Nothing is original. More on that later. Keeping that in mind, however, it’s more important than ever that copywriters do everything they possibly can to create content that engages, inspires, and brings the masses to its knees. Most writers approach the job with the same toolkit, i.e., stale grammar advice, overrated texts, and a pretty good grasp of English. While it gets the job done, it often produces bone-dry copy.
Consider this an appendix to your in-house style guide, the cherry on top of your copy sundae, the stuff that’ll take your copy from “ho-hum” to “hot damn.” The less Google cares about the length of your blog posts, the more license you have to make the words on the page pop. At the end of the day, it’s all about user experience. Here’s how to manipulate them.
Hit ’em in the punny bone
(Disclaimer: No puns follow.) Humor is one of your greatest allies in copywriting. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by some of the best punmasters in the game. Puns can range from the eye-rollingest dad jokes to the slightest of nods. The subtle ones will earn you readers for life, while the overly ridiculous could get you shares galore. Sounds like a win-win to me.
Keep in mind that your client may not appreciate a well-placed pun as much as you do, but it’s worth pushing the envelope to find out. Let’s not forget the massive opportunity Pringles missed to take their copy to LOL Town last December.
So we’re thinking either Pringle Bells, Kris Pringle, or Pringles all the Way?
Nah I’ve got a better idea.
— Zach Mander (@zachmander) December 18, 2016
Channel your inner poet
Let me iterate the need to alliterate. That doesn’t just mean sneaking sibilant sounds into your sentences, either. “Holy guacamole!” is an example of alliteration. And it’s all poetry to your readers’ eyes. So while you ponder weak and weary over your copy, know that if you don’t make an effort to punch up your prose, your readers will read you nevermore. One surefire way to have readers fall head over heels in love with your words is to weave in as many literary devices as you can. Otherwise your copy is dead as a doornail. Practice makes perfect — even if you’re McDonald’s.
Simply put, affectation is what makes you feel smart, but often makes you look, well … not smart. Five-dollar words, tired phrases, and (god forbid) business jargon don’t amount to a hill of beans when you’re trying to write bold, engaging copy. In fact, they could undermine your credibility. One of the biggest offenders (or at least a pet peeve of mine) is the word “utilize.” I guarantee that 99 out of the 100 times you use the word “utilize,” you mean to use the word “use.” The more flowery examples often involve multiple-word phrases that can be cut down to one. Some more examples of overused affectation (and their easy fixes):
- as to whether or not = if
- on a regular/daily basis = regularly/daily
- in advance of = before
- with the exception of = except
- in the event that = if
- take into consideration = consider
- in the near future = soon
- due to the fact that = because
In a world where every syllable counts, why use five or six words when one will do? Remember that you aren’t writing for you; you’re writing for your or your client’s audience. Nobody’s going to care how many fancy words you learned while studying for the GRE if your copy isn’t approachable.
Steal this blog post
They say the best readers make the best writers. I’d amend that to say the best readers of a certain form of writing usually make the best writers of that form. Just because you can recite “À la recherche du temps perdu” from cover to cover, doesn’t mean you automatically know how to write a tweet. Thankfully you can steal like an artist.
Maverick filmmaker and giver-of-no-sh*ts Jim Jarmusch has made a career of stealing. You can read his entire “Things I’ve Learned” manifesto, but I think it’s worth including his Rule #5 in its entirety:
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery — celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: ‘It’s not where you take things from — it’s where you take them to.’”
Read tweets that titillate you, blogs that bowl you over. Devour brands’ email newsletters, clever Facebook campaigns, ad copy — even this blog post. Who am I to claim a monopoly on writing advice? Just make it your own.