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Good Copywriting or Bad? You Be the Judge.

March 7th, 2005 by Bob Bly

I?ve always maintained that good copywriting is clear and conversational ? but there are many marketers who apparently disagree.

For instance, here?s an excerpt from a brochure promoting a conference on Buying and Selling eContent:

?Instead of building universal, definitive taxonomies, information architects are finding there is a tremendous benefit to creating un-taxonomized miscellaneous pools of enriched data objects so that users can sort and organize to suit their own peculiar needs ? [resulting in] information systems are far more contextualized.?

I call this example ?What did he say?? It?s pretentious, laden with jargon, and it?s not how people talk.

What do YOU think about this copy ? profound, enticing, acceptable, a turn-off, or just plain terrible?

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This entry was posted on Monday, March 7th, 2005 at 4:17 pm and is filed under Direct Marketing, General. 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.

49 responses about “Good Copywriting or Bad? You Be the Judge.”

  1. Bruce DeBoer said:

    I think we should all pitch in on a copy of “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser or another good book on writing.

    That is truly awful Bob.

  2. Steve Slaunwhite said:

    This is a case of trying to impress, rather than express. The problem is, it does neither.

  3. Joel Heffner said:

    This is excellent…to use in workshops to show what should NOT be done!

    Joel

  4. Jim Logan said:

    I’ve worked with members of the legal community that speak exactly like that from time-to-time. Even they don’t know what each other is saying. It’s just “one-upmanship.”

    It’s terrible writing and a turn-off. The writer appears to be trying to impress his reader with language. He appears focused on himself – how smart he is. He should instead focus on communicating with his customer in language everyone understands.

  5. Jay Lipe said:

    I don’t know…I kinda like it. Makes me feel uninformed and sorta stupid. Isn’t that what writing marketing copy is all about…? 🙂

  6. Peter Nussey said:

    I agree it’s poor, it’s quite possibly written by one of the conference speakers and copied verbatim by a marketer who doesn’t understand the terminology. I would disagree that it’s not how people talk as countless Content Management blogs and websites would testify. Whether or not it’s “jargon” it is the language of that industry. How would you articulate the issues Bob?

  7. Adam Scrimshire said:

    I’m not even so sure that it is poor copy. The copywriter is presumably confident that the marketer has done his job and targetted the correct audience, in this case content managers. All of whom will be familiar with the terminology.

    But B2B marketing copy is frequently over complex and confusing, jammed full of meaningless phrases that attempt to impress and attempt to ‘fit in’ with the audience. I think we as writers and readers find it a breath of fresh air when we’re spoken to in simple, accessible terms.

    But should we attempt to demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of the subject area or simply the product?

  8. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller said:

    Right on! (Or is that Write On!). The writer sounds like a Pentagon spokesperson. I wrote an article about how to avoid this kind of writing. The only excuse I can see for it is if the writer is intentionally throwing up a smoke-screen. But that gets into ethical issues I’d rather not touch!

  9. Tracey Dooley said:

    Wow! I wonder if the writer even paused to sharpen his pencil. 🙂

    I think this kind of tortuous English is designed to make people sound clever. The thing is, it tends to leave people mystified or just ‘switched off’.

    If a copywriter’s craft is to deliver a targeted message to a specific audience, shouldn’t that message be simple and straightfoward?

    Gobbledegook, jargon, obscure words…It could take years for a message to get through using these.

  10. Bob McCarthy said:

    Agreed, this is terrible copy. But this is an easy call.

    A more difficult call is when you are asked to write a “from one colleague to another” letter for a client in an industry that uses a lot of jargon.

    Keeping it simple and conversational isn’t always enough, (I wish it were). There also needs to be an appropriate amount of industry speak or jargon to convey an understanding or an intimacy with the industry.

    Whenever I get a letter that is targeted to direct marketers, I can tell very quickly whether the writer really understands my field. It comes across in the language – sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious.

    For me, writing effective sales letters is collaborative effort. I provide the simple and conversational piece. The client provides the industry speak. There’s always a lot of pushing and pulling, but eventually, somehow, we strike a balance.

    Bob McCarthy
    McCarthy & King Marketing, Inc.

  11. Alex Bellinger said:

    This is beautiful! It reminded me of a section in Private Eye, a satirical magazine in the UK, called Pseuds Corner. Here’s a linke http://www.private-eye.co.uk/content/showitem.cfm/issue.1127/section.pseuds

    Best wishes

    Alex

  12. Bruce DeBoer said:

    I’m fairly sure this says the same thing:

    Websites are better when the contents are optimized for user experience. This may involve abandoning conventional scientific classifications in favor of user defined organization.

  13. Ray Edwards said:

    You were joking, right? We do all know just how terrible this garbage is, don’t we?

    Ray Edwards
    http://ray-edwards-copywriting.com

  14. Peter Nussey said:

    Bob McCarthy I think you are absolutely ‘spot on’ with your comments, I think there is a tendency for copywriters to feel threatened by industry terminology. This is fair enough, industry-speak requires a level of knowledge that a generic copywriter may not possess, this undermines his/her offering. However, simply because one does not understand such terms does not render them unnecessary. Every industry has its language from musicians to lawyers etc If targeting members of such an industry then it makes sense to communicate with them in their language and not in what you think is simplest or plainest based on your level of knowledge. As Bob McCarthy points out, you can tell when someone writes to you whether the writer understands your field. The suggested alternative above is a perfect example of this – it would be immediately obvious to a content professional that this copy was not written by someone who knows about content management. (for starters content is always referred to in the singular)

    I think the copy is poorly written and poorly constructed but c’mon guys – I don’t understand it so it must be wrong, “pretentious”, “one-upmanship” or “gobbledegook” – at best this sounds insecure and at worst… well I’d rather not say.

    Simple and conversational may be what suits the writer but I believe one should talk to people in their language whatever that may be.

  15. Bruce DeBoer said:

    Hmmmm – Some good points there Peter. I suppose there is a balance to be made somewhere but I’m fairly certain the original paragraph wasn’t close to the balancing point.

    Business vernacular can get out of control fast. Insidious use of passive voice is equivalent in pretension to incomprehensible versions of similar passages created by using industry specific vernacular designed by the author to demonstrate an overbearing erudition of areas under discussion. In other words: Keep it simple.

  16. Peter Stone said:

    Here’s a link to a parody some of you may enjoy: http://www.huhcorp.com/

    Peter Stone

  17. Jason said:

    Bob, I don’t what language that is. Next time can you post the example in English?

  18. Vaishali said:

    It’s one of those copies that you have to read one-word-at-a-time, and you can’t make any sense of the content as a whole.

  19. Dawney said:

    Hmmm, I think it’s very fine for a conference brochure, considering most search engines use taxonomies of various sorts. Since this was e-content, it tells me I’m gonna get some real meat at the conference, not some fluff that’s been dumbed down.

  20. Jeff Cogswell said:

    The eyes sitting ahead of my ADD brain started to glaze over as I read this quote and midway through I found myself looking at something else…

  21. James Caffrey in Costa Del Sol Spain said:

    Wow! I wonder if the writer even paused to sharpen his pencil.

    I think this kind of tortuous English is designed to make people sound clever. The thing is, it tends to leave people mystified or just ’switched off’.

    If a copywriter’s craft is to deliver a targeted message to a specific audience, shouldn’t that message be simple and straightfoward?

    Gobbledegook, jargon, obscure words…It could take years for a message to get through using these.

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  48. ProCopywritingTactics said:

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