Keep it simple, stupid?

This may come as an utter shock to some of you, but I have a day job. I know, how can a guy who writes a whopping 1.7 blog posts per week and watches every episode of The Daily Show find the time to also keep a full-time job? It’s beyond the powers of the average man. Yet here we are.

So my company often launches these…campaigns, I guess you’d call them? These landing pages that tell our customers how awesome we are and how our products will change their lives forever and make them irresistible to the opposite sex and also zzzzzzzzzzz. The problem is: Most product managers are so excited about their products that they have a very difficult time cutting down the amount of words used to describe them. This is an issue, since online users have the attention span of a coke-addicted rabbit. You want them to know what your product can do for them, but you don’t want them to read an epic saga about the trials and tribulations the product has gone through to be born into this world.

Front View Red Car

And on the 374th day, he put the finishing touches on the magnificent paint job of his beloved creation, and…

Long story short, my team asked me to review some text from an external agency, to see if I could reduce the number of words while keeping the message intact. So I did.

(Necessary digression: Copywriting isn’t a part of my job description. I’m officially an online marketing specialist, which is a fancy title for someone who browses Facebook while pretending to do useful work on the company’s website.)

Then my copy suggestions were sent to the marketing team for review and final approval. And then our marketing team, for reasons that will forever remain unclear, ended up involving a third copywriter. And then the world went mad.

Allow me to offer a single example that best sums up these surreal transformations. Here’s a sentence from the agency’s original text:

[PRODUCT NAME] is your complete USB-connected UC manager enabling you to pick up calls and control volume to your preference.

A bit too many unnecessary letters, right? So here’s what I shortened it down to:

Pick up calls and change volume through a dedicated control box.

Pulitzer Prize–winning material? Nope. Does it get the point across? It sure does.

Or so I thought.

Apparently, the third copywriter thought it was a shame that we weren’t using every single word in the English language, so we have somehow ended up with this:

An intuitive in-line controller fitted with a USB-stick for greater productivity and convenience to pick up or end calls, control volume or mute.

Borat Meme

Is it just me, or is this…not…good? Those sure are some fancy words, but do we want our customers to understand the product, or do we want them to pass a technical literacy test?

But hey, maybe I’m the crazy one. Maybe this is how smart marketeers are doing things these days. Keeping it simple is so last millennium! We want words! We want them all! So, inspired by this new discovery, I hereby provide a much needed update to popular company slogans. You’re welcome, market leaders:

Nike

Used to be:

Just do it.

New and improved:

Simply start to undertake a physical activity of your choosing in a speedy manner at this immediate moment in time.

McDonald’s

Used to be:

I’m lovin’ it

New and improved:

I find the nutritional characteristics and the palatableness of this meal to greatly exceed the expectations I have come to develop with regards to fast food establishments.

L’Oreal

Used to be:

Because you’re worth it.

New and improved:

You have been subjectively determined as being worthy of purchasing and owning an affordable line of our cosmetic products.

Those are a few to get you all started. With proper dedication and excessive verbosity, you too can write a tagline for your favorite company. Who wants to start?!

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32 thoughts on “Keep it simple, stupid?

  1. Haha… I can’t even imagine having a day job that involved writing. I think I would end up bald, pulling my hair out with OMG-WHY-CANT-EVERYONE-JUST-WRITE frustration. I love doing serious, fiction writing critiques, but I just hate, hate, HATE reading over & editing other’s work in the “real world.” I just cannot silence my own voice and style, and it annoys me that everyone else doesn’t write like me. Even though I know that doesn’t make sense…. 😀

    Like

    • Yeah, the problem with being a writer (and an editor) is the smartass internal voice telling you that you should rewrite someone else’s stuff.

      In cases like this, though, that voice becomes a screaming banshee!

      Like

  2. I am a copywriter and I hear what you are saying. It depends on where the content is running and what it is. I like simple best but sometimes you need a bit more. In some of the tech focused publications you can roll out the ‘intuitive in-line controller’ because it makes it clear it is easy to use and that it is a controller.

    I know sometimes that should be understood by everyone but..

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    • I hear what you’re saying. And if the target audience for our marketing content consisted of professional engineers and technically savvy users, I’d fully agree.

