Must Copywriters Use Good English?

May 4th, 2007 by Bob Bly

A recent radio commercial selling land in Florida informs us that “monthly payments are as low as $300 a month.”

It’s clear and factual. But of course, it’s redundant. If the payments are “$300 a month,” you should call them “payments” and not “monthly payments.”

It’s a small matter, but as a professional writer, I tend to notice — and am bothered by — these little mistakes.

But are you? More importantly, are your prospects?

Does inferior writing convey an impression of an inferior company selling an inferior product?

Or are readers today too busy and illiterate to care?

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This entry was posted on Friday, May 4th, 2007 at 11:26 am and is filed under General, Writing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

19 responses about “Must Copywriters Use Good English?”

  1. Emilio Gelosi said:

    A pleonasm is always a bad mistake, especially if you write copy for a living. Clients – at least here in Italy – care a lot about accuracy.

  2. Michael A. Stelzner said:

    Hey Bob;

    I had to read that more than once.

    Those kind of errors should be caught by an editor.

    I use an editor for all of my marketing materials.

    On a totally unrelated note, I would love to get your thoughts on contentjacking.

    This is where someone steals you info and posts it as their own.

    Big discussion going at my blog on this issue.

    Mike

  3. Keith said:

    Well, the ads will look stupid to writers including those from marketing world.

  4. Ali Manson said:

    Hey Bob,

    These types of error bother me far less than, say, a typo, or a factual error.

    The re-iteration of the payment frequency is an error, but then again, what person uses perfect english all the time?

    I am reminded of a post on this blog a while back about the FREE gift issue. It’s the same thing, really. The repetition or doubling up of a word or phrase to remind or reinforce the chosen image in the prospect’s mind. And if it increases response, then who are we to argue? The only way to see is to test…

    Ali

  5. Mike Bell said:

    Hello Bob,
    I’m currently reading “The Copywriter’s Handbook” in an effort to improve the copy I use in my online and offline businesses.

    I think that anyone who uses copy in their business should make the effort to use the language properly. There’s an unfortunate trend in speech and the written word to introduce incorrect English as if it is the norm.

    One instance that really annoys me