What’s the Difference Between “Copy” and “Content”?

When did “content” replace “copy” as the preferred term for information displayed on websites and in social media?

For many years, marketing and advertising writers were always known as copywriters. That’s how I started my career in advertising, as a jr. copywriter. Anyone who watches Mad Men knows about the trials and travails of plucky copywriter Peggy Olson. Copywriters like Peggy sat around in smoke-filled rooms banging out taglines, slogans and other copy on typewriters. Or banging their heads against walls trying to come up with creative brilliance.

A lot has changed since then. Flash forward to today’s oft cited mantra – “Content is King,” originally posited by none other than Bill Gates.  Copy now belongs to golden age of advertising. Long live the new King Content.

Clearly the advent of the internet and the web changed the rules. Online users today have an insatiable appetite for web information, not just copy ( re: words) but images, videos, facts, opinions, etc. Content is a more apt descriptor of infographics, blogs, user reviews, how-to’s, e-books, etc. etc. etc.

With so much content available via so many channels competing for eyeballs, users have become more discriminating and more demanding in terms of how they search, how they surf, how they shop, and to whom they give their precious brand loyalty. And what they expect from the content they consume.

The different purposes of copy versus content reflect this trend. According to freelancer Jennifer Mattern
“Content is designed to inform, educate, or entertain in most cases. For example, a how-to article is content. Copy, on the other hand, is generally designed to persuade or entice the reader to action. It informs to a point, but the primary goal is not help or education.”

In the fictional 60’s, Peggy Olson wrote  this ad copy -“Heinz. The Only Ketchup.” That’s it. As a consumer of this message, you had to connect the dots yourself, and decide whether that was enough to make you buy.
Today, that overt approach might not be convincing enough. Some degree of foreplay is required to entice more discriminating customers. How about content extolling fabulous recipes that use ketchup as an ingredient? ( Not sure there are recipes that actually use ketchup as an ingredient, but you get the idea.) Product information is not front and center. In other words, you need to give up something, ( information) to get something in return ( a potential customer or reference).

That’s why social media content has become such a potent force in marketing.  It can engage people.  It can tell a story.  When it’s done well, prospects and customers want to come back for more stories.  They may not be looking to buy—just yet, but they are learning to trust your brand.

So my advice for marketers.  Be patient and cultivate your prospects over time with a steady diet of useful content. Your customers will buy on their own timelines, not yours.

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