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.