• Dean Turney
    Hi. I'm Dean Turney, a freelance copywriter based in London. Have a look at my work, or read a bit about me. Or if you’d like to discuss your project, please get in touch. Call +44(0)7754 537 428. Or send me your details here and I’ll get back to you.
  • The word content seems to cause a lot of discontent. The term is so general that many people can’t agree on what it means. It’s become a catch-all for the “stuff” that fills the web. As a result, its usage leads to misunderstandings between copywriters and clients. The other day a client asked me if I could write some content for her new website. Having said yes, I then discovered that what she actually wanted is something I call copywriting.

    Strictly speaking, I define copy as a certain type of writing that persuades you to buy something, or do something (for example, a public service announcement or political ad). Essentially, copywriting is advertising. It might be lots of words, as you’d find on a website, or a brand idea with just a few words, such as a commercial.

    What about journalists though? Don’t they call the text of their story “copy”? Yes, but unless it’s a PR piece disguised as news, their copy is simply a report. It isn’t intended to make you do anything, unlike copywriting.

    As for content writing, in its purest form it’s like journalism or feature writing. I knew an ex-magazine features writer who’d become an online content writer. In her new role she wrote informative “how to” home improvement videos and articles for IKEA.

    Facebook, Twitter, YouTube videos and other social media are almost always content, as opposed to copy that sells. Of course, social posts are often interspersed with copywriting in the form of “suggested posts”, promoted tweets, and other ads.

    YouTube is a good place to see the difference between copywriting and content – and also where the two sometimes overlap. At the top of the home page, there’s usually a banner ad (copywriting). And when you select a video (content), you usually have to watch at least the first few seconds of a commercial (copywriting). Included amongst all the videos, though, are entertaining ads that people choose to watch (copywriting has become content).

    Then, to confuse matters more, there’s branded content – The Lego Movie, for example – which entertains and sells at the same time.

    You’ll find combinations of copywriting and content writing on many different websites. The main sections on such  sites are designed to inform, to a certain extent, but mainly to persuade you to take action. Meanwhile, blog posts – like the one you’re reading – are content, meant just to inform or entertain you, not sell you anything.

    A good copywriter should be able to write at least some types of content – blog posts, for example. But without copywriting training and experience, a content writer is unlikely to come up with good brand ideas and strong selling copy.

    As Aldous Huxley once said:

    “It is far easier to write ten passable effective sonnets [a type of content], good enough to take in the not too   inquiring critic, than one effective advertisement [copywriting] that will take in a few thousand of the uncritical buying public.”

    Perversely, a few words of hard-hitting copy – a great endline or slogan, for example – might cost you more than a thousand words of content. Why? Because it often takes a copywriter many hours of writing average lines before he or she produces a great one.

    Do you have any questions about copywriting or content writing? Or an opinion about anything I’ve said? Feel free to comment below.






    Now that’s how to sell

    September 20, 2017

    Want to watch an entertaining video? It’s an infomercial for Chatbooks. I had nothing to do with it; US agency Harmon Brothers made the ad. They claim it’s had 75 million views and 467,000 shares. The version I saw on YouTube had only 16 million views. Even so, that’s a figure you’d expect of a music clip or a hilarious kitten video, not an ad. And, as YouTube content, it’s free advertising.

    There are lots of boring ads around that you wouldn’t want to sit through, let alone share. So what makes this one, long at almost four minutes, so compelling?

    The script is clever. The presenter draws you in by gaining your empathy. Any parent can relate to her situation. The advertiser then starts selling to you like crazy, connecting the different product points with a string of gags. The ad starts funny and stays that way pretty well to the end.

    Now compare that with the average TV commercial or practically any pre-roll YouTube ad. We don’t choose to watch those. We’re forced to view them, at least the first few seconds, until we turn away from the TV or press the skip button.

    The makers of those ads forget we all watch to be informed or entertained. What marketers have to say about their products isn’t of interest to most of us. It could be though. By engaging our emotions with humour or drama – entertaining us, that is – they might just get us to stick around for what they really want us to see and hear. With wit and charm (the honey that helps the medicine, or selling proposition, go down) they could turn what would otherwise be an annoying, interruptive ad into something we’d gladly watch – like Chatbooks’ spiel. And while we may not be their target audience when we watch their ad, we might well be potential customers tomorrow. So it makes sense to attract as many viewers as possible with entertaining content.

    The Chatbooks ad probably wasn’t cheap to produce. With free media (YouTube) though, those 16 million potential customers were pretty cheap to reach. It reminds me of a quote from a famous American adman, back in 2010:

    “Marketing in the future is like sex. Only the losers will have to pay for it.”

