When you’re creating advertising copy, it’s important to remember that you’re writing for others, not for yourself. Make it as easy for them as possible.
In an essay published in 1946 called “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell gave us six rules for better writing that can be applied to virtually any writing task:
1. Avoid using familiar metaphors, similes, or other figures of speech.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, scientific word, or jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules rather than say something stupid.
You might be wondering how rules from nearly 70 years ago could be applicable today, but consider this: In the 1940s life was far simpler than it is now. People had far fewer distractions back then. Yet Orwell, and many of his contemporaries, recognized the need for the written word to be as simple as possible in order to hold people’s attention. On that basis alone, I would argue that simplicity is even more important today when people are constantly bombarded with distracting content.
So let’s briefly discuss how each of these rules might be applied to advertising.
Avoid using familiar metaphors, similes, or other figures of speech.
Part of holding a reader’s attention is using words and phrases that are fresh or different. For example, we’ve all heard the phrase “The bottom line is…” haven’t we? So, if you have a place in your copy where that phrase might be appropriate, substitute something different, like “In the end,” or “Ultimately.”
Never use a long word where a short one will do.
All too often, we give in to the temptation to use long words, thinking they make us look smart. But advertising copy shouldn’t be about you and how smart you look. It should be about the reader. And they don’t really care how many big words you know. So, for example, instead of “complimentary,” say “free”; instead of “purchase,” say “buy”; instead of “uncomplicated,” say “simple.”
If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
Or “say it with as few words as possible,” or “fewer words is better,” or “less is more.” But there is one caveat. Don’t cut down the number of words at the expense of message clarity. It’s all about balance.
Never use the passive where you can use the active.
As we know, shorter is usually better when trying to hold someone’s attention with the written word. And active voice is always shorter than passive. Here’s an example of active versus passive:
Passive: “The boy was bitten by a dog.”
Active: “A dog bit the boy.”
Never use a foreign phrase, scientific word, or jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
I think this is especially important in the online world. With CRM, CMS, SEM, and the hundreds of other acronyms that are part of Internet jargon, it can be confusing for some.
If you’re going to include a phrase for which there is a broadly accepted acronym, don’t assume that everyone who reads it will know what that acronym means. Provide an explanation the first time you use it in the ad copy. For example, if you’re advertising search engine marketing services, say “search engine marketing (SEM)” the first time it is referenced to in the copy. After that, you can simply say “SEM” because the reader will now know what it means.
Break any of these rules rather than say something stupid.
That you should avoid saying something stupid at all costs should go without saying. But, unfortunately, what Orwell knew to be true in 1946 is still true today: There will always be those who follow the rules for the rules’ sake, rather than exercise common sense. Common sense takes precedence over rules.
Remember, when creating advertising copy, write it with your prospective customers in mind. Making it easy to understand will make your products and services easier to buy – the ultimate goal.