Words of Copywriting Wisdom …
“You Can’t Say That!” … The “Smart vs. Dumb” Rule of Copywriting

Have you ever had this experience?

Occasionally, a client has criticized a passage in copy I’ve written, expressing his shock with words such as these: “We can’t say that! Our market is too intelligent!”

Asked to elaborate, the client will insist that the disputed copy is too obvious, or too simplistic, or employs a clichéd (albeit proven) direct-response device, such as an unconditional guarantee or a call to action.

True, you shouldn’t treat your prospect condescendingly. David Ogilvy once wrote: “The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife.”

But copywriters should be equally careful to avoid committing the opposite error. Heed this dictum: “A smart person who is busy may act dumb!

What does this principle tell us? The problem usually isn’t a lack of intelligence, but rather of time. In a high-speed society plagued by massive information and advertising overload, it’s often necessary to simplify in order to grab attention, to communicate, to persuade and sell. A complex or confusing message, on the other hand, can rapidly discourage or antagonize an otherwise qualified potential buyer.

A longstanding commandment of effective communication is to write simply and straightforwardly, without long words, elaborate sentences, or complicated arguments. It’s been said that a Ph.D. won’t object to writing that is simple and clear enough for an eight-year-old.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »

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Published: March 24, 2008

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