Monday 21 May 2012

Ten deadly copywriting sins: part one

According to the Christian faith – and the movie, Se7en – there are seven deadly sins. But when it comes to copywriting, there are even more to look out for. In the first half of a two-part special edition post, we reveal five sins you might want to avoid if you want to make it to communications heaven.

1. Obscuring your message with jargon
In the excellent ‘A bullfighter’s guide’, the author describes jargon as ‘the foundation of obscurity’. He’s right. Jargon might be a shortcut for those in the know. But for your customers who aren’t hip to the lingo, it can obscure your copy’s message – leaving them frustrated and your message lost. The answer? Speak in English, goddammit. Go through your copy and remove anything you’d have to explain to your mum. Or your friends.

2. Being seduced by buzzwords
These are the words or phrases in vogue. A few years ago companies loved nothing more than a paradigm shift. Then they suddenly became very proactive with their leveraging. And now, it’s all about engaging stakeholders with something robust. Be wary of shoehorning these fly-by-night phrases into your communications. Inappropriate usage – including overuse – can make your copy feel vapid and evasive.  

     3. Blinkered, unrelenting optimism
Now don’t get me wrong, your communications need to instil confidence in your stakeholders (BUZZ) – accentuating solutions, not problems. But, if something’s a challenge, say it’s a challenge. The consumer will appreciate the honesty. I’m not suggesting you go overly candid here (‘If last quarter is anything to go by, we should probably just call it quits’) but by pointing out the potential pitfalls, it shows the reader you’re aware of them. And, by deciding they can handle the truth, you’re proving you respect your customers.

4. Ingratiating, chatty copy
They call this ‘the Innocent effect’. Well, I do. All of a sudden, companies are like the cool pastor at the village church. The one who’s all: ‘what up bro’ and ‘hangs’ with the kids. Ingratiating copy is used to show how much a company relates to you. ‘Hey! We’re just like you!’ In the right industry, with the right company and the right audience, chatty copy can be disarming and effective. But get it wrong and it can fall flat and be a bit embarrassing. You need to decide whether this approach fits your industry, audience, service or product. Top tip: if you’re selling life insurance, it doesn’t.

5. Fence-sitting
This is about humanising your messages. Bland, vacuous copy which tip-toes around a topic, seemingly with nothing to say either way on it, is a big turn-off. Offer your opinion. Get off that fence. It's your industry! You probably say you’re experts. Prove it!   
So there are the first five copywriting sins. Next five to follow shortly… 

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