Copy Tip: Word Choice
Let me tell you a little somethin’ somethin’ about academia.
While I loved college and thoroughly enjoy learning, I struggled a lot in the academic world. Overall I felt pretty stupid at school, largely because I struggled to grasp the nitty-gritty of theoretical academic concepts.
I studied political science. Which is a really hard subject to wrap your head around. Politics itself is confusing, and when you throw in the theoretical concepts it can really frustrate you.
Example: I remember sitting in my freshman year Introduction to International Relations class trying to understand the difference between neoliberalism, liberalism, realism, and neorealism. I remember sitting in my seat in the large auditorium taking a pop quiz on the difference between these four schools of political thought. As I held the pencil in my hand and stared blankly at the sheet of paper on my fold-out desk, I realized that I had no idea what to write, even though I had studied hard the night before. I failed the quiz
Even though I had studied, why did I fail?
Well, besides being a first-semester freshman and not really knowing how to study at the university-level yet, it was also because these concepts are not explained in ways that are simple for average people to understand.
My 18-year-old brain didn’t stand a chance when a simple explanation of these theories looks like this. I spent four years on this shit and still get overwhelmed looking at all of these words.
Yes, I’m oversimplifying a little bit. Academia is complicated because the world itself is fucking complicated and messy. In political science the game is always changing because humans are always acting like idiots.
But the point is that academic writing and thought is inaccessible for many because it’s not written in a language that anybody can understand. And as copywriters there’s a lesson that we can learn from it: be as simple as possible.
Most people are lower-level readers than they would expect. Because many of us doing in passing or for pleasure, we want things that are simple to digest, don’t force us to think too much, and which get straight to the point.
That’s why in copywriting you need to choose your words carefully. From luxury brands to pest control services, you need to communicate your ideas in the most clear way possible.
If you don’t, you’ll alienate your potential customers and look like a fool.
Case study: Tiffany
Some of the worst copywriting in the world is writing that screams for attention. It attempts to appeal to a high-brow audience but uses words that can be found in any SAT prep book to do so.
What do I mean?
Let’s look at one surprising example: Tiffany and Company.
On their page about their iconic blue boxes, the text reads:
"The world has been enthralled with the distinctive Tiffany Blue Box since the very beginning. It was Charles Lewis Tiffany who mandated that the coveted boxes could only be acquired with a Tiffany purchase. As reported by the New York Sun in 1906, "Tiffany has one thing in stock that you cannot buy of him for as much money as you may offer, he will only give it to you. And that is one of his boxes.
“Glimpsed on a busy street or resting in the palm of a hand, Tiffany Blue Boxes make hearts beat faster, and epitomize Tiffany’s great heritage of elegance, exclusivity and flawless craftsmanship."
Have you ever been "enthralled" by a box?
No. Not even a Tiffany box.
Tiffany’s boxes are captivating. They are symbolic. They’re representative of something so much bigger than what’s inside. They’re a status symbol, yes, but they aren’t necessarily “enthralling”.
If you look at the definition of “enthrall” it gives you two options:
To hold in or reduce to slavery.
To hold spellbound.
Why did Tiffany’s copywriter not use the word “spellbound” to describe the blue box?
Listen to it now: The world has been spellbound by the distinctive Tiffany Blue Box since the very beginning.
See how that sounds better? Not only is it getting rid of a weird sentence construction, but it also makes the copy crisper and cleaner. Yes you can argue that it’s maybe a little bit “dumbed down”, but it also sounds more like human speech patterns, thus making it more relatable.
Frankly I think that these whole two paragraphs could be significantly improved, but that’s a post for another day (aka this coming Wednesday).
The point: use simple sentences and words to sound more human.
No matter what you do, you need to keep it as simple as possible.
Even if you’re targeting some of the richest spenders in the world, you don’t want to make them work hard to think about your product. Unless you have a very specific target audience and platform (like a trade magazine for rocket scientists), then you want to make your copy understandable.
Your words matter. And how you use them will determine whether your clients feel like you care about them. In the end, the biggest copy tip I can give is KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid.