I have traveled and lived in several places in the U.S. over the last year. In talking to the various people I've met, they've invariably asked what kind of work I did for a living.

"I'm a copywriter," I told them. 

Their responses ranged from a furrowed-browed nod to a change of subject.

Many people have no idea what "copywriting" or "copy" is or what a copywriter does.

Here is a short, easy-to-remember definition: A copywriter writes with the intent of getting the reader to act. No, I don't mean getting them to do community theater or pack up and move to Hollywood. By "act" I mean to "take an action."

If you've ever been looking around online and decided to give your email address to some website in exchange for a free e-book, newsletter subscription  or similar item, you've experienced copywriting. If you've ever ordered something on TV after watching an infomercial or QVC, you've experienced it.

"Okay, but that doesn't explain what 'copy' is," you're saying right now.

Definition of "Copy"


"Copy" is another word for "text," particularly text that is used to sell something (or get a person to take an action which may lead to a sale). It is not something that the writer "copied" from somewhere else, but something he/she wrote which is to be copied--printed in a magazine or newspaper or used in a TV/radio commercial, which gets broadcasted over and over.

The terms "copy," "copywriter" and "copywriting," traditionally relate to advertising, marketing and promotion but these terms sometimes get applied to other kinds of writing and writers. For instance, news writers and editors deal with their own kind of "copy."

Copywriters (the capable ones, that is) are trained in a specific and somewhat complex technology that they use to produce writing that engages the reader. It holds and increases their interest because it appeals to some fundamental desire or need for a solution to a problem. Ultimately, if it's written well, it gets them to take action.

To some this may seem sneaky or unethical but there's this one fact: people's desires and needs for solutions to their problems existed long before there were copywriters or the field of marketing. The only thing that marketing does is channel that existing desire or need in the direction of a particular product or service.

A copywriter writes with the intent of getting the reader to take action.
Take for instance the "mid-life crisis." For some men who've reach their forties or fifties, an insecurity may have set in about their looks, physical condition or ability with the opposite sex. They may long to recapture some of their youthful vitality. This phenomenon exists. You've observed it. And it's this phenomenon--not the copy--that enables companies to sell convertible sports cars, hair replacement surgery and Viagra. If one company doesn't make the sale, another will. And truly, all other things being equal, the winner will be the company with the most effective copy. 

Who Uses Copywriters? 


You might be surprised by the number and variety of businesses that use copywriters:
  • companies that advertise by mail (banks, book publishers, credit card companies, insurance companies, etc.)
  • companies that advertise via infomercials (fitness equipment, greatest hits music collections, etc.)
  • companies that sell online (too many to list), by way of landing pages, sales pages, long-form video sales letters, pay-per-click ads, etc.
  • non-profit organizations, who use copywriters to help in their fundraising efforts

(Though regular TV or radio commercials may be written by copywriters, much of that kind of this kind of advertising, which is usually short and clever or cute [and sometimes, confusing], doesn't follow the tenets of actual copywriting.)

Copywriters can also use this writing technology to help companies and individuals define who they are, how they are unique or what they do best, so as to differentiate themselves from their competition. This action is a part of what is broadly known as "branding." 


The Copywriter and the Brand

Branding is not entirely a matter of copywriting but of building an image and emphasizing a particular and desirable value, skill or strength. You've seen and felt it with with many companies. Some that come to mind are Chevrolet (long-lasting, "Like a rock"), Apple Computers (innovation, "Think Different") and Netflix (selection and convenience). 

Once the brand "message" is established, copywriters may write copy that conforms to the brand, to be used on everything from business cards to websites to television. 

And that, friends, is what copywriting is.

If you have questions about your current copy, need a review, or have a future copy project you'd like help in planning, call me at 323-646-2469 or
email me.