K is for copywriter

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I wasn’t going to write about the Koningslied, I really wasn’t. But apart from making me want to stab myself in the ear with a rusty screwdriver, it also made me think about something in our industry that’s been bothering me more and more lately. Before I go on, let me give the international readers a bit of context: the Koningslied – or King’s Song – is the official song composed for the upcoming investiture of King Willem Alexander. It was released last week and to say it was badly received would be like saying Muammar Gaddafi wasn’t very popular anymore at the end of his rule.

This isn’t the podium to comment on the song’s musical qualities or excruciating lack thereof, but I will seize this opportunity to make a case for something close to my heart. Something that’s being increasingly neglected in our business, and that is linguistic proficiency. The King’s Song is riddled with grammatical errors. The kind my five-year-old nephew stopped making three years ago. This is outrageous by any standard, but particularly because the song has been sanctioned by the official National Investiture Committee. That means hundreds of fancy officials have read the lyrics and found nothing wrong with them. Sadly, a similar thing is happening in the advertising industry. Fewer and fewer people seem to know how to put an idea or a story down in words without heartbreaking spelling and grammar mistakes. The art of the written word has somehow been reduced to something Spell Check was invented for – even by copywriters. I’ve come across copywriter creative directors in my time who rake in a small fortune each month for coming up with funny ideas, but who couldn’t produce a grammatically sound sentence to save their lives. ‘Isn’t that what account managers are for?’ It’s not. They’re there to put the copy into the agency template, but that’s not important right now.

What is important, is the fact that writing – and by writing I mean proper long copy writing – is a dying craft. These days, too often the copywriter in a creative team is just the one who’s not as good at Photoshop and InDesign as the other guy. But just because you’re a bad designer, doesn’t mean you’re a good writer. In an industry where content is the undisputed king, you simply cannot afford to call yourself a writer and then not know how to spell it. Just like the composers of the King’s Song cannot claim to be musicians and then produce the worst piece of music since Jenny from the Block.

I guess the point of this rant is that if you’ve got the title on your card, make sure you have the skills to back it up. Read, write, and then read and write some more. It’s a great place to start to make sure your work never unintentionally ends up on a t-shirt.

PS I checked, double-checked and then checked this column again for grammar mistakes. I hope to God there aren’t any in there.

* Written for Amsterdamadblog.com

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