all posts tagged copywriting

Three Rules of English that good copy frequently breaks (and why it’s necessary to do so)

You’ve heard the saying, You have to know the rules before you can break them.

It’s absolutely true when it comes to advertising copy.

Writing a good ad (or any marketing message) requires you to understand sentence structure, punctuation, grammar, etc.

You, know…all the stuff crotchety Mrs. Schneider drilled into your head in high school English class. Or tried to.

But readable copy often breaks Mrs. Schneider’s beloved rules.

In fact, for copy to be “conversational” in tone, breaking them is practically a requirement.

Why? Because people break the rules all the time when they speak.

So you’ll need to break some rules too…if you want your message to be perceived as one human speaking to another.

This doesn’t, however, give us license to butcher the king’s English. The rules we can break are limited to a mere three.

Here they are, along with justification for breaking them:

1. Never begin a sentence with a conjunction (such as “and,” “but” or “or.”).

Copywriters break this rule all the time. And with good reason. Conjunctions provide a connection between two thoughts. But in speech people don’t always connect those two thoughts in a single sentence. They often split them up. And since copywriters strive to write in a way that mirrors the way people talk, it’s natural to do the same in copy.

But that’s not the only reason for putting an “and” or “but” at the beginning of a sentence. Doing so also lets us chop long sentences into two shorter ones that are easier to read.

Take this one, for example:

Going to the movies is a favorite pastime of many Americans, but the price of seeing a movie, combined with their poor quality of late, has many people opting to stay home.

It’s not exactly a run-on. Still it can be made a little less daunting for the reader if it’s divided in two.

Going to the movies is a favorite pastime of many Americans. But the price of seeing a movie, combined with their poor quality of late, has many people opting to stay home.

It’s a minor change, yes, but it makes the copy just a little easier for the reader. And every little bit helps.

2. Write in complete sentences, not fragments.

Complete sentences are great for annual reports and college term papers, but adhering to this rule in copywriting can lead to stiff, unnatural-sounding copy and dull, run-on sentences, such as this example:

Established in 1911 by brothers Bob and Frank Widget, Widget Investments is a respected global player with holdings around the world, a stake in numerous established business enterprises, and assets totaling $100 billion, all driven by a philosophy that always keeps us striving to reach higher, acquire more and do better.

Who’d want to wade through all that? Shorter sentences and liberal use of fragments make the message more palatable:

Widget Investments was established in 1911 by brothers Bob and Frank Widget. Today it’s a respected global player. One with holdings around the world. A stake in numerous established business enterprises. And assets totaling $100 billion. All driven by a philosophy that keeps us striving. To reach higher. Acquire more. Do better.

Ah, that’s better. The spaces between sentences give the copy – and the reader – a chance to breathe. So unless your readers positively adore lengthy Dickensian prose, opt for shorter sentences and fragments as necessary.

3. Don’t use slang.

Use discretion when breaking this one. It’s true that copy directed toward a particular audience has to speak their language. And sometimes that means adopting their lingo. But be warned: Don’t attempt this unless you’re sure you can pull it off. Nothing kills credibility faster than getting caught trying to fake authenticity.

So let’s say you want to announce to an audience of tech-savvy 20-somethings that your company has just developed a new application for the iPhone. You’ll have to judge whether it’s wiser to 1) describe the features and benefits of this outstanding iPhone application or to 2) give ’em the 411 on this killer iPhone app.

Likewise, you can decide whether it’s better to tell a hip youth audience that you’re going to 1) offer them some free merchandise or that you’ll 2) hook them up with some freebie swag.

You feel me?

As in all cases of rule-breaking, good judgment should be used. The goal isn’t to see how many rules you can break, it’s to make the communication as effortless as possible. So take some creative license, just don’t abuse it.

Naming, Part II: To create a name that’s on target, get ready and aim before you fire.

Firing Squad

Before you can develop an effective name for a brand or product, you need to do some homework. Rush headlong into the brainstorming process without asking some questions and setting some parameters, and you’re almost certain to be wasting your time. (We discussed the challenges of creating brand and product names in Part I of this series.)

Here is some information we request from our clients before we begin work on a name:

  1. Complete product description: what it does, how it works, what makes it different/superior, etc.
  2. Description of the person buying or using the product. What is important to them?
  3. Product attributes the name should convey (e.g., ease of use, speed, durability, the results it produces, etc.)
  4. Are there any client-imposed prohibitions (e.g., name can’t have the letter “X” or the word “green” in it, can’t have any military connotations, etc.)?
  5. Does the competition have a similar product? What is it called?
  6. What kind of tone should the name convey (e.g., aggressive, relaxing, friendly, reliable, etc.)?
  7. Does the parent brand have an established and recognizable image that the name should relate to?
  8. Does the name need to relate to other names in the product line (e.g., are all the products named after an animal)?
  9. Does it matter if the name is literal (Quarter-Pounder, Shop-Vac) or metaphorical (Whopper, Dirt Devil)?
  10. Are you open to having a coined name created, providing it conveys the appropriate attitude and imagery?

Asking these questions – and getting as many clear, definitive answers as possible – is crucial to creating a memorable, likable name that makes a positive connection to the customers.

Want to see 50 examples of great names?

 

40 Things You Can Ask Your Ad Agency To Do

A lot has changed since the days when agencies only did ads. (The concept this team is reviewing must have been brilliant; the guy on the left is wearing sunglasses.)

Long gone are the days when an advertising agency designed ads and little else. In fact, today’s agencies fulfill such a wide array of marketing functions that the term “ad agency” is woefully inadequate.

Take a look at the list below of stuff you can ask your agency to do and you’ll see what I mean.

  1. Create your website
  2. Design your packaging
  3. Name your product
  4. Develop a new brand
  5. Create point-of-sale items for your product
  6. Design your logo
  7. Design your corporate ID package
  8. Produce your annual report
  9. Proofread your annual report
  10.  Make it easier for people to shop for your product
  11.  Create a web-based sweepstakes sales promotion
  12.  Design your trade show exhibit
  13.  Produce training materials for your sales force
  14.  Create posters, banners and window clings for your showroom
  15.  Assemble and ship mockups in time for your big pitch tomorrow
  16.  Brainstorm ways to help you reduce unnecessary product returns
  17.  Organize all the information for your catalog
  18.  Write a clever, catchy tagline
  19.  Conduct audience research
  20.  Process mail-in rebate forms
  21.  Get translations for marketing your product in Mexico and Canada
  22.  Oversee a photo shoot
  23.  Recommend a social media strategy for your brand
  24.  Design a product sell sheet
  25.  Map out a plan for the way your products should be arranged on retail shelves
  26.  Negotiate and place your media buys
  27.  Design an eye-catching billboard
  28.  Write and produce your TV or radio ads
  29.  Stay on top of the latest trends in culture and communication
  30.  Write a sales offer email
  31.  Write and produce your how-to videos and post them on YouTube
  32.  Help you decide if Twitter makes sense for your brand
  33.  Develop an e-commerce component for your website
  34.  Guide you through a name change
  35.  Partner with popular blogs to talk-up your product
  36.  Help you develop a new product
  37.  Help coordinate your public relations efforts
  38.  Help maintain consistency in all your communications
  39.  Write instructions for using your product
  40.  Oh yeah, almost forgot…create your ad campaign

That’s quite a list (and not even a complete one). And there’s no simple, catch-all term for companies that do all this. Yeah, we could say “marketing communications firm,” but that’s a mouthful of syllables – and only slightly more descriptive.

So for now we’ll just stick with “ad agency.”

It’s not 100% accurate, but people get it, right?