Crackwhores and Call Girls

I am only going to say this once, so pay attention.

Copywriters and social media writers are not the same thing.

One doesn’t really come to appreciate this distinction unless one is an out-of-work copywriter looking for a job in advertising. Obviously, I don’t know any of those people, and if you do, you should throw rocks and rusted cans and old glass at them. Do it. Do it until they cry. Out-of-work copywriters are literally the worst people alive.

But let’s say I knew one, or, God forbid – we’re just pretending, all right, this is a purely hypothetical scenario – I was one. I imagine a typical period of joblessness might go like this:

Me: Well, shit. Really thought I’d make it to five weeks that time. Oh well. Anyone need a writer?
Well-Meaning Friend: Oh! Oh! We do!
Me: O RLY?
WMF: Yeah! We just placed an ad for a Content Strategist!
Me: …oh.
WMF: What?
Me: Nothing, nothing. Tell me some more about the job.
WMF: Well, a Content Strategist collaborates with the marketing and branding team to leverage data mines culled from social media in an effort to facilitate more meaningful customer outreach and retention. AND – this is the best part – you’d be creating original content to evangelize the brand’s potential as a strategic solution that helps meet client goals! ISN’T THAT EXCITING? That’s EXACTLY what you do, right?
Me: I pretty much just arrange threesomes between nouns, adjectives, and verbs.
WMF: But content strategists also have to use words! And you use words! You have so much in common! —what are you doing?
Me: Oh, it’s just the potassium chloride tastes better with bourbon. I call it a “Sweet Release.”

Repeat ad infinitum.

Traditional creative ad agencies – yes, they still exist – will often utilize a mix of copywriters, art designers, and strategists. Writers create the copy of a piece, designers make it shiny, and strategists find ways to promote it/get more work to do. There is a bit of overlap: writers and designers are useless if they create for themselves rather than for their audience; strategists must have the creative vocabulary to understand why a piece, a brand, or a strategy is successful. Typically, however, these are separate but equal roles. I write the commercial, those guys film the commercial, and that chick uses our commercial to find us more commercials to make. What a well-oiled machine.

Thus, the core of a copywriter’s duty lies in coming up with words; any research or collaboration he or she does is in support of this work. As it should be.

Marketing and social media agencies are a different kettle of fish. They’re the kettle of fish where all of the fish are different, but they’re expected to know what each of the other fish do, and must be able to swap jobs with any other fish at any given time. They do a little bit of writing, a little bit of design, a little bit of prestidigitation. Essentially, a social media writer – or a content strategist, or a web content strategist, or an Metabrand Verbalization Ideator, or whatever the hell they’re called – bears a lot of resemblance to what was once thought of as a salesperson: they do not merely create on behalf of a brand, but actively advocate for it as well. They should know the brand. Be the brand. Make sweet, sweet love to the brand.

To put it another way: writers are all whores. But where advertising copywriters are sullen, vulgar streetwalkers who’ll accept drugs in exchange for a handie, social media writers are high-paid escorts who’ll look great on your arm, laugh at your jokes, and cuddle you after anal. Copywriters will do that thing your girlfriend won’t, but we absolutely do not kiss on the mouth. Just give us our meth money and we’ll be on our way.

Ooops! Tina dropped her typewriter! Tee-hee! (That'll be $200, perverts.)

But the crossover between roles that were traditionally distinct – “writer” over here and “salesperson” over there – is increasingly ubiquitous in a world where companies don’t merely sell to customers, they engage with customers. Being articulate, convincing, and relatable are assets to both copywriters and social media strategists. So it follows that if more marketers are expected to behave like writers, writers will be expected to act like marketers.

Except a lot of writers don’t want to be marketers. We do not relish the act of closing a sale. We do not subscribe to the Infographic of the Day. Our degrees are in English, journalism, or Traditional Chinese Theatre, not business administration. In the year 2012, admitting this fact can be the difference between getting a job and borrowing rent money from your parents.

As a result, a lot of very good writers are working miserable jobs in companies to whom they believe they’ve sold their souls – after all, what other choice do they have? By the same token, a lot of sub-par writers – and, let’s be honest, a lot of sub-par thinkers – are entrusted with representing projects, brands, or entire agencies. (But that’s another post.)

I am forced to admit that being “old school” is now the exception more than the rule. Many very talented, driven writers are working fulfilling jobs in social media and/or strategic development (and I can feel their resentful eyes on me and my generalizations). As traditional media and digital media intertwine, I suspect that this will become the standard path for many new college grads seeking careers in advertising. But should we all have to? Is it really so bad to love the craft of writing for its own intrinsic value? Can one legitimately argue that writing only becomes “great,” only becomes “effective,” if it is part of some greater strategy or scheme? What happened to the simple elegance of ethos, logos, and pathos?

It may be that, at the ripe old age of 28, I subscribe to an outdated ideology due for its timely exctinction. Perhaps I should be more adaptable. Perhaps creative writers can only be happy if they’re wildly famous novelists or not-as-famous-but-still-pretty-successful TV sitcom writers, in which case I don’t know why I’m not sitting on huge bags of money right now. But for all my skepticism, I hold out a little hope that there will always be a place for words – just words, and the love of them and all they have the power to do – in advertising.

If so, I will find that job, and I will own the everloving shit out of it.

If not, I’m looking forward to my bright, safe, sterile future behind the glass of a museum display case.



  1. I feel your pain, for it has been my own.

    If you haven’t read or watched “Keep the Aspidistra Flying”, you should. :-)

  2. appleandper says:

    Delighted to have discovered your blog! This piece and many others have struck such a chord… I’ve been crying into my keyboard at my big, sparkly, international brand job for months – two more months of it and then freedom (and probably poverty, but it might just be worth it!)

  3. Wow, you really are a fantastic writer. The words seem to flow effortlessly, it’s a pleasure to read.


  1. […] I was delighted to stumble across The Irritable Vowel this morning via Twitter…what an awesome name! And very clever, if a little crude. In light of how I’ve been feeling for several months about my current job, and for several years about the decisions I’ve made and directions I’ve forced myself in career-wise, I couldn’t have made this discovery at a better time. So far the writing is brilliant, and hits the nail on the head on so many issues facing old-school writers, wordsmiths and believers in the written word. Next time I try to explain to people who look at me like I’ve lost the plot (again) or like I’m out of touch with reality (everyone hates their job, Lee-Anne, we all have to work, it’s just part of life, BLAH BLAH BLAH) when I express some sort of job dissatisfcation, I might just send them directly to this article: Crackwhores and Call Girls […]

  2. […] bad enough that advertisers are already widely thought of as whores. (Please forget that I may have gently alluded to that same analogy at some point in the distant, nebulous past.) We don’t have to ACTUALLY give up the goods on […]

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