter and more empowered, the rules of language must change and our jobs must get more—how to put it? Fascinating?

Hello, Copywriter.

Mike Hudock, Creative Director at Point-to-Point, offered up salient direction in his recent post, “The evolution of the advertising copywriter.”  While acknowledging copywriters must be creative, Mike recommends they also need to be able to write: as a Journalist, as an Editorialist and as a Search Engine Optimizer. To this, I’d add a comment on last month’s Becoming a Copywriter column from Nicole Berard. She says, “In addition to the brandcentric messaging a traditional ad writer creates, we are responsible for effective labeling and instructional copy, SEO and long form informational content.”

Seems like the definition of “Copywriter” is in for some serious rewriting.

Don’t get me wrong. This is still a business of ideas first. Just like selling books used to be about having shelf space.

This is the new linguistics of advertising copywriting.

Now we need to be able to develop core ideas and express them across a much wider range of venues. Yes, we still need creative people (e.g. writers) with that core ability to unearth brilliant ideas—often a job in and of itself. But the job has never stopped there. And today, the finish line is even further.

Ideas first. Amen. Now convey that idea with words across TV, radio, magazines, newspaper, billboards, online banner ads, brochures, Google AdWords, website copy (mind the difference between automated landing pages versus static campaign pages), email marketing, direct marketing, Facebook, Twitter, and the rest of the social sphere, never mind SMS or Content Strategy.

We’re challenged to understand what words mean and how they work to persuade in vastly distinct mediums. You know what’s humbling and revealing? See how effective your awesome billboard headline isn’t in the context of a paid search ad. Never mind the fact they can track the strength and vitality of your copywriting in search literally by the minute.

Keywords. Negative filtering. Exact match. Broad match. Post. Tag. Tweet. These terms are just the beginning of the new linguistics of advertising.

We are in an age that is redefining the Copywriter.

With any luck the One Show, Cannes, Comm Arts and other competitions will recognize this evolution before our clients do.

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As a writer, creative director and drummer, Tim Brunelle started in advertising in 1993 after receiving a B.A. in Jazz from the University of Cincinnati. Since then, he's worked with TBWA/Chiat Day, Heater/Easdon, McKinney & Silver, Arnold Worldwide, OgilvyOne, Mullen and Carmichael Lynch. Tim now works for his own entity, Hello Viking.

Tim has provided strategic and creative leadership to A.G. Edwards, Anheuser-Busch, Brown Forman, Goodyear, Harley-Davidson, Porsche, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Volkswagen.

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