Copywriting: A Glance In the Rearview

Porsche vintage advert beating traffic

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.

Charles Atlas muscle man advert
Look at all that text! Inconceivable in today’s adverts, BUT crucially a very powerful piece of copy in the line of, if Charles Atlas can do it, so can you.

Words are free, and potentially 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 – usually for the worse.
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.

Vintage Iver Johnson revolver advert safe for children
An incredulous advert now. Kids CAN play with guns, and it’s safe to have one in the home – no! – you NEED one in your home.

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.

Sexism in advertising selling an oven
When women ‘belonged’ in the kitchen, a common theme from this era, where sexism was, in hindsight, laughable in that it wasn’t even subtle.

Classic copywriting had a catchy strapline, with additional text. There’s something quaint about them now. They are effective and I think deserve a comeback. 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.

A funny but effective condom advert
For something more modern… And sometimes no words are needed. Visual, clever and very effective.

20 thoughts on “Copywriting: A Glance In the Rearview

  1. Ever watched Mad Men? There’s a good example of how the business has evolved. Being a copywriter for the past ten years, I often smile thinking how my job is nothing like those 50’s careers. I’m definitely thankful not to live in that sexist era, but I do wish there was still that appreciation of words, instead of what this job has turned into. “Brief! Keep it brief!” “Nobody wants to read…” (RME)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have. I imagine a lot of people entered advertising on the back of it.

      I think that long copy and the simplistic type is due a comeback…but maybe attention spans are so destroyed long copy just wouldn’t work.
      Plus dwindling print readership 😐.

      Thanks for dropping by.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Short attention spans – the virus that’s killing readers πŸ˜”

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah, sadly.

        I’m interested to see how it pans out in a few decades.
        Probably not good?


  2. This post makes me want to be a copywriter.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting history. A pleasure and informative read. Thanks for posting it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d live to dig into the archives and really see what some of the earliest ads looked like from centuries ago, and when ads really took off. Another post perhaps πŸ‘


  4. An interesting insight into the topic. I remember some of the Charles Atlas ads [feeling my age???]

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha. They clearly made their mark because they’re still remembered today.


  5. As a copywriter, I found this very amusing, especially since I actually love finding the origin of words and sayings. This also made me think of Mad Men. Wordings have changed, but the intention hasn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you enjoyed it.
      I’m always fascinated by word origins too and how sayings that have no relevance in todays world have circulated and still abide like ‘an axe to grind’.
      And that’s cool I’m looking to get into copywriting myself in the near future.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Copywriting can be neat if you have an interesting subject. And, some jobs allow a little creativity when you write.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for taking us on this journey. Yes, we like to think of ourselves as “adnostic”, but we’re just kidding ourselves.
    Love the modern ad! πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Most welcome πŸ™‚
      Somewhere in the brain we can’t always quite control, is where we decide on what to buy…mysterious and fascinating..And possibly scary.
      All feeds into the idea of free will too.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The brain is so complex and fascinating.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. To trace the history of something is a fundamental way to understand things. On a personal level, we wonder how we got to where we are. On large scale we study the history of the earth, all 4 and a half billion years of evolution, not to mention the evolution of our cosmos.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very true.
      Although arguably one of humanities gravest mistakes repeatedly is to ignore what’s gone before and fail to learn.


  8. Interesting post 😁

    Liked by 1 person

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