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by Stephen Logan on 7th March 2012
We all have our individual perceptions and preferences when it comes to the written word. If we didn’t, there would be no need for tabloid and broadsheet newspapers to co-exist, nor indeed would it be necessary to have a shortlist for the Man Booker Prize – one publication, by a single writer would simply suffice.
What works for one person, could have quite the opposite on another. In marketing circles, the clearest demonstration of this can be found in sales copy. The same piece of content can polarise an audience, intentionally or otherwise.
As a copywriter, this can make life extremely difficult. You can’t simply write for yourself or in a style that you would ordinarily choose to adopt, you have to adapt. Becoming a copy chameleon isn’t easy though, particularly when you need to write in a style that flies in the face of your own preferences.
My personal bugbears include:
If sales copy is cluttered with unnecessary contractions (by unnecessary I mean givin’, havin’ and so on), is introduced with ‘Hey there’ or implies that we’re already ‘bezzie mates’, it will fail – in my eyes at least. It assumes too much and generally delivers very little. Unfortunately it also appears to be extremely popular.
It would be fair to say that I’m no fan of quirkiness; however, when that quirkiness becomes an exaggerated or recurring gimmick, I take genuine exception. There’s no need.
Buzzwords and Jargon
Words like ‘fresh’ should only be used in conjunction with fruit, milk or flowers. I’m not sure which base you want to touch either, so just count me out. English is diverse enough without destroying existing words.
I am a cynical pessimist by nature, therefore any attempts to make me believe that a product is ‘super cool’ is unlikely to impress me – unless it’s a chest freezer of course. If you’ve used every superlative at your disposal to describe how excited you are (and I should be) about something, there’s a good chance that I will have stopped reading by the second sentence and beginning my search for an alternative. If you decide to use the odd superlative, be sure to back up what you’re saying to validate it, otherwise people won’t believe you.
There are only so many ways of saying the same thing, so please don’t exhaust them all on a single page. Padding, fluff, unnecessary rhetoric, whatever you want to call it, there is no place for it in sales copy.
These are just a few of my copy turn-offs; however, I am well aware that whilst some may agree, others will disagree. Like any viewpoint, there is always a counter, which is entirely the point of this post.
Your copy shouldn’t simply reflect personal tastes, it has to embody the preferences of your audience – or at least the vast majority of them. This doesn’t mean that you simply play it safe, but just take the time to evaluate the purpose of what you’re writing and who you want to read it.
Accuracy, both in terms of spelling and grammar, is essential. But even when you get the basics right, you can still alienate people simply through the words you choose to use. So I guess the moral of this particular story is to simply choose wisely. Plus, even if you’re going to be unnecessarily upbeat or excessively informal, at least ensure you maintain the same style throughout.
This isn’t supposed to be a rambling one-way lecture though; so if you have any pet peeves when it comes to copy (sales or otherwise), let’s hear about them. What are your copy turn-offs and, how many have I triggered in this post, answers below please.