Advertising

Indian print advertising: lost art of copywriting

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In a 2003 article, Robin Wright the Chairman of WCRS asked, ‘Would David Abbott get a job in advertising today?’.  If you are not in advertising and don’t know who David Abbott is, here’s a brief profile. If you are in advertising, but not in Creative and don’t know who David Abbott is, please get hold of The Copy Book and read up about him. If you are in advertising, write ads for a living and don’t know who David Abbott is, here’s your punishment: go listen to Michael Bolton for 2 hours.

The issues raised in that article are pretty much relevant to Indian advertising today. The emphasis on television scripts, ambient media and several other factors has led to a decline of sorts in print advertising. By decline I mean the emphasis on copywriting as a craft. The print ads are a lot more visual led nowadays and sometimes don’t feature a single word. Nothing wrong if a copy-less ad communicated the idea. But old-school folks like me miss seeing beautifully crafted copy in advertising. If you were part of Indian advertising in the early ’90s or had witnessed some of those ads, you’d perhaps be nodding your head by now. See here and here for examples of some great writing.

What’s the big deal, you ask? The world is getting visual, people are constrained for time and advertising is an interruption. Who has the time to ready well-crafted advertising copy? Agreed, one needs to be telegraphic and grab the attention of the reader even faster today. But as long as advertising messages are relevant and engaging, it doesn’t really matter if it is done only through visuals or a combination of good copy & art.

 

 

Copy: Alok Nanda; Art: Vikas Gaitonde

Some of the writers who get into advertising today, have poor grasp of the English language and the written word. They may have good advertising ideas and may churn out TV & radio scripts but when it comes of English copy (especially the long variety), they get caught out. I have spotted atrocious spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, awkward sentence construction (all of which is OK for a blog post like this – there, I said it before you go about pointing those!) in copy written by writers who have been in the business 3-4 years. What could be the reasons:

– lack of formal training in Copywriting. Do such courses exist in India? It could be part of a larger advertising course, but I doubt if there is one here

– emphasis on television script writing. Here too, if there is a broad idea and a setting, the Director of the commercial usually adds his bit, tightens the script and you have a finished film. The emphasis on the written word is nil.

– poor reading habits. I have come across young copywriters who simply don’t read books and take great pride in that. I think inspiration in some form of good writing — be it books or some literary writing (select magazines) is good for the copywriter to hone his craft.

In Australia, New Zealand & UK, there are several bodies which help promote print advertising. Their marketing efforts involve encouraging print advertising through Creative Awards, providing case studies on effectiveness of print advertising and tips on innovative use of media space in print. Maybe we need an Imran Khan, Kapil Dev equivalent (they inspired a generation of fast bowlers) in print advertising to revive interest in the lost art of copywriting. But the onus is clearly on the industry bodies to provide training in this area.

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A marketing communications professional with a keen interest in all things advertising. I share creative ads and views on the ad industry here. Views are personal. See Disclaimer for more.

25 Comments

  1. "Go listen to Micheal Bolton for two hours". Priceless.

    Couldn't agree any less on the post (and if you allow the liberty) there is actually a worse phenomena taking place, than simply the decline in craft.

    Some folks claim not to be able to watch television at all (and not just the seemingly "regressive" televised serials). I understand "digital" is the new fangled thing, but telly is possibly (one of) the cheapest mass medium out there, in terms of what it can achieve.

    Someone far wiser than me once said, a good writer writes the way he (or she) thinks. A great writer writes the way you think.

    Can't possibly write or ideate if one doesn't really understand context.

    • Also, to borrow your phrasing, someone far wiser than me once said: you have to interrogate the product until it confesses. In our, wanted yesterday world of advertising, not many of us practice this. We don't delve deep into what the product does, how it is better, understand the manufacturing process etc.

  2. Thanks, Harshal. Loved this: a good writer writes the way he (or she) thinks; a great writer writes the way you think.

  3. Ah yes, I've heard that one before. Although, some argue that products are no longer capable of that confession and wouldn't even utter a plea for mercy, even under the most severe form of interrogative torture. Only because we've run out of product propositions.

