How Copywriting Has Changed Since the Mad Men Days

While Mad Men ended almost two years ago, the lessons we learned from Don Draper in advertising, copywriting and life still resound deeply with those in the marketing industry. The show reignited an interest in content marketing while also providing a historical backdrop against which to compare the current state of copywriting.

In the 1950s and ’60s, a copywriting career was built on an educational background plus writing experience for various publications or creative agencies. In the present day, a copywriting career can be built online with specialized knowledge of niche markets and informal, search-engine-optimized content.

Things have certainly changed since the days of the Mad Men, but how deeply has that change been felt by copywriters looking to succeed and advance in today’s rapidly changing industry?

Advertising Budgets Shift Towards Digital

To understand the changes in copywriting it is first important to understand how the marketing industry has allocated money to various different outlets over the years.

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A marketing budget in 1949 looked very different than that of today. In 1949, TV spending was $12.3 million and within two years it had grown to $128 million. The domination of TV, Print, and Radio in advertising budgets prevailed until as recently as fifteen years ago. Consumers could be found watching television and listening to their radio. In 2000, agencies spent only about 3% of their marketing budget on digital.

Fast forward to 2016, where the average advertising agency was expected to allocate 30% of their marketing budget to online. This rate is expected to grow to 35% by 2019. As well, search engine marketing is set to hold the largest portion of spending with online display (banner ads, online video, etc.) taking the second largest portion.

Niche Marketing

As information becomes easier to access, consumers expect to be able to find exactly what they are looking for and fast. Copywriters can no longer produce broad, general content and have had to mold to the trend of niche marketing.

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Don Draper believed in this, which was in line with the 1950s marketing practices of not just knowing your audience, but understanding people. In Season 1 he taught us to, “Target the buyer, not the user.” However, the 1950s and 60s copywriters saw very little, if any, of the niche marketing copywriters see today.

A copywriter who specializes in medical billing will have an easier time connecting with the unique needs of today’s picky customers than a copywriter who only writes on broad medical subjects. What this means is that companies have begun to hire, or contract, writers who specialize in specific, niche markets that cater to the needs of their target market.

Copywriters Become Experts

It is important to show consumers that you are an expert in your field, so posting information-rich but visually compact articles on your website is a great way to get your company name and brand out into the world wide web.

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Therefore, in today’s copywriting world, it is the writer’s job to not only craft detailed, specific information but to understand how a target market thinks, what they want, and how to create copy aimed directly at them.

However, what Mad Men marketing did not take into account was the various forms of media that would begin to emerge around the year 2000, forcing copywriters to alter their writing style to fit not only their target audience on their target platform but also to please internet algorithms.

SEO Means More Calculated, Informal Content

This rapid shift in advertising from traditional to alternative, online media means copywriting has had to adjust to the times. Connecting with readers in the digital world has increased the popularity of more informal, conversational content that is more calculated to fit within SEO algorithms.

Advertisers and writers are no longer writing just to please the consumers, but the online systems that are ranking their content as well. Copywriters in the Mad Men days, while diverse, did not have to take into account as many different platforms as writers of today. Courses and training in copywriting involve learning how to write for various different outlets.

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Because there are so many outlets for media in present day marketing, copywriters have been taught or had to learn, how to cultivate content for various different platforms. This not only means learning how to write informally but learning how to craft content that fits specifically within the way in which the consumer is receiving the information (i.e. video, blogs, Facebook, Twitter).

What Does the Future Look Like?

Copywriting has taken on a new meaning in the content and digital marketing era, which has been revolutionized by the Internet as search engine optimization and social networks have created a rapidly changing atmosphere in which the world communicates.

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In today’s market, a truly efficient copywriter has to know how to properly tag a Twitter post as well as a blog post. They have to understand how to write a piece informally while still including detailed, niche-specific information that will attract a reader in ten seconds or less.

The future of copywriting continues to head more towards digital, interactive content and alternative media. A successful copywriter will need to be a well-rounded modern day marketer that understands how to write creative, compact copy and combine it with content marketing.

However, the main themes of copywriting seem to hold strong just as they were in the Mad Men days of marketing. In the wise words of Don Draper, “You don’t have to be different. You just have to be the one to turn a shared feature into a differentiator.”