Copy On The Ropes

“The real fact of the matter is that nobody reads ads. People read what interest them, and sometimes it’s an ad.” -Howard Gossage
Axmith McIntyre Wicht copywriter and creative director, Brian Howlett, penned a piece for the July issue of Communication Arts that argues copy is dead.

The war, you see, is long past lost. The alphabet is stone cold—copywriting is dead. People don’t read. Not your art director. Not your account director. Not your brother. Not even your client.
Sure, today’s print ads may still have body copy. But unless you’re working in Singapore or maybe Mumbai, it’s simply something that fills up that unsightly gap between the headline and the logo, often not even presented until after the campaign is approved and shot.

I see Howlett’s point but I’m not ready to shovel dirt on copy’s grave. Far from it. Do I recognize that advertising is a visual medium? Of course. I’m just not willing to concede the importance of copy. Brands still have to tell a story and picturebooks don’t always do the trick.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Can we just go ahead and make the annual Copy Is Dead day a national holiday so that we all get a day off from work at least?
    Yawn. Here we go again. Seems this “point” is raised at least once a year by some trade journal writer in search of a topic. And has been for the last, oh, 10 to 15 years at least.
    Funny how they always use a bunch of copy to make the point that copy is dead.
    In summary, then:
    Hogwash. Yawn. SFX: RASPBERRY
    P.S. It’s not just writing that Joe Public could care less about. People discard the visual results of multi-million dollar TV shoots and transcontinental photo shoots with equal ease. All self-congratulatory Golden Penis awards aside, we make ads, folks. If you want people to love you for what you do for a living, become a Firefighter or something.

  2. If he was right, nobody would read his article in Communication arts. Copy is not dead, it just doesn’t exist in the same old boring format so many people have come to expect of how ‘long copy’ is supposed to look. Long copy isn’t dead. Long, boring copy (circa 1989) is.
    He id also referring to the visual work he probably sees in annuals and shows (copied by juniors and students) – the majority of which is fake anyway. When real ads are made, some good old fashioned words are usually needed.

  3. And your point is? says:

    I am a copywriter and I like great copy as much as the next guy, but I think it’s myopic to only focus on creative copy (or lack thereof)
    What’s most important is that the overall ad is compelling and makes the brand more attractive. As long as you accomplish that, it doesn’t matter if it’s done with great concepts, visuals, words, or a combination thereof.

  4. what an odd, sad view coming from a copywriter. the best ADs and CDs understand the importance of good copy and talented copywriters, whether the writer’s contribution is a 100-word ad or a great idea that can be expressed completely visually. my clients certainly read the living shit out of every word i write, and i enjoy challenging them to think beyond the “be sure to make these seven points” mandate. i don’t think i’m alone.

  5. David, either you’re trying to prove a point (nobody reads copy, including CA articles), or you missed the point.
    Howlett was being sarcastic in the blurb posted above. And in several other phrases sprinkled throughout the article.
    Please read the entire piece. It’s good. And depressing. And hopeful. All at once. (See how I use sentence fragments because I’m an old fuck?)

  6. I did read the piece, Bob. Every word. I promise. That doesn’t mean I get it though. I am human, you know.

  7. Yeah, but you’re a very intelligent human. Unlike art directors. 🙂