    May be an interesting post? Seeing some of the stuff that's taking place in telecom, for example.

  4. prathap suthan Reply

    Hey Lucky,

    On 'nude models wanted' – I always thought Chris wrote that ad. Do check.

    pat

  5. I'm not in advertising and i don’t know who David Abbott is??
    but i'm Happy and fortunate that i landed on your web page one day and now I know you Bhat sahab !!!
    Amazing post
    Keep writing and keep lighting people like me .

    Regards
    DP

  6. EKUNDAYO ADENIRAN Reply

    'Write' stuff, if I'm lucky enough to escape receiving knocks from you for taking libery for licence in the twist around the word, 'right' So sad is the song that great copywriting has been banished to No Man's Land, and visuals, no matter how bizarre and unconnected to the idea, have rudely taken over. Every one, including the Holy Grail in the business are now busy rushing to join the visual-obsessed 'brand'wagon. What a sobbing shame that this craft has been left to bleed to death, except for some sparkle here and there of the few who still retain the ful flavour of their wit. It's never too late to save the craft from sinking. The future howver looks grim indeed. God save the art of writing well.

  7. EKUNDAYO ADENIRAN Reply

    ‘Write’ stuff, if I’m lucky enough to escape receiving knocks from you for taking libery for licence in the twist around the word, ‘right’ So sad is the song that great copywriting has been banished to No Man’s Land, and visuals, no matter how bizarre and unconnected to the idea, have rudely taken over. Every one, including the Holy Grail in the business are now busy rushing to join the visual-obsessed ‘brand’wagon. What a sobbing shame that this craft has been left to bleed to death, except for some sparkle here and there ,of the few who still retain the ful flavour of their wit. It’s never too late to save the craft from sinking. The future however looks grim indeed. God save the art of writing -and -spelling-well. As the Sage of another marvellous age once said: 'Of all the art in which the wise excel, nature's chief masterpiece is writing well'

    • Thanks for dropping by and the comments. Newspapers and magazines aren't doing too well in many parts of the world. So the 'writing' part of copywriting needs to be nurtured even more now.

  8. As a writer, I have been through years of copywriting – for ads, tv scripts and radios. I finally found writing DMs for non profits a much better outlet for writing long copy. And when I need inspiration I look at obviously, the copy book and then there are the pearl izumi ads 🙂

  9. I can't agree more. I have always had an issue working with poor copywriters who think they know GOOD English but fail to even write the basic body copy with the CORRECT English. They are creative people who think of good ideas, write fabulous TVC scripts – but these people should not be allowed to write copy if they don't understand the difference between headlines and body copy. They both can't be of equal length, nah!

    • Thanks, Kapil. Many freshers focus on ideas & 'situations' for a script and could be found wanting when it comes to crafting copy or even basic grammar.

  10. agreed with your point there is no specific course for copywriting as to enhnace the skills. those which are there are long tenure and very expensive like in Xavier 's and MICA AHMEDABAD. i have my career in sales and thinking of changing to copy-writing can i get some site where can i learn some inner technical points of copy writing in the indian ad agencies

  11. One great thing about the Nude Models Wanted ad is that there is no logo. And it worked.
    A fact that shouldn't be missed.

  12. Hello Bhat! You did a good article for turning out copywriting to be nurtured and develop especially on these era which businesses needs several copywriters . As an individual student, freelancing as a copywriter will truly helped me a lot on supporting my studies.

  13. Uttam Sirur Reply

    This ad was written by Chris D'Rozario in the mid-'80s, not by Alok Nanda (who also wrote some excellent ads for Trikaya and later for his own company, ANC).

    • Thanks, Uttam. Yes, as Prathap also pointed out elsewhere here, the ad was written by Chris. My apologies.

  14. Rajeev Nair Reply

    I have always maintained that ‘long copy’ died out not because people never read copy, but for the simple reason that writers of calibre have died out. The client’s favourite rant – who reads body copy anyway? – only has one answer – ‘it is read by those interested in the product or service’. That could be .002% of the population at that given point in time but 120% of your sales target. Now, dear client, you do the math.

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