      But our marketing is trying to communicate to the average person, or so I thought. Maybe we’re targeting sentient androids, and I have simply missed the memo. Thanks for dropping by!

      Like

      • Hey? Do I get a vote? Well of course I do! This is Nest-Expressed.
        I think I WIN because…. just because.
        Not that I’m being competitive or that this was some sort of worded competition but just in general, you know.
        I WIN I WIN I WIN.
        I’m a winner! In my own mind anyway.
        What?

        (This is great fun! Always love the interaction here Daniel. You write the best blogs and leave the best comments. So I guess you win. We are all winners. I’d better get off here now before I disintegrate into a fuzzy ball of sugar. I may have a problem.)

        (Why is everything a competition with you anyway?)

        (Just kidding! -insert smiley face-)

        (I need help.)

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      • Of course. YOU get to vote. THEY get to vote. SHE gets to vote. EVERYBODY GETS A VOOOOOOOTE.

        Sorry for the Oprah moment.

        I agree that help is needed for most of us. No smiley faces.

        Like

  3. Love this! I tried my hand at one: The onomatopoeic sounds of those discs dropping into my beverage container lead to the alleviation of my gastrointestinal distress.

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  4. Natalie DeYoung says:

    Don’t different styles always roll back around, though? Like, maybe we’re coming out of a “concise, brief marketing” to long, complex prose in our ads?
    Haha.

    Like

  5. Vanessa D. says:

    I really like that Wendy’s slogan even if it doesn’t make me want to pass up my vegetarian life style. All of these slogans remind me of spam comments for some reason.

    Like

  6. I always thought I’d enjoy advertising, but I ended up dropping out of graphic design school because I ended up really souring on the whole thing. It didn’t appear that the industry was very open to innovation or change.
    The copywriter sounds a little ambitious perhaps. I always felt that keeping things concise was a good thing. In fiction, one can afford to get a little flowery, but in business writing I always thought things should be to the point.
    I’m visiting you from the Moonshine grid. Mine is a long fiction piece–not entirely concise and to the point! I don’t know if such a thing would hold any interest for you, but in the event that it might, here’s the link.
    http://hickswyliedna.blogspot.com/2014/09/daze-of-future-past-trauma-awakens-dream.html

    Like

    • That’s exactly it. Visitors to company websites aren’t there to read text, they just need to know the basics as quickly as possible. If they were there to read fiction, then we’d be talking. (Although surprisingly few people want to read fiction about integrated USB sticks.)

      Like

  7. The copywriter who revised your work… they had to add or risk losing their credibility as a copywriter. You know, if they had acknowledged that your revision was GREAT! then who needs them, right?

    I agree that simple is always better. In comics creation there are only two rules: 1. Be clear. 2. Entertain.
    Copywriters need not apply.

    Like

    • Well I’m not even sure the copywriter even saw my input. There’s a whole political thing between the marketing team and our team that I’m not involved in. The marketing guys must have thought we were stepping on their toes or something. In any case, I did get a good laugh out of it.

      Like

  8. I like simple, simple words, simple sentences… AND simple products. If I have to read a manual to figure out what it is, or how to use it… WELL I don’t need it, or want it. I think they were FOOLS to throw out your perfectly succinct wording for the drivel from the new copywriters… do they get paid by the word?

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    • Yeah it’s tough to drop that traditional mindset of telling everything to everyone about your products. It just won’t fly online.

      I have no idea how they pay their copywriters, but I do know that there must be a LOT of money wasted on this stuff.

      Like

  9. Wendy’s “Where’s the beef?” is now “Where can I locate the iron-rich muscle that’s been combined with the slaughter-house floor drippings and run through a grinder so that I can consume it in a broiled patty?”

    You’re on to something, Daniel. As always.

    For the record, I think your slogan was the best. In public health, it’s all about keeping the message as simple as possible, too. People want quick. They want few words that pack a punch. There’s too much else competing for their attention.

    Like

    • That’s a catchy, catchy Wendy’s slogan. Sign me up!

      The thing is I wasn’t even that attached to my copy. It wasn’t even a slogan as much as it was a one of the bullets describing product features. You’d think they wanted people to “get” the product, but apparently it’s more important to wow them with our impressive vocabulary.

      Like

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