Generally, there are no rules which are absolutely set in stone when it comes to writing great copy, but there are a few things you need to be aware of when starting out for the first time.
Hopefully this short article will guide you through some of the common pitfalls copywriters may experience, and what you can do to successfully navigate the choppy and unpredictable seas we all face.
1 Words have power
I don’t need to tell you how powerful words can be; our language and the words we use ‘literally’ shape our reality.
A lot of the key copywriting terms which were so effective in the past can fall a bit flat nowadays; the ‘buy now’s and ‘instant’ this, that, and the others. Even ‘buy one get one free’ (BOGOF) now seems a bit boring and commonplace.
However, it works.
Who hasn’t been lured into a BOGOF deal and ended up with more stuff than they need just because it was free?
If you are going to be a great copywriter you need to be able to distinguish between boring and powerfully persuasive.
And how do you do that?
Easy….read, read, and then read some more. The power of words is all around you…if you take the time to look.
2 Know the difference between quantity and quality
Long copy, short copy, flowery copy….it all has its place. The trick (for want of a better word) is knowing what works and where.
You can grab an audience’s attention with one word or one hundred.
It all depends on the type of copy you are writing, where it will be published, and for whom.
You wouldn’t use the same voice and vocab writing an historical novel that you would for a short and snappy slogan; it just wouldn’t work.
Unless the slogan was for an historical novel I suppose.
But even then it’s a bit iffy.
3 Don’t get personal
No copywriter should ever become attached to their words, because once you sell them, they are not yours anyway.
You have to have a thick skin to be a copywriter and not take things too personally.
If a client doesn’t like your copy, then they don’t like your copy…it’s nothing personal and usually this sort of thing can be nipped in the bud at the beginning by having a good brief in place.
Remember; writing is subjective.
4 The client is not always right
Many of my clients are non-native English speakers, this doesn’t mean that their English isn’t great, mostly it is, and some have a perfect command of the English language.
However, there are certain nuances that are lost on most non-native speakers.
It is not a copywriter’s job to tell a client what their marketing strategy should be, or what they should be saying, and to whom, but it is your responsibility as a professional writer to tactfully point out when something just isn’t working, or worse; is just plain wrong.
The client can run with it if they like, but never be afraid to make a well-considered suggestion to a client.
You are a professional and that’s what you are being paid for.
5 Say goodbye to the grammarist within
What is considered to be perfect grammar does not always make for perfect copy.
Okay, you need to get the basics right and be consistent, but communicating well necessitates many components; and showing off your perfect prose worthy of a Jane Austen novel and using unnecessary fluffy filler words can seriously backfire.
The creative process sometimes guides you into using words, and tenses, in an original and unconventional way.
But beware; if it doesn’t sound right or it makes no sense whatsoever, then it probably ain’t right.
6 Never copy copy
If you do, you will be breaking the writer’s code and no one will ever take you seriously. Plus, it’s just plain wrong.
Sometimes we can all copy stuff and not realise we are doing it.
This is because nowadays we are subject to ‘information overload’, which means it can be easy to think of a phrase or wording that has been used before, and believe we came up with it first.
So always double check.
There are plenty of free online plagiarism checkers and resources available.
Of course, certain phrases in long copy are unavoidable, but plagiarism will ruin your career before you have even started.
So don’t do it.
7 Nobody likes a Smart Alec
Or more to the point, not many people understand a Smart Alec.
Be clever with your words, sure…but don’t be so damn clever that the client’s message is lost and no one really knows what you mean.
The world is already awash with meaningless ads where the creative team have gone a bit wild with the budget and their egos.
Nowadays, I have no idea what some ads are selling, and even if I remember the ad, I don’t remember the product…which is kinda missing the point.
8 Learn from others
Take guidance from other experienced copywriters and creative professionals, but don’t be afraid of breaking the mold either.
If it doesn’t feel right, then don’t do it.
There are no real should or should not’s in copywriting, or at least not any which are beyond common sense.
Try not to take too much to heart from the ‘back in my day’ brigade. Anyone who is still overly bemoaning the ‘good old days’ is probably a bit long in the tooth and not adapting quickly enough.
Learn from other people’s experiences, but more importantly, learn from your own.
9 Keep stuff
Even if it is a pile of old plop you have written.
Later, when you look back there might be something there you overlooked the first time, or second time around you might even think it’s good…or maybe you will find something which sparks a new idea.
Your work is your stream of consciousness, nobody else’s…and therefore it has value. Periodically look through the old stuff you have written, it’s a great way of forming new ideas and getting your subconscious mind working. Bin ends can be extremely rewarding.
Of course, this is just my opinion, the best way to learn is to get out there and play the game yourself. And then you can write your own guide to writing great copy… just don’t copy mine