You Shouldn’t Notice Great Copy

“A good advertisement,” it was once said, “is one that sells the product without drawing attention to itself.” In the Internet age, when it seems like every market is saturated and companies have to do so much more to stand out, is that still true?

Well, in my experience…yes and no.

I think what the quote isn’t saying is that you have to be bland. Bland copy will get you lost in a sea of verbal beige—and there is so much of it out there, especially in more conservative industries. It can be highly effective for a lot of companies—depending on your industry and audience—to be edgy, funny, clever, earnest, or vulnerable instead.

However—and this is something a lot of companies seem to lose sight of—the art is being able to do it without distracting from your message. It’s in letting your personality shine through, engaging your readers, without having them notice the language itself.

This is definitely more art than science. However, there are a few basic rules for writing copy that’s both full of personality and clear as a bell—and that keeps the focus on what you sell, not who you are. Avoid:

Grammar and spelling mistakes—most of the time. It’s not true that you can get away with errors in grammar and spelling. It is true that you can make deliberate errors in order to achieve a certain casual, conversational or punchy tone—but only if you know your grammar inside and out, and understand exactly the effect your error is having. Breaking the rules of grammar isn’t for anyone but master writers.

Big words. The key to sounding smart is not to use a bunch of big words. Keep your writing simple. Keep it conversational. The more fancy and elaborate your writing, the more people will notice the writing itself—and not you.

Adjectives. Adjectives tell you nothing. If you say someone is charismatic, that doesn’t give you a picture of a charismatic person. If you say they persuaded a group of executives to change their mind on a major business decision, you pick up that they’re persuasive and powerful—someone even executives listen to.

Cleverness. Sometimes clever can be just what you need. But unless you’re a master, it can obscure what you’re trying to say rather than making it more clear. Avoid puns, plays on words, and metaphors that make your reader think any harder than they need to. Always keep it simple.

Being clear doesn’t mean being bland. In fact, sometimes bland copy can be deeply obtuse. It does mean taking a series of steps to make your writing easy to read and conversational—because the last thing you want to do is make a reader work for your message

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