My dreams of being a writing wizard and poet have been put to good use in the marketing industry these past few years with development of TV and radio commercials, creating lyrics for original jingles and writing ads, brochures and websites. And like many writers, the challenge is generally not what to say, but how to say it. Or how to convey it in as few words as possible.
Writers are generally in charge of condensing a mountain of information into a molehill, even if to onlookers it may seem the other way around. The need to simplify the complexity of features, benefits and processes is one constant in the world of writing that will probably never change.
So what’s a mere product poet to do when you have so much to say with so little space? Here lies the joy of wordsmithing.
For today’s reader you must spell it out, yet make the read an enjoyable one. Quite the challenge, you say? Why, yes! You’ll find that many people simply don’t want to read. Believe me, watching a movie is indeed easier, but movies still have words and a message that beg to be understood. It’s the comprehension that makes all the difference.
Most copywriting experts will tell you to write at the “6th grade level.” So, I’ve learned it’s best to write in smaller sentences with smaller words – which makes it sound sort of fun at first – but, believe me, this isn’t a playground full of personality. For me, I enjoy discovering and using new and interesting words, some bigger than others. As many of you may know, there’s an unspoken battle of wits between writers to use the coolest words, puns, or become the mastermind of a well-known catch phrase. So enter the average American reader and it may put a damper on your marketing verbosity.
All Bundled Up
Knowing all that, you must always know your reader. Reading takes time and people are pushed for their time. Advertising messages need to be simple enough to take in and clear enough to take action. Don’t make readers work for it or look for it. People glance. People pass by. And they miss the message. You have to make your smaller words work harder for you and make your sentences easier to read.
Nobody wants to waste hours of research in order to select the best product – be it a phone, computer or guitar – especially if it’s outside their realm of expertise. From my days in sales, I noticed that nine times out of ten, people will purchase a kit, packet or bundle over individual items any day. When you wrap it all up in a nicely defined package, with all the bells and whistles included, the thinking time is cut in half. Your content organization on the front end makes the information easier to comprehend, allowing that reader to become a buyer. And isn’t that what all your clients want?
Trivial, Yet Truthful
But even if people are opposed to reading, they should still watch the fine print and pay attention to detail – which is why I generally choose to read over not. Reading heightens your sense of awareness of new words and new policies, and reading forces you to pay attention to context and sentence structure, which in turn helps you write better. It’s a win/win situation for all.
Maybe I’m just the curious kind, but I Google everything and I spell check everything. Even if it’s something as simple as sharing a trivial post on social media or referencing a historical fact, I want to make sure it’s an honest story, statement or correct spelling of a word. It’s your reputation at stake and the more times you look a fool, the less credible you become. As writers and editors, it’s really difficult to let typos and incorrect statements slide when it’s usually our job to fix them anyway.
Words to the Wise
When it comes to word usage for something like naming or branding, I think most writers would agree, the quirkier the better, yet still unquestionably understandable. Take a “word smoosh” for example: This is where you take two unrelated words and do a mash up. In the end, you’ve created a smashing new word sensation that takes on a life of its own. For writers, creating “word smooshes” is all reason for getting up in the morning. But be cautious that you don’t get overzealous or you’ll drive the masses away with your plethora of puns.
Some “word smooshes” are truly terrible. They make you cringe, but the bad ideas make way for really great ideas to emerge. Like my idea for local store owner, Shannalee. If she were to publish her web analytics or do an assessment of her store sales, I would call this Shannalytics ™. See, it’s still quirky, yet understandable and memorable.
In advertising, creative thinking drives much of the writing you’ll see in the market, but we’ve now reached a point in our culture where we look to lawsuits in lieu of understanding our own language. I prefer to use common sense when engaging in product use, but how do you ensure others are? Enter the need for the crazy caveat.
Warning. “Remove child before folding!” on a baby stroller.
Label on a common dust mask: “Does not supply oxygen!”
Yes, consumers really need to be told these things and it’s sad. But nonetheless as writers we are asked to develop caveats for those situations that may seem like common knowledge. As an advertising writer, you have to be smarter than your audience or they’ll find a way to be smarter than you.
So the next time you pick up a newspaper, magazine or book make note of how many times you re-read the same sentence and realize what writers are up against daily. Just because people simply read the words on the page, it may not mean they’re understanding them. Comprehension still takes effort, no matter how good a person’s writing is. The reader must also do their part in putting out the effort to understand the words as well. As a writer, your way around this is to speak plainly, entertain your audience and shape your messages in order to come out fool proof.