    That future is now. And there are lots of losers with their boring ads in paid-for media. And there are also winners, or at least those who are losing less, with ads like this:

    Chatbooks infomercial by Harmon Brothers


    When you’re trying to solve a problem, do you just work on it flat out, come up with a solution, then move on to your next challenge?

    Probably not if you’ve got time. If you’re not under pressure to crack it, you’ll think about it a bit. Then put it to one side while you work on something else. Then come back to it later.

    Why? Because you know that, given more time, you’re more likely to come up with a better solution.

    It’s the same with creative work, whether that’s producing concepts for an integrated marketing campaign, or just writing copy. Whoever you give your brief to, the more time you allow them, the more chances they’ll have to create a brilliant solution. That’s been my experience either when creating my own work or watching others create theirs.

    But giving your creative people more time means greater cost to you, doesn’t it? Not necessarily. It just means planning ahead.

    Here’s what’s currently happening

    Cash-strapped marketers and agencies are briefing creatives at the last moment to produce work quickly. So they book us for a set amount of time – two weeks, for example. The work begins almost immediately. And the days worked are almost always consecutive.

    Here’s what would be better

    Book your creatives for the same amount of time, or same project rate, but spread the booked time over a month. Let them work on your project in bits, between their other jobs, and you’ll see better results. It’s during the breaks from your assignment – the time you’re not paying for – that the magic happens. After your brief has been knocking around in the depths of their subconscious minds, your creatives will come up with some of their best ideas. And when your copywriter revisits your copy-in-progress after time away working on something else, they’ll be more likely to improve it. They’ll create a more striking tone of voice, a stronger headline, or a more effective way to describe your product.

    I saw it work like that last summer. A beer client, Lee, asked my creative partner and me to come up with more ads for an existing campaign. We agreed to spend three days working on the project and give him at least three ads for a set fee. Lee also agreed to let us spread the work over one month. During that time, we came up with many good concepts. In the end, one particular concept stood out as the best – the very last one we came up with, after almost 30 days.

    Clearly, if you plan projects to give your creative people flexibility with deadlines, you’ll get stronger work at no extra cost.


    Is your brand story this good?

    January 26, 2016

    Isn’t there a lot of talk about storytelling these days? Marketing gurus stress its importance. Apparently, 80% of UK adults want brands to tell stories as part of their marketing. There are now annual surveys of the Best Storytelling Brands. And a recent forecast on Campaign Live, The Year Ahead in Creativity, predicted that, once […]

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    Less is more?

    July 20, 2015

    When copywriters write headlines, endlines and slogans, we normally try to keep them brief. Our thinking is that short lines are more likely to grab the reader’s attention than long ones. And like a small snack, short copy is easier to digest than a mouthful of words. Short is simple. Less is more. That’s why […]

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    Why Maths Men need Mad Men

    May 25, 2015

    Data and technology help you reach your audience. But are they enough to convert them? Google knows you’re reading this. Amazon is about to recommend the boxed set of Mad Men, the final season, to you. And Facebook has decided the name of the child you’re having next year (just kidding on that one). Isn’t […]

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    How to avoid a £9 million copy mistake

    February 14, 2015

    What is the letter s worth? About £9 million according to recent news. That’s how much Companies House has to pay out to settle a law suit. Apparently the government agency mistook Taylor and Sons, a previously financially-sound, 124-year-old Cardiff company, for Taylor and Son, a firm that ceased to trade six years ago. The […]

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    How well do you know your audience?

    January 18, 2015

    As good marketers and their agencies know, there are two essential bits of information copywriters need before starting work: 1.        A description of the people we’re selling to (your audience or market) 2.        What needs to be said to those people (your proposition) Pretty basic, you say? Well you’d be surprised by a lot of […]

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    Why can’t B2B be more like B2C?

    January 28, 2014

    Think of a consumer ad campaign, current or past, that you like or maybe even love. Easy, isn’t it? Now think of a business-to-business one you have similar positive feelings about. That’s harder, wouldn’t you say? Apart from IBM campaigns over the years, there are few b2b brands that have made an impression on me. […]

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    How to give your direct mail piece a fighting chance

    September 2, 2013

    There’s so much talk about digital these days, you might think traditional (paper) direct mail just crawled away into a corner and died. But, like radio after TV came along, paper DM is still here. If my letterbox and workload are anything to go by, there’s still plenty of DM landing on Britain’s doormats. I […]

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