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Spring clean your copy: out with the old, in with the new

The sun’s shining, flowers are blooming, leaves are appearing.... it’s time to spring clean your copywriting – out with the old and in with the new!

1. Cliché

Martin Amis published a collection of essays under the title, 'The War Against Cliché'. Author and language-grump George Orwell called cliché a ‘dying metaphor’, only used ‘because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves’. Cliché reveals a lack of original thought and makes any communication sound tired, derivative and slap-dash. It’s an insidious force in all marketing, branding and copywriting.

In travel copy, the cobbled lanes of the old town are seldom anything but ‘charming’. In recruitment copy, how many job ads promise a ‘dynamic, fast-paced environment’?

If it comes to mind straight away, it’s probably a cliché. Strip hackneyed phrases from your writing, dive a little deeper and your writing will improve instantly.

2. Placing the rational over the emotional

If you’re trying to sell something – and most copywriting is, to a greater or lesser extent – one of the biggest mistakes you can make is just appealing to reason. People make decisions based on hot emotion, not cold facts.

Petrol-heads don’t buy a 277 mph top-speed, they buy the feeling of exhilaration. Those looking to fight wrinkles don’t buy the latest advance in dermatological science, they buy the promise of youth. By all means bring out the facts to back up the claim, but whatever you do, start with emotion.

3. Benefits not features

This one is closely linked to the reason/emotion principle, but with a subtle difference. One of the biggest howlers a copywriter can make is to try to sell the features of a product. People don’t really care if your product has 11 different settings: what’s actually in it for them? Will it save time, money, hassle, embarrassment?

For those at the back of the class: see number nine of our 'ten commandments for copywriting'!

4. The word ‘engaged’

We are also prohibiting ‘engage’, ‘engaging’ – or the worst offender, ‘engagement’, or at least cut down on using it. It’s a useful general term, yet infuriatingly pervasive and rather worn out. So you want to ‘engage’ your audience? What does that actually mean: change their mind, get them to visit a website, call your sales team, read a blog?

South East Museums released an informative guide to help museums 'engage young people in art'. What they really mean is that young people find galleries boring and they want to change that. Why not advertise an interactive area of a gallery with the copy: 'Tired of looking with your eyes? Start looking with your hands'.

5. From / to

All writers are guilty of using this one from time to time, but it’s an exhausted technique that makes any piece of copy sound a bit uninspired. From the corridors of power to the people on the street, society is changing fast From Hamlet to Harry Potter, British Literature punches above its weight worldwide From key tie-ins with worldwide commercial partners to the new ideas spearheading our social media strategy, 2016/17 saw us enjoy strong growth across the board Yawn. Journalists might just get away with it, but for brands who need to stand out in a crowded market - you won’t achieve that with this.

6. Don't go on too long

Let's stop there for now. Five more in our next blog.

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