Well, whaddya know? At the grand old age of 43, I’ve discovered that I like poetry – both reading and writing it – a lot. When creativity strikes me at 4 o’clock in the morning, I jot down rhyming couplets in my special notebook bought for the purpose. My partner is thrilled with this new development, as you can imagine.
I’ve been doing a bit of reading to learn more about the craft and some of what I’ve come across is great advice for copywriters too so I thought I’d share it in case you find it helpful.
Copywriting tips borrowed from poetry
Your writing should sound natural but not familiar.
That means avoiding clichés and anything that doesn’t sound original. It doesn’t mean you can’t use well-known phrases, but a fresh way of expressing yourself is much more engaging than a phrase that’s been used a million times before.
First and last words carry more weight
Words at the beginning and end of lines in poems have more weight so you’re advised to choose them carefully. And when people read your copy, they’re often skim-reading and focus on the beginnings and ends of sentences and pay less attention to what’s in the middle.
It’s worth bearing this in mind when you write a bulleted list about the benefits or features of a product or service or a list of teasers to get people excited about a launch. Thanks to the primacy and recency effects we tend to remember items at the beginning and end of lists so make the first and last bullet points the most tantalising ones and put the less thrilling ones in the middle.
Words aren’t ornamentation
If they don’t add meaning to what you’re saying, leave them out.
We’re all guilty of falling in love with our own writing sometimes but the point of copywriting is not to make us feel great about ourselves. If any words or phrases don’t add meaning to your copy, ditch them. Don’t get carried away with your own cleverness, always write with your readers in mind.
And go easy with adjectives and adverbs too. The right one in the right place can make your writing evocative and your meaning crystal clear but if you pepper them throughout your prose they can take away from your message.
Try to convey what you want to say as clearly and concisely as possible and express yourself precisely. Here’s a post on making your writing more compelling by using verbs rather than nouns (it’s amazing how using a verb that expresses exactly what you want to say is much more powerful than using a string of nouns to say the same thing).
Kill your darlings. Kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.
Create pleasing sounds
In poetry, you form pleasing or interesting sound patterns by combining certain phonemes (speech sounds). Apply that to copywriting and you can create different effects and help your readers remember what they’ve read by using certain words together. Rhyme, for example, helps people remember.
Every now and then, someone I met networking donkey’s years ago comes up to me to say hi. They may have absolutely no idea what my name is or where we met but they always remember WordNerd.
Alliteration is probably the best known of these literary techniques, it’s when you put two or more words that start with the same letter or sound next to each other in a sentence, such as The totally tropical taste (Lilt).
Assonance is similar but it’s when you place words with the same vowel sounds (not necessarily at the beginning of each word) close to each other in a sentence like You only get an oo with Typhoo.
And consonance is the same as assonance but with consonants (alliteration is a subset of consonance).
The power of three
Tony Blair talked about “Education, education, education”, Winston Churchill spoke of “blood, sweat and tears”, Benjamin Disraeli is supposed to have first said, “lied, damned lies and statistics”. There’s also “Location, location, location”, “Veni, vidi, veci”, “My Lords, ladies and gentleman”, the list goes on and on and… but why are they so pleasing to our ears and brains?
Because they contain three items.
Three is the smallest number we need to form a pattern, which aids recall and creates a satisfying rhythm. It also makes a short enough list for us to remember everything on it. Two just isn’t long enough to create that pleasing rhythm and four is too many. Try it.
You can use the power of three in copywriting to emphasise your point (like call-me-Tony did above with his education message) or to help your audience remember. It’s used all the time in presentations and training as it aids reader/listener recall – if you haven’t noticed it before you’ll probably start spotting it all over the place now.
That’s my list of copywriting tips borrowed from the world of poetry:
- Write naturally
- Remember that first and last words carry more weight
- Don’t use words as ornamentation
- Do use pleasing sounds
- Harness the power of three
Have you got any to add?
P.S. If this has piqued your interest in the why of copywriting, not just the how, I’m running a behavioural insights workshop in London, in February. You can find out more here.