In Search of Meaning

I’m always getting into arguments with art directors. Since I’m the only copywriter, I’m forced to defend myself against a pack of designers. We’re like the Hatfields and McCoys. The Capulets and Montagues. We do battle daily.

“Content is king!” I say, believing that the power of the written word is far stronger than that of a color palette or picture choice. The designers fight back with their old faithful: “Nobody reads on the web.”

Back and forth it goes, like a tennis match or a Senate debate. And after all this time, and all these arguments, and all this mutual harassment, I’ve come to a decision: I was wrong. Content isn’t king. People don’t come to a web site for the copy. Damn…

But before all the art directors and designers delight in this concession, I’d like to add this: They’re wrong, too. People do read on the web. They read what interests them, much like they look at what intrigues them. In each case, you have about three seconds to grab them. If not, they’re gone – onto the next web site in search of something they aren’t getting on yours.

But what are they looking for? If it isn’t design and it isn’t the written word, what is it?

I think they’re in search of a meaningful interaction – the experience of typing a URL and being instantly captivated by the right sights, words and ideas. People want to look if you give them a compelling reason to open their eyes. They want to read if you make it your business to craft every word with them in mind.

But meaningful interaction isn’t a one-trick pony. It goes both ways. In exchange for a more meaningful experience, people will offer information about themselves. Think Amazon.com. You give them your demographic information, and they give you one-click ordering. High value is shared between both parties.

We created a contest for a major wireless company, offering the chance to throw a football at halftime of the Nokia 2000 Sugar Bowl to win $2 million. Pretty good deal. On the other end, we collected data on each person that entered. Now our client has some demographic information to increase its level of service, and a number of people signed up to hear more news about the company. Both our client and the users benefited.

The best web sites are created with design and copy (and of course technology) working together to create a shared meaning between company and customer. The best campaigns create a powerful experience that people can’t easily walk away from. Ideas, words and images meld to intrigue and motivate us. And, thus, meaning is created.

And my fight with the art directors? I’ll go ahead and declare victory. Heck, I wrote the article.

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