Step Away From That Copy, Sir

By a show of hands, fellow copywriters, tell me, how many times has it happened to you? You write a headline, a few lines of copy or a script and spend the next couple of weeks watching it being used and abused at the hands of all and sundry.
Because, don’t you know? Everybody in advertising is a bloody writer.
Art directors don’t have to face this insanity. Not so much. Random strangers don’t walk up to them and say, “It’s nice, but I think you should reduce the cyan by 5%.”
Copywriters, on the other hand, are sitting ducks. Any drunk in a bar who’s studied half a chapter of Balbharati in English thinks they can give us copy corrections. Because that’s what it takes to be a writer, right? A basic knowledge of English (or Hindi or any local language) and a strongish liver. It’s not like you need to have a flair for language or anything.
Oh, that phrase – flair for language – I’ve yet to come across another collection of words that has been so brutally misinterpreted. Most people think it means the ability to pun. IT DOES NOT, ok? It means the ability to veer effortlessly between the lyrical and the staccato, between humour and sincerity, between saying things well and extraordinarily well. It’s about tone, attitude, crafting a bunch of words into order till they make a beautiful sentence. It’s NOT about saying “Add a sparkle to your life!” in an ad about lamps and thinking you’re seven kinds of clever.
No, I get it. These days, being a copywriter is about SO much more than just writing copy. It’s about ideas and creativity and new media and all kinds of stuff. But let’s not forget this small detail – it’s ALSO about writing some amount of copy. Be it in a headline or as a TVC – you need to be able to write. If you can’t construct a sentence to save your life, if you think good writing means replacing words with their synonyms in MS Word, if you pun your way out of a brief, then you’re not a writer. You’re just a creative person with no knowledge of Illustrator.
And more importantly, if you’re not even that person, you don’t get to think you can do better. If you haven’t paid back your dues by writing hundreds of soul-sucking leaflets and 30cc ads as a junior, you don’t get to play writer-writer with us. You don’t get to ask us to replace ‘awesome’ with ‘fantastic’ because YOU think it fits better in the copy. Yes, Piyush Pandey was in client servicing once, but honestly let’s just leave exceptions in that little box in the corner.
This isn’t a game of computer Solitaire, for chrissake. You don’t automatically have some sort of license to look over our shoulder and tell us to put THAT card THERE. I mean, WE don’t come and tell you how to write a brief, or what strategy to build or what marketing plan to follow or what price to sell your products at, do we? No. We stick to our job. Isn’t it time you did the same?
Vedashree Khambete is an ACD with Mudra, a writer at heart and a coffee-addict by vocation.

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