Wednesday, June 25, 2008

If They Can Do It--You Can, Too.

Bob Bly's blog makes me feel confident about my writing ability all the time.

Here's what he does: he finds bad ads and picks them to shreds. People got paid to write some of these ads. There are a lot of bad writers out there, folks. Why does this make me feel good? Because I know I'm better than that. Because clients who are used to this kind of writing will love it when they see actual good writing. I'm not trying to sound arrogant or condescending--just really, really optimistic.

If these people can get away with writing this stuff, imagine how much better you can do:

Business entrepreneurs. Check out this post about the phrase "business entrepreneurs" used in a radio ad for a web development company. What other entrepreneurs are there besides business ones? Doesn't the word "entrepreneur" imply business? C'mon, admit it: you can do better.

A jungle of jargon. Over here, there's a guy with a company bio that's full of jargon. Seriously. Check this out:

“CZ provides results-focused learning solutions aimed at providing employees with the essential skills that enable them to optimize their performance and achieve measurable business results.”

Do you have any idea what CZ actually does here? I don't.

Yes, typos matter. Then there's this post about a gym owner who sent out a postcard with a big, obvious typo in the copy. The gym owner was dismissive, saying the picture of the hot girl on the card will pull people in. Um, sure, if you're a straight guy who can't spell. But are those the only people you want to draw? Personally, a hot chick on an exercise bike isn't going to draw my attention--but a typo sure will.

Redundancy overload. Redundancy is everywhere. Witness this post about a car ad that starts off "if you have a car you don't need or have little use for..." Does the phrase "or have little use for" add meaning to this sentence? No. It just repeats the "don't need" concept with less clarity. It's muddy writing. You can do better.

There is a lot of bad writing out there. As a good writer, this is your competition. If your writing is better than the rest, you can't help but do well.


Unknown said...

"There are a lot of bad writers out there, folks."

I wonder how many of us reading that sentence felt that little terror that seizes almost every writer, "Uh-oh, she's talking about me." : )

It used to be called schlock. Is it still? It does makes you wonder how these people get away with such laziness and manage to make a decent living at it. I think the answer probably lies in the pure chutzpah of convincing a client that this kind of crap passes for copywriting. And that makes you wonder if these people are real writers or sales and marketing people calling themselves writers.

As for clients who would love "actual good writing" if they saw it, would they? You have to figure they if they knew good writing in the first place, they wouldn’t hire bad writers. So, -- and this isn’t rhetorical -- how do you get around that? Contact them and point out the mistakes? Send them a sample of the same product written well? (Or is that well-written?)

I don’t know if I’m a good writer, but after reading your post and comparing my writing to the examples you cited, I'm feeling a little more confident.

Anonymous said...

Oops, wrong account on that last comment.

Jennifer Williamson said...

Hm...I think you have to be careful about actively critiquing someone else's ad unless they actually ask for it. I've never tried, but it's hard to tell what the reaction would be if you got in touch out of the blue with someone who owned a business and said "your brochure copy is me to fix it." If I was applying to work with them, I'd send samples of similar work I've done and let it speak for itself.

I think if someone asked for my opinion on one of these ads, though, i would point out all the mistakes and tell them that not only is this dulling the effectiveness of the ad, it's actively making the business look bad--to those who notice, mistakes imply lack of attention to detail and even lack of intelligence. That isn't the impression any business wants to give.

I think that good writing is discernible from bad writing, even to people who aren't writers. Good writing isn't just lack of mistakes; it captures attention and engages the reader. It's the right tone and message, and it's absolutely clear. I've never had a client tell me they couldn't tell the difference between whatever they had before and a rewrite I've done for them--but I've had a lot of people rave about it.

Not only that, but good writing actively works better. I've had a number of clients tell me that my rewrites of their websites have drawn more visitors and resulted in more sales--clearly the customers notice.

So anyway, I have a lot of faith that great writing wins out over bad...if it didn't, writing in itself wouldn't be a valuable skill. I think that most people can tell the difference between crystal-clear copy and muddy writing when they see it--they just may not be able to do it themselves.

Anonymous said...

Well said. Copywriting is hard writing. My hat is off to anyone who can do it well.

JHepCat "72" said...

Bob Bly is the bomb. I get his newsletter, but really haven't checked out his blog.

Will have to do so regularly.