Freelance copywriting means I find myself reading any amount of adverts, articles, brochures, straplines, and headlines. I’m always keen to see other copywriter’s styles and how they approach their work and get the razor-sharp results they’re after.
There’s also the other side of me that loves to see some of the massive copywriting fails that crop up. Poor puns and corny clichés, some shocking grammar and, quite often, nonsensical copy. It’s all out there and, somewhere, there’s a copywriter getting paid for it.
The fact is, as copywriters, we get paid by the client to write for them. As part of our job, we try and convince them that a bad pun or cliché is far from ideal, or that shorter, tighter copy is usually better than long, drawn out copy. But, if they’re determined to use it, then we have to like it or lump it.
Yet, if we ‘like’ it, i.e. put up with it, then what does that say about us as copywriters? Our job, after all, is to engage and persuade the reader with good copy. If we ‘lump’ it and endure it with self-loathing, then we go against what we’re taught and have learnt to do. The answer is, we don’t have to do either.
Copywriting knowledge from the experts
Published in 2014 and still just as relevant today, one of the best books on copywriting I’ve read in a long time is: Read Me – 10 Lessons for Writing Great Copy (Laurence King Publishing). Here, they tell us “It’s all about the audience”:
“Prepare for an unpalatable truth: it’s not about what you want to say; it’s about what they – your audience – want to hear. Yes, you’ve got to cover the points your client briefed you on, but if that’s all you do then there’s a fair chance you won’t really engage your audience.”
A good point, well made. We can, and should, write long copy if the brief calls for it, but the key is to work around the bad puns and clichés. We can improve them and inject personality and, if necessary, humour into the copy as well. To quote ‘Read Me’ again: “Don’t solve the client’s problem, solve the customer’s”.
Another gem of simple advice comes from a fantastic blog by The Quiet Room. Unfortunately, it’s not up on their site anymore, but it gave a clear example that shows us the use of less complicated, shorter words makes it much easier for the reader to identify with. They write:
“People feel something different depending on whether we say ‘assistance’ or ‘help’. We have more positive associations attached to the word ‘help’, so it resonates more strongly with us. Nobody ever drifts out to sea and shouts ‘ASSISTANCE!”. Makes perfect (and logical) sense doesn’t it?
Keep it simple
There’s a wealth of information out there featuring all manner of hints & tips to help us copywriters hone our words and achieve the copy both client and author expect. So why make hard work for ourselves? The most important things to remember are usually the simplest. In short, keep it simple.
For more about keeping it simple, read what George Orwell had to say on the matter on a previous blog.