Do you ever play the party game, “Imagine that you could have just one superpower…” Many people choose, “Become invisible.”
Copywriters play this game when they write sales letters or websites. You lose readers when they stop thinking about the message and begin thinking about the person behind the message. By way of analogy, think about what happens when you watch a suspenseful movie. You get so caught up in the story you forget it’s not real. Someone gets hit and you think, “Oh no – I really liked him!” You don’t think, “Oh, it’s just ketchup and sound effects. Big deal.”
Alternatively, think about the times you’ve attended an event where you listened to a live speaker. Have you ever gotten distracted by the speaker’s wardrobe or mannerisms? If you’re accepting an Oscar you want everyone to appreciate your dress; if you’re presenting information, you want your wardrobe to be irrelevant. (If you have some delicious examples of people who violated this rule, feel free to add them to the “comments” section below.)
Just as speakers are advised to keep their wardrobe simple, copywriters learn to create content that doesn’t draw exclamations of, “Brilliant writing!” The best way to hold your readers’ attention is to keep your writing as simple and direct as possible. You lose readers when you add clever phrases and magnificent metaphors.
See what just happened?
When you read, “magnificent metaphor,” you might have slowed down to think, “Nice!” Or maybe you don’t like alliteration so you said, “Silly!”
It’s especially hard for me to remember this guideline, because I am a metaphor junkie myself. Turn me loose and I’ll start writing about rocket ships blasting off, express lanes on the highway and much, much more.
Sometimes a well-chosen metaphor works. More often, it’s best to put on your cloak of invisibility: fight off temptation and just present your message in clear, simple language.
What do you think? Have you ever gotten so distracted by clever writing you ignored the message? Comment in the space below.
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