Good question. Here’s Wikipedia, with my own bolding for emphasis:
Copywriting is the act of writing text for the purpose of advertising or other forms of marketing.
Copywriters help create billboards, brochures, catalogs, jingle lyrics, magazine and newspaper advertisements, sales letters and other direct mail, scripts for television or radio commercials, taglines, white papers, social media posts, and other marketing communications.
They are generally known as website content writers or copywriters if their work appears mostly on the Internet.
Curious. The term copywriter seems to apply to all commercial writing for print media and to only some commercial writing for the web.
Instead, people prefer the term ‘content writer’, which reflects a similar change in perception that (as I’ve written) spawned the term content strategist.
So then, what is a copywriter?
Ordinarily, I tell people I’m a copywriter. I do this because, while I write regularly for websites, social media, video, and the like, writing is my true skill.
In other words: if I had to lose all my profession body parts and retain one that kept me alive (so to speak: bear with me), it would be writing.
Thus, I am a copywriter. Whatever anybody else says. Because I am not skilled in content writing: in other words, any ‘content’ I produce is text. However, I work regularly with others, as a copywriter, to produce videos, infographics, apps, and more.
It would be inaccurate of me, I think, to call myself a content writer precisely because I don’t ‘write’ images or videos or anything else.
But I do know how to script a video. Or provide the words for an infographic or app. Because I write. I am a copywriter.
Content Design. Content Creation. Content Strategy
I suspect that the distinction to be made between a ‘pure’ copywriter or a ‘pure’ designer’, and their ‘content’ equivalents, is the reason for the increased popularity of terms like ‘content design’ or ‘content creator’.
Both terms (despite the use of the word design) are discipline-neutral and draw the specialism away from what (due to circumstance, I think) has traditionally been seen as a text-based role.
That is, anybody who trained as a writer (of any kind) and got into commercial writing 10 years ago or before has likely held the title of ‘copywriter’.
Those people, because websites have historically been text-heavy, became specialists in website copy. And they became ‘content writers’.
Now — and this is likely to become increasingly true — content creation could begin with various specialisms. It’s not impossible that video-only sites pop up, and plenty of video-heavy sites already exist.
Sure, those videos would need scripting: but if the video component of a site becomes more important than the text part, the core competencies of the role will more than likely change.
That’s why, to go back to the top of this discussion, I call myself a copywriter and I also call myself a content strategist.
Because realistically, I do know how to determine relevant content, and content types, for the right audiences — and that’s the strategist in me — but if you ask me to produce it, I’m falling back to text.
And that’s what makes me a copywriter. Oh, and a journalist. But that’s a discussion for another day.