Even the best copywriters use clichés and rely on copywriting crutches. It’s inevitable, but it’s preventable. We’re trying to spit out a lot of copy on tight deadlines, and while our fingers may work faster than our brains, our brains will pop out any old stuff just to keep our fingers moving.
And that’s how clichés appear in our work. We don’t mean to do it, it just sort of happens.
But if you keep a few of the worst offenders in mind as you’re working, you may catch them just as they spill out onto your keyboard. And if you missed them the first time around, you’ll catch them on the edits.
Here are the five copywriting crutches and clichés we need to avoid.
1. Let’s face it
There’s nothing wrong with this, per se.
It fits where it’s used, no one is using it incorrectly, and it conveys a feeling of resigned acceptance of the problem at hand.
But it’s just so overused that it has been rendered completely useless. It’s like the Spin Doctors’ “Two Princes,” which got played over and over and over and over and over to the point that I hate it so much, I will drive my car off a bridge to escape it.
“Let’s face it” is the “Two Princes” of writing. It should be struck from your lexicon, burned to ashes, which you then jump up and down on, before putting them in a lead-lined box and dropping it into the Mariana Trench.
(I really hate this phrase almost as much as I hate “Two Princes.”)
Just pick something else. Anything else. In point of fact. In truth. You gotta admit. What are we even doing here?
In truth, it makes you sound like you’re not trying very hard. Pick something better.
You gotta admit — see what I did there? — it’s a versatile word. It’s both a verb and a noun. We have needs. We need things.
Except saying “needs” is like saying “stuff” or things.”
Every customer needs something or wants something. Or they desire it. Wish for it. Demand it. Prefer it. Delight in it. Obsesses over it. Yearns. Craves. Hungers.
There are so many different options available, but the best we can come up with is “needs?”
What you need is a thesaurus. (Let me recommend OneLook.com.)
Being “passionate about” something
How many LinkedIn profiles have you seen where someone is “passionate about” web analytics? Or email marketing? Or tax law? Or artificial intelligence? I saw a job posting that required applicants to “be passionate about short-form copy.”
Seriously? You’re passionate about that? Your passionate about gazing deeply into the limpid pools of Google Analytics reports? I should yearn for the delicate touch of a 280-character tweet?
This thing smolders within your heart like burning coals? You can’t stop thinking about email marketing and it consumes your every waking moment? Whenever the wind blows, you hear its name in the trees — Tax law! Tax law! — and feel its caress on your face, like the touch of a lover?
Either you’re the most boring person on Earth, or you’re overinflating your dedication to this particular job function.
You should be passionate about your family or your partner. You should be passionate about a sports team or an art form. You should be passionate about something so much that you dress up in funny clothes and scream like a maniac whenever you get to do it. That’s passion. Do you do that when you get to send out an email newsletter?
(If you do, please share a video of that.)
If you feel that way about email marketing, or whatever, more power to you. It takes all types to make the world go ’round. But I tend to just roll my eyes and assume you’re exaggerating.
Making history/is historic
Things do not make history. Events are not historic, especially if that event hasn’t happened yet.
Whose history? Who decided it was historic? There were two Black quarterbacks in the Super Bowl this year. So many sportswriters relied on the clichéd crutch of calling it historic, but it wasn’t.
Was it notable? Absolutely. Was it important? You bet. Was it long overdue and a wrong that should have been righted years ago, ever since Doug Williams became the first Black QB and the first Black Super Bowl MVP in 1988? You’d better believe it.
But was it a thing that historians are going to be writing books about and discussing at length in 100 years? No. That’s the historic stuff.
What’s the difference between HISTORIC and HISTORICAL?
A quick note on the difference between these two terms. Historic refers to things that are important that everyone should be aware of: the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Civil War, the first Black president.
Historical is anything that’s from a prior period in time. A book published in 1776, a letter from a Union soldier, the first football game between Harvard and Yale.
While we’re on the subject, please GOD stop saying “an historic.” It’s not AN historic, it’s A historic. Sure, I know you heard the news people say it, but they’re bandwagon-jumping idiots who try to sound sophisticated and miss the mark. There’s absolutely no reason ever that you should say “an historic,” unless it’s to mock someone else who does it.
We use “an” before any word that starts with a vowel sound, and “a” before any word that starts with a consonant sound.
- An umbrella, an MBA, an hour.
- A unicorn, a university, a European.
Historic — unless you’re from Boston or are a 19th-century chimney sweep — is pronounced with the H sound very much intact.
Using adverbs and adjectives for EVERYTHING
There’s a very good chance you’ve sung the praises of a colleague, collaborator, or frenemy and you do so in the most glowing terms possible.
“I had an amazing, mind-blowing lunch at this delightfully cozy little bistro with my wonderful, delightful, mind-bogglingly creative friend, Churlington Beescoat.”
We gush, extol, glorify, and heap exaltations on our dear friend, Churlington, and we can’t say enough nice things about him because he is simply the Best Person Ever.
At least until next week, when we have lunch with our dear friend, Powderkeg Malone.
There’s a reason we don’t use a lot of adverbs and adjectives in writing. They’re a tool that new writers overuse, but they keep us from writing our best work. (Adverbs do, not new writers.)
If you have to describe a verb, then you’re using the wrong verb. Too many young writers try to wring out as much emotion as possible to tell you that their goldfish’s death made them cry really, really, really terribly loudly.
That’s not very sad at all. Maybe if you added another “really?”
What’s wrong with adjectives though?
They’re less problematic than adverbs, but there are times when you need to describe a noun. However, that’s not always necessary.
“A nutritious lunch” tells us what kind of lunch it is, but it’s not very interesting. “A lunch that would make my nutritionist nod in quiet approval” paints a more vivid picture. We get the sense that the lunch is sensible, solid, and even a little boring.
Instead of using adverbs and adjectives, come up with better verbs and nouns. You’re writers, for God’s sake! Expand your vocabulary. Come up with new words or use old words in new ways. (Just no business jargon, please.)
Recently, I saw Garrison Keillor talk about “purpling one’s thumb with a hammer,” and I thought that was the very best way to describe whacking your thumb with a hammer, because the word not only contains the action, but the result. You didn’t just hit your thumb, you hit it so hard that it bruised and bled underneath the nail. But those previous 12 words are contained within the single word “purpling.”
As content marketers, we need to use powerful language like that. We want to write powerful, persuasive copy that causes people to reach for their credit cards and purchase orders. And they don’t do that for really amazing, terrific, stupendous products.
As a writer, no matter what you write, you need to focus on the mechanics of your writing. Your word choice, your sentence structure, and your tone are just as important as your story, your narrative, and your characters. Maybe more so.
So avoid these copywriting crutches. Find a new way to say things and to be more interesting.
Let’s face it, your writing is going to flop otherwise.
Photo credit: Stocksnap (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)