Congratulations! You’ve hired an expert marketing agency to take over design, creative and copywriting work for your brand. Want to make the most of your investment? Trust them to do what you’ve hired them to do.
As fun as it is to chuckle over a hyperbolic Oatmeal cartoon, a more productive outlet for creative agencies would be to help clients get out of their own way. Because, believe it or not, business professionals are probably not deliberately trying to sabotage their agency’s hard work.
More often, the problem is they’re trying to apply “rules for writing” they learned in school, or a business writing seminar, to their marketing copy. While we’re not suggesting that you ignore the standard rules of grammar and usage, sometimes thoughtfully, intentionally breaking them takes your copy from merely factual to fabulous.
Slavish obedience to strict rules of grammar doesn’t take into account the medium. If you’re writing social posts, there are shortcuts that are considered perfectly acceptable. In fact, to fit the tight character count constraints, they’re sometimes essential.
Ad copy has to be tight, punchy and direct to be effective. Sometimes, it needs to evoke a conversational feel to really connect with the audience. That may mean the judicious use of “frags” (fragments, or sentences that don’t include a subject and verb).
Kinda like this, right?
Clients sometimes think using bigger words or more complicated sentence constructions will make their copy sound smarter. Most of the time, this just creates a needless cognitive burden for the reader. Complex language also creates emotional distance when you need to hook your reader. Trying to impress someone with your bank account of five-dollar words usually makes you seem like a self-important jerk.
Another issue can be “copy by committee.” This is most common in branding documents, when multiple stakeholders want to have input. The client sometimes wants to include everyone’s suggestions. This might appease some egos, but it rarely results in tight, effective copy.
Finally, especially in marketing and technology related industries, use of buzzwords jargon can present a problem. It can be tempting to cut in on a trend. In rare cases, there might be a search engine play in capitalizing on a hot topic. More often, like overblown language, buzzwords and jargon distance you from the audience.
Cliches present a similar problem. You may not even realize a phrase has been sucked dry of every ounce of juicy flavor by overuse. Instead of helping you make a memorable connection, cliches cause your copy to fade into background noise. (How often have you heard the term “fade into the background?” Probably so much it ceases to evoke a reaction, right?)
Of course, all of these pitfalls can be avoided. Your agency has to be willing to take the time to explain the rationale behind their copy direction and word choices. And you have to be willing to listen and value their expertise.
After all, isn’t that why you hired them in the first place?