Explaining Death Of A Pet To A 2 Year Old Writing Sales Copy – A Lesson in Third Grade English

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Writing Sales Copy – A Lesson in Third Grade English

Dear Trader,

My 12-year-old son has appointed himself “The crack cop” around our house.

As soon as anyone allows their pants to slide down a little and then bend over, the boy gleefully shouts, “Say no cracking!” — and then helplessly collapses into spasms of laughter.

Happened to me just last night. In front of the nanny. Frickin’ humiliating.

Now, as your friend and mentor, I’d hate for something like that to happen to you – especially when you’re pitching your copy to a client.

Showing off your keester – proving you played hooky the day they taught you the rules of grammar and punctuation in Third Grade – is no way to put your career on the fast track!

No, I’m not catching you. In fact, this issue is more about my health than your career.

See, I get tons of specific assignments and samples from writers who want to work with me. In addition, I edit reams of sales copy from both “A” and “B” level writers who work for my agency, Response Ink.

And if I have to correct one more stupid and/or careless mistake in grammar or punctuation, my head will explode.

And so, in what I’m sure is a futile attempt to stave off the heart attack or stroke, I’m sure to strike the next time I see the same brain errors in sales copy — here are 17 simple guidelines I found. on an educational website that can help…

1. Verbs must agree with their subjects.

2. Also, never, ever use repeated redundancies.

3. Be more or less specific.

4. Parenthetical remarks (however pertinent) are (usually) unnecessary.

5. No sentence fragments.

6. Foreign words and phrases are not appropriate.

7. Don’t be redundant; do not use more words than necessary; it is very redundant.

8. One should never generalize.

9. Never use any double negatives.

10. Avoid symbols and abbreviations etc.

11. The passive voice is to be avoided.

12. Remove commas that are not necessary. Parenthetical words, however, should be inserted with commas.

13. Never use a big word when a diminutive or lower case will do.

14. Use words correctly, regardless of how others use them.

15. Understatement is always the best way to present earth-shattering ideas.

16. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

17. Try carefully to see yourself any words.

Now, I hear that in addition to the rules above, those of you with sheepskin on your wall have also been taught a few things about communicating effectively in English, that’s just not true – like…

1. One word sentences? remove No way! I’ve found that when used with discretion, one-word sentences and even one-word paragraphs in sales copy add emphasis and make the page look more inviting.

2. Who needs rhetorical questions? I do – that’s who! Rhetorical questions are a great way to stop prospects in their tracks and get them thinking. My rhetorical title, “What’s Wrong with Get Rich Quicker?” sent for years.

3. Contractions are not necessary and should not be used. Baloney! Contractions should always be used when writing sales copy – unless NOT using them adds appropriate emphasis: “Don’t buy any stock today” is much less emphatic than “Don’t buy any stock today”.

4. Prepositions are not words used to end sentences. Not necessarily true. Remember: Our goal is to write in plain language – and most of our prospects break this rule with wild abandon.

5. And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction. WRONG! Conjunctions are connecting words … when used at the beginning of a paragraph, they can be very helpful in moving a reader forward.

6. It is wrong to ever divide an infinitive. Again – if you speak to your prospect in plain language, it can sometimes be helpful.

7. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They’re old hat.) That’s dumb as a bag of hammers. Clichés, metaphors and other figures of speech are more than just colloquial and convenient; they tend to paint vivid mental pictures. And as we both know, a picture is worth a thousand words.

8. Also, always avoid annoying alliteration. Some of the most effective headlines ever written used alliteration to make them memorable. Bencivenga’s legendary “Lies, Lies, Lies” “12 Smiling Deceivers” etc.

9. Comparisons are as bad as clichés. World Health Organization wrote these rules anyway? Comparisons are essential in sales copy. To make my case, I often compare something that is happening in the economy or stock market today to something that happened in years past.

And to simplify things, I often compare something that happens inside your body to something that happens outside of it: “This supplement is like a rotor root for your arteries.”

And of course, comparing the high value of the benefits delivered by my product with its low cost is a proven winner.

10. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake. Again – analogies are word pictures … they are used in colloquial conversation … and they are a quick way to drive your point home.

11. Kill all exclamation points! Not always! Judicious use of exclamation points when writing sales copy is helpful in emphasizing important points! Overuse can kill, though!

12. Remove quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I hate quotes. Tell me what you know.” You can quote me on this: Waldo was a drooling idiot. Citing a top expert’s implicit or explicit endorsement of your rationale, topic, or product is a powerful way to establish credibility.

13. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: Resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it effectively. Hyperbole is like art: No one can define it, but everyone thinks they know it when they see it. As the writer, you alone should judge whether your tone and word choices are appropriate or exaggeration.

14. Puns are for kids, not for whiny readers. Tell that to Arthur Johnson: He knows that light humor – including puns – can be a powerful readership and response booster, especially in heads and subheads!

15. Walk around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquial speech. Nonsense. Communicatives communicate. See above.

However, there is one more set of rules that I do try to follow carefully – and that I see broken more than any other…

Use the apostrophe in its proper place and omit it when it is not needed.

Ah, apostrophes. Those little demons seem to screw up everyone I know. Problem is, the misuse of apostrophes is a pet peeve of mine.

Can’t explain why, but when they’re used incorrectly in copy I’m reviewing, critiquing, or editing, they make me see red.

My blood pressure “explodes”, those little “veins” in my forehead swell, a gallon of adrenaline “gets” poured into my bloodstream and I have to resist the urge to strangle the poor person “who” offended me.

In my humble opinion, nothing – NOTHING – makes your sales copy look more ignorant than misusing or abusing the humble apostrophe.

And wouldn’t you know it? Almost everyone in my office … every copywriter I work with … every vendor who sells stuff to my companies … every client I have … and even the best writers I copy chief on a daily basis … couldn’t use an apostrophe correctly if you held a gun to their “head!”

Take a look. This isn’t brain science or rocket surgery: There are three times – and ONLY three times when an apostrophe is required…

Time #1 — To make a word possessive:

RULE A: If the root word is NOT possessive and does not already end in “s”, adding an apostrophe followed by “s” makes that word possessive.

Example:

“Here’s Clayton’s article.”

NO “Here is Claytons article.”

RULE B: If the word already ends with “s”, no additional “s” is needed. An apostrophe at the end of the word is enough.

Example:

“That’s Martin Weiss’ newsletter”

NO “That’s Martin Weiss’ newsletter”

RULE C: Words that are already possessive do not need an apostrophe, regardless of whether or not they end in “s”.

Examples:

“Is this yours?”

NO “is this yours”

“Is this his?”

NO “Is this his?”

“Is this hers?”

NO “Is this hers?”

“Is this theirs?”

NO “Is this theirs?”

“It said its product”

NO “It said it was a product.”

And DEFINITELY NOT “It said its product.”

Time #2 — To combine two words into one using a contraction:

The apostrophe is used to replace a missing letter in the combined word.

Examples:

It is = It is

No = Don’t

Will not = Won’t

Couldn’t = Couldn’t

She is = She’s

He is = He’s

They are = They’re

Clayton is = Clayton’s

Time #3 – In ordinary language, to indicate that a letter or part of a word or number is missing.

Examples:

Clayton has been called “The Sultan of ‘persuasion.’

Back in ’87, the stock market crashed…

—————————

There.

I feel better.

I’ll never have to correct these things again — will I?

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