Why Being Ultra-Specific in Your Copy Can Sometimes Be a Bad Thing

You hear it all the time … be as specific in your copy as possible.

But here’s the thing –

If you’re not careful, there are times when all those specifics can get you – and your clients – into trouble, even when you’ve proved them beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Here’s what I mean …

Let’s say you’re writing a health promo that’s selling a CoQ10 supplement. You’ve finished your fist draft and started reviewing it. You come across the phrase:

“CoQ10 can help keep you healthy all year round.”

“That’s a little weak,” you think to yourself. So, you decide to make it more specific to strengthen the claim, and you replace it with something you found in your research:

“Over 12 clinical studies show that CoQ10 can destroy cancer cells, and in some cases cause a total remission of three different kinds of cancer, including breast cancer.”

Technically, this copy is stronger. It gives the prospect concrete details versus an abstraction.

But get this—

If this copy mails, it’s almost guaranteed to put you and your client in legal hot water.

Before I explain why, let’s look at two more quick examples.

Suppose you’re writing a financial promo with a headline that says something like:

“How to use the same strategy some of the world’s best investors use to rack up huge profits!”

Again, this is pretty general. So, to make it more unique and specific, you change it to:

“Discover how to use the same investment strategy Warren Buffett and George Soros use to turn $1,500 into $43,565 in as little as 24 hours!”

Again, technically sound. The new headline scores higher on the 4 U’s test … it’s ultra-specific, useful, unique, and urgent. But if it goes out, you run the risk of having you and your client named in a lawsuit.

Now, let’s say you’re working on a promotion for a biz-op product. You make the claim:

“Some of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities are raving about this opportunity.”

But, to make that claim more specific, you do your research and find a great quote from Angelina Jolie about the opportunity.

As you can probably guess by now … if you use it in your copy, you might be opening up a can of worms.

The common thread here is that specificity may put you and your client’s business in jeopardy, if you’re not aware of what you can and cannot say in your copy.

In the first health example, the copy violates one of the biggest rules the FDA has set about what you can say when advertising dietary supplements. In the financial and biz-op examples, you’re opening yourself up to lawsuits by “trading on a name.”

Scary stuff, to be sure.

Fortunately …

A Little Legal Know-How Can Help You Avoid BIG Trouble … and Turn You Into a HUGE Asset to Your Clients

“By developing a working knowledge of the law as it applies to copywriting, you’re going to be at the cutting edge in the marketplace and benefit in two ways,” says Agora Publishing, Inc.’s General Counsel Matt Turner:

“First, many clients aren’t aware of the legal restrictions that apply to their marketing efforts. So that gives you a perfect opportunity to step in and show them what you know … and how you can help them … making you that much more valuable.

“Second, understanding the legalities involved in copywriting can help you break into certain niches sooner rather than later.

“For example, if you want to break into the alternative health market, but you’re not familiar with the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, your client is going to know right off the bat that you don’t know what you’re doing … and, as a result, you may not get the assignment.”

Matt should know. He’s been involved with direct-marketing law for over 15 years. He’s even won cases against the federal government. No question, he knows his stuff … and how big of a problem it can be to not be aware of the laws as they relate to copywriting.

That’s why he advocates that copywriters take the initiative to learn these laws … and become your clients’ biggest asset.

Here are three ways you can get up-to-speed and keep your copy in compliance:

  1. Go online. Depending on what market you write for, you can go online and research what you can and can’t say. For example, if you write for the health market, you can check out the FDA’s website. If you write for the financial market, you can check out the SEC’s website.

    Also, keep in mind that there are state regulations you need to be aware of. Check out the websites for your state and your clients’ states for more info.

  2. Ask your client. The majority of your clients will already have a legal team in place. So, it’s just a matter of asking them what kinds of procedures they typically use for reviewing copy. Also, if you can talk directly to their legal department, you can get a sense of where they draw the line on what you can and cannot say when writing for them.

  3. Talk to other more experienced copywriters. Chances are there are veteran copywriters in your marketplace you can talk to. And, chances are, they’ve had to deal with legal issues at some point in their career. Learn from them. Offer to take them out to lunch. Or simply chat with them via email. You can find more experienced copywriters at seminars and workshops, in your own hometown, or on online marketing forums.

Legal issues aren’t fun. But they are something you need to be aware of.

And when you take the time to learn the legalities of copywriting, you become much more valuable to your client. You also save yourself hours of rewrites and frustration by making sure your copy passes legal muster right out of the gate.

Jenny Thompson, Director of Agora’s Health Division, couldn’t agree more.

Says Jenny:

“I can't tell you how many times I've seen writers work for a full day, a full week … even a full month … only to have to trash every bit of their hard work and start all over again. The result is a blown deadline and an unhappy (to say the least!) client.

“And it all could have been avoided … if only they'd known in advance that the FDA would never let us say THAT!”

Matt Turner sees this kind of thing happen all the time, too. Every year, he and his legal staff oversee thousands of pieces of copy – to make sure they comply with state and federal laws.

That’s why he’s created a legal guide designed specifically for copywriters. In it, he gives you everything you need to know about direct-marketing law in plain English.

No question, it’s a must-have reference for every copywriter, new or experienced.

And it’s something that will give you a leg up on the competition.

After all, if you were a client, who would you choose? … A copywriter who took the time to understand how to write compliant copy (meaning fewer rewrites and on-time copy) or a copywriter who doesn’t know the law … meaning numerous rewrites and potentially missed deadlines?

The answer is clear.

Copywriting Legalities

The Legalities of Copywriting Made Simple

Legal expert Matt Turner reveals the legal issues that can impact copy and marketing materials. Learn More »


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Published: June 22, 2009

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