Copywriting: Selling

[March 23, 2010]

In the last few years, a new copywriting sensibility has started to emerge. Despite the twists, turns and inconsistencies of this trend, it does have a common thread: An attempt to emulate the spontaneity, vitality and apparent honesty of user-generated content.

So far, this call for “authentic selling” has had few echoes outside the conference room. Cosmetic changes notwithstanding, the average Web presence still addresses its audience in a tone not too far removed from the used car lot. Whether this has more to do with strictures from the client side, or an addiction to bad habits, is still open to debate.

Meanwhile, the only real change in digital space is the inclusion of content from supposedly authentic sources—including bloggers making paid endorsements or consumers posting showy, flamboyant comments no more reflective of reality than the goings on at Survivor, Jersey Shore, Real Housewives or, for that matter, the WWE. Yes, there are important exceptions, but we can’t be so naïve as to ignore the recent “fakening” of reality in American culture—and assert that amateur writers are necessarily more authentic than professional ones.

So, OK, let your Web presence become a conduit for the voice of the public, whoever they are. Done right, you’ll earn repeat visits and acceptance as a brand open to consumer input.

You will, however, still have to sell your product.

Real, specific, local.
What should selling look like in the Web 2.0 century? Any attempt to sum it up neatly in a new paradigm would only repeat the mistakes of the past. There are, after all, 1001 product categories being pitched every day to 1001 audience segments. Very few “rules” apply equally well to selling toasters as to selling, say, healthcare reform.

For that very reason, we might be on safe ground if we agreed to define authentic selling in terms of how well it captures the specific, real concerns of a specific, real audience. While a broad-stroke national campaign might still be an effective way to map out the terms of the discussion, talking to consumers online would need to have a more local flavor.

One nation, obsolete.
If this sounds impractical, it might be essential nevertheless. As members of America’s major political parties have recently discovered, people in Texas, Maine and California (North or South?) are now as different in their attitudes as those in Alaska, Ohio and Florida (North or South?). More and more, the idea of the U.S. as “one nation,” from a cultural or ideological standpoint, is becoming obsolete.

So perhaps digital copy should vary by cultural geography, with key sections of each Web site, for example, swapped out by region. At a bare minimum, copywriting for this era needs to be global in a less generic way—evoking shared human experience in more depth and detail.

In that sense, sharing itself, the very thing we ask consumers to do, might be the most apt foundation for a re-imagined process of branded communication. Instead of pushing buttons, establish an appealing persona for the brand, share an honest appraisal of the product, provide an access number and say goodbye. Could it work? Ask yourself that the next time someone enticing scribbles their IM address on the back of your business card and walks away.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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