History of Copywriting: A Detailed Timeline

a detaild timeline of the history of copywriting

Let’s reveal beneficial strategies from the history of copywriting

People who market their business on online platforms must use copywriting. Marketers are going online whether they want to build an image of their brand or sell a new product. Yet, have you ever wondered about the history of copywriting?

It has changed from time to time in many ways, and some others remain the same. Copywriting aims to promote a product or service since it first existed. Meanwhile, the media to share it has evolved from flyers to ads in the search engines. Before traveling back in time, let’s derive the core meaning of copywriting.

Why is copywriting called copywriting?

The term copywriting appeared in the nineteenth century when modern journalism exploded. It is an act of writing a text to market and advertise a product, business, person, or idea.

The word “copy” indeed can refer to several meanings. Yet, the copywriting here is not an act to reduplicate the material. It emphasizes a material that has a purpose to be copied and reproduced. Here is the detailed timeline of the history of copywriting.

1477: Selling a prayer book

The journey of copywriting began long ago since Babylonian times in 1477. Although the term had not been found, the idea of copywriting had appeared. At that time, the copy was used to promote the sale of a prayer book and was the first print of an English advertisement.

1870: The first copywriter

John Emory Powers is the person considered as the first professional copywriter. He worked as an official independent copywriter meaning that it was his full-time job, rather than working for a newspaper. He used a straight-talking style and truth-telling narrative. Powers also limited to only three-word headlines and most of 100 words for the body copy.

The examples of his direct honesty are “They’re not as good as they look, but they’re good enough” and “We have a lot of rotten gossamers and things we want to get rid of.” With his copy, Powers could sell the stock within hours. But, he caused anger to his employers, one of them was John Wanamaker. Thus, he let Powers become a freelancer and work for other companies like Vacuum Oil, Beecham Pills, and Murphy Varnish.

Power left invaluable copywriting techniques that have been used until now. Those are free trials, easy payment promotion, and storytelling, or play.

The 1920s – 1960s: Psychology and market research

The idea of combining market research and psychology hit its peak in the 1960s. Yet, it had been around since the 1920s. The pioneer of this concept was Claude C. Hopkins. It is because he published a book titled Scientific Advertising. He believed that advertising must be measured and researched by the results.

Hopkins always intensified the reason why copywriters choose to write that particular copy. In this case, they should have studied the market and product first before deciding words in the copy.

He also tracked the outcomes of his advertising, tested the headlines, and compared one after another. The process of analysis included ad results, market responses, and cost-effectiveness.

In the middle of the 1960s, advertising was booming. It happened after David Ogilvy appeared with his book Confessions of an Advertising Man. He said that copywriters belonged to creative thinkers and Bill Bernbach also encouraged this argument. He combined art and copywriting as the “creative team” in 1960. Bernbach was the one in charge of the Volkswagen ad campaign Think Small. This ad was considered as lifetime success and revolutionary.

The 1970s: Copywriting for TV

At that time, people began to be exposed by 500 to 1,600 ads a day. Compared to 2020, a person encounters around 6,000 to 10,000 ads per day. At the beginning of the 1970s, there were few improvements in copywriting because the economy was slowing down. Yet, it ranked high at the end of the decade.

The program on TV was in color, so it became the popular medium to deliver advertisements. As computers became more familiar, agencies were also aware of the market. They could analyze detailed insights. Those were audiences such as demographics, consumer behavior, and brand positioning.

The copywriting focussed on the straightforward message with a more emotional approach. The popular method was the subliminal messaging. It is an advertising method that influences your conscious and subconscious mind. By doing that, many ads gained a lot of criticism and people started to be skeptical of advertising.

1999 – 2005: Web copywriting began

In 1999, the internet became the major platform for marketing products and services. According to AdAge, the internet copywriting headed toward 3 billion USD as an industry with support from Procter & Gamble. But, during these years, people did not care about the quality of the content. They duplicated and entered many keywords as much as they could to rank well.

Then, in 2003, Google changed the algorithm and launched SEO law. It lower down websites with keyword stuffing and spammy content. The rankings dropped drastically and SEO experts became on-demand.

Copywriting in recent years

Today’s copywriters do not only care about how to make a copy, but also the knowledge of SEO practices and website. Those copywriters have to meet good SEO rankings, but they have to maintain the copy readable. Moreover, they have abundant options for the platform. It ranges from a website along to a caption on social media and product description.

The words in web copywriting become more personal and conversational. Jakob Nielsen said that people only read 20 percent of the text. Yet, 24,7 percent of readers actually read article full article when it is written in a conversational tone. And, readers stay longer when they read the conversational version of a text. After looking at the history of copywriting since centuries ago, you may notice one thing. The media and generations can change. But, some timeless methods of copywriting remain the same. They are powerful storytelling, emotional-driven persuasion, uniqueness, and audience focussed.