Creative Corner: Copy v. “Content”

by Andy Edelstein on December 30, 2013

Edelstein, AndyThis may be hard to believe, but before there was an Internet, there was no such thing as “content.” Not the way we mean it now.

Back then, the text that formed the basis of an article or an ad or any sort of marketing piece was called “copy.” It was written by people called “copywriters.” As a long-standing member of that semi-honorable profession, I now find myself bristling at what I feel is the relegation of copy in favor of this upstart term, content.

I know, it’s just a word. I’m probably overreacting. I should get over it.

But please consider: Words carry power — it’s one of the reasons I do what I do. And the power that the word “content” has garnered for itself in recent years undermines, to a significant extent, what I — and my fellow copywriters — do.

To us, content has come to mean something like “the text placed into a web page (or other material) as a required complement to the design.” Often enough, a certain reluctance is implied. When people (almost always non-writers) use the word, it’s often with an undertone of distaste, as if this copy is a necessary evil that serves only to interrupt the elegance of the design.

Words, in other words, have become the supporting cast. Design is the star.

Needless to say, I take issue. We are, after all, working for law firms. What we’re selling is legal work. If we were selling Gucci or Maserati or Calvin Klein, I would happily concede that design should be driving the bus.

But when we sell “Esoteric Securitization” or “Chapter 11 Debtor Representation” or “Employee Benefits Litigation,” where is the dazzling imagery? Where is the elegant visual? Designers, I assure you, do not approach these subjects with enthusiasm. So why should the words have to ride in the back?

Lawyers are word people. Words are their tool, their product, and often enough, their weapon. The same can be said of their main customers: general counsel. To relegate the words to mere content is to say “Yes, we know ‘securities litigation’ is boring, but our marketing people think we need this verbiage on our website, so please feel free to ignore it while admiring our deft use of bold colors to showcase stock photography of gavels and doric columns and courthouse steps.”

The fallacy here is that, as marketers, it is absolutely wrong to concede that securities litigation is boring. To the target audience — actual consumers of securities litigation — it is anything but. If the copy, therefore, is not compelling, persuasive, and provocative, then new copy is clearly called for. Copy, not content.

As I’ve said before in these pages, law firm marketers don’t pay nearly as much attention to writing as they do to design. As such, they do themselves and their firms a disservice. Admittedly, the rise of the word “content” is a symptom, not the disease. But sometimes addressing the symptom can be a big step toward curing the disease.

Andy Edelstein is a copywriter specializing in law firm advertising and marketing communications. Reach him at andrew.edelstein@verizon.net.

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