WHY IS it so interesting to trace the history of things? Is because it gives our time more meaning? A sense of place? Of progress? Probably all of those and many more, which is why for example it’s great to see pictures of ourselves through the ages, of a self that no longer exists, but which has evolved into who we are now. On a shorter time-scale, we are not the same person we were yesterday even, but reminiscing is a powerful thing. Let’s take a trip down Copywrite Lane…
In terms of communication, of marketing, it’s similarly interesting to go through the past of copywriting and advertisements. They tell us a lot about the progress of technology, science, and especially societal norms, of what was tolerated and what no longer is, and what wasn’t but is now; from cocaine elixirs, doctors endorsing cigarettes, blatant racism, to sexism and sex.
Words are free, and exceptionally powerful. Yet we learn the classic playground saying of ‘stick and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me’ young. Too young to realise it’s all three. Often those words form the most brutal of attacks, ones that can linger and be carried for all our days while a cut or bruise are impermanent. The press is so powerful because they tell us what words they want us to see/hear. And there’s a reason many countries have strict press regulation. Words change the course of history. On a micro level they influence your life. On a macro level, they can change societies for good or bad. Sometimes, it’s very easy to forget that. And in advertising, that is never forgotten, because the right combination of words perhaps accompanied by images, can sell, while poor copy won’t.
Moving with the changes, copywriting has become a different animal. Once existing only in print, then radio, to TV and the web, it’s had to respond to new media types, divergent consumption, as well as a world that’s (I imagine) unrecognisable from even decades ago let alone the 1800s.
Classic copywriting had a catchy strapline, with additional text. There’s something quaint about them now. They don’t exist anymore. People operate on a far more visual level than ever before. Reading a paragraph on why an Aga cooker is the best is almost laughable as a concept unless in a review. But words haven’t lost their power, we’re simply drowning in an electric nicotine storm, an onslaught thanks especially to mobiles in every pocket.
We often think of ourselves as adnostic, that we aren’t influenced to buy X over Y, but somewhere in that brain choices are being made whether we know about them or not.