July 19, 2010Simplicity risks repetition

Every good copywriter knows that simplicity is the secret to success. Getting the message across quickly and effectively is what copywriting is all about. I’ve had clients come to me with briefs for 4,000 word sales brochures. That’s longer than some undergraduate dissertations at university. “Who’s going to read 4,000 words,” I ask? The client looks dumbstruck. He’s even more amazed when I come up with a 100 word sales pitch that tells the customer everything they’ll ever need to know.

Simple Sales Copy

A brief description, followed by a call to action. That’s as much as most sales copy projects require. Simplicity works by speaking to the customer directly and quickly. Ads bother most people, they look away once they see they’re being sold something. The best advertising campaigns can sell to a customer in a single sentence. That’s why headlines, straplines and taglines are so important.

But things get a little more tricky once you’re trying to sum up a product in just a few words. After all, there’s only so many words in the dictionary, and most of them are obscure or have a meaning that’s slightly inappropriate for the context. Sure, a good copywriter will be reaching for his thesaurus from time to time, but the fact is, simplicity sells.

That’s why there’s so much overlap in contemporary campaigns. At least four gastro-pubs in my area boldly make the promise of “good, honest food” on their menus. But then again so does every tin of Britain’s leading manufacturer of dog food, Pedigree Chum.

And even that’s not original. Check out Bateman’s Ale. They’ve been promising “good honest ales” for decades.

How about Sainsbury’s? Their latest advertising campaign exhorts shoppers to “try something new today” — it’s pretty unlikely no-one’s tried that strapline before.

What makes a good strapline?

I’ve posted about what makes a good headline / strapline. Evidently, simplicity isn’t always the key to writing an original strapline, but that doesn’t mean an idea that’s been done before isn’t good. The fact is there are only so many ways to describe a product in three or four words, and every copywriter has to make the choice between originality and immediacy. Of course, true genius in headline writing occurs when a copywriter comes up with a genuinely original idea — but that was something that was much easier to do in the 60s than it is today, as content proliferates and more and more ideas have been done before.

The solution seems to be to create headlines based on lateral thinking. The Western Union “Ignore It” campaign inverts expectations — daring the customer to ignore the advert, then quickly and simply explaining why they can’t ignore a telegram. That’s easy to do on a poster, but it’s much harder when you’re coming up with a tag-line that’s linked directly to your brand name. Of course, some have become iconic. Nike’s ‘just do it’ springs to mind. But the fact is that most simple tag-lines are repetitions of earlier ideas with maybe just a little variety thrown in for good measure.

The simplicity rule holds good. Ultimately, if you can’t be original, be simple. There aren’t many ways of saying “good honest food” in three words or less. The fact is, unless they’ve got a dog, and they’re very observant, most of your customers won’t spend enough time thinking about it to ever know.

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This entry was posted on Monday, July 19th, 2010 at 5:09 pm and is filed under Advertising, Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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