Why writing is branding’s secret weapon

The branding world has taken its time to abandon its trusty lorem ipsum in favour of embracing copywriting. But, says Ragged Edge’s Max Ottignon, it’s still figuring out what advertising learned 60 years ago

Contrast ad agencies with branding agencies. In comparison to advertising’s swagger, the branding world has a history of playing small. A quieter, less confident cousin.

That’s in part because the ideas that emerge from the branding world are arguably more limited in scope. Whereas advertising has primarily dealt in big, universal ideas, flashily expressed at scale, the branding world has tended to deal in design ideas. A sweet idea for a logo. A communicative graphic system. Expressive motion design.

That’s reflected in the role of writers. Ever since Bill Bernbach paired up writers with art directors in the 1960s, copy has played a major role in advertising. But in branding, very few agencies employ writers. Even in the bigger network-owned branding agencies, it’s unusual to find more than one or two writers amongst a sea of designers.

And so writing tends to take a back seat, often starting off as lorem ipsum in a layout. Where dedicated writers are brought in, it’s usually at the end. “Write me a headline for this visual”, or “Can you give me two paragraphs of copy to slot in here?”