In general, I despise the Chicken-licken approach to progress. The insistence that the latest piece of popular technology means curtains for morality, journalism, God, society, TV, music, or whichever pursuit you have a vested interest in preserving in its current form, is an age-old instinct of human nature which never fails to be both boring and inaccurate. A few thousand years ago, Socrates was fretting that the newfangled vogue for writing would destroy our memories, and just look at Derren Brown. Of course, technology alters our behaviour, but human beings are resilient creatures, and we have repeatedly proven that we are capable of combining old and new practices in exciting and profitable ways.
That said, I have to admit that there is plenty of evidence suggesting that copy has taken a dive since blogs, forums and social networks redefined the way brands express themselves online. The imperative to be authentic, accessible and human – and to do it in real time – all too often translates into a woeful mash-up of teen speak, sloppy grammar and Americanised marketing jargon, all heavily laced with a chronic over-use of exclamation marks.
Awww! The @AcmeWines community is super-happy to welcome Prince Goerge to the world! Why not have a glass of our delish special-offer vino to celebrate!!! #withlovefromtheintern
Then there's the undeniable fact that the internet loves pictures more than words. Visual platforms such as Pinterest, Instagram and Vine have grown their user bases with unprecedented speed and scale. According to researchers Simply Measured, Pinterest users follow more brands than Facebook or Twitter users, and its posts refer more traffic to corporate sites than Twitter, StumbleUpon, LinkedIn and Google+. Photo and video content drives the most engagement for the top 10 brand pages on Facebook; videos are shared 12 times more often, and photos are shared twice as frequently, as text updates and links combined.
Nevertheless, until this summer, I remained a strong advocate of the belief that social media encourages as much copywriting gold as it unearths dross. The best copywriters can adapt to any medium, and brands such as Innocent, Sharpie, Marc Jacobs, Whole Foods and Intel prove that, when tailored precisely to its audience, social media copywriting can be a fine and effective art.
Then along came Apple. Twitter exploded with excitement at the news that the king of innovation had resurrected good old long copy for its latest marketing campaign. It was widely acknowledged to be a genius move; social media loves nothing more than marketing which subverts social media. Deployed in print and, in a modified form, in a short TV ad/online film, the result of Apple's association with TBWA\Media Arts Lab was eagerly anticipated.
Until we read it. I'm not about to reproduce the flaccid, vacuous nonsense here; refer to Google, armed with a stiff drink. Suffice to say, it is not a subversion of social media, but an adoption of its worst copywriting traits. Equal parts grandiose and anodyne, it reads like a high school poem written by a Pinterest addict who has just been dumped. Nick Asbury summarised it perfectly in his critique for Creative Review: "I was hoping to welcome the return of long copy on seeing this new campaign, but it turns out to be a hollow and lifeless return. Like watching a hologram of David Ogilvy. This is long copy drained of all the things that make long copy worth doing. Static and soulless and empty. The written equivalent of a mood board."
Historically, short, impactful slogans and straplines have worked advertising magic. 'Go to work on an egg' from the UK Marketing Board in the 1950s. 'No' (still the most effective form of birth control) from the Health Education Council a decade later. Labour isn't working. Keep calm and carry on. Just do it. Got milk? Social media is the ideal home for this sort of clever, disruptive word-nuggetry; but it has served us such a rich daily diet of aphorisms – usually wrapped up in cute typography or an aspirational image – that we are in danger of developing soundbite diabetes.
Cynical and over-saturated with empty copy sugar-highs, consumers have never been more receptive to substance. This could indeed be a golden age for long copy, but it needs to be done better than ever before. Apple has pointed the way but, for once, not delivered. Is anyone brave enough to grasp the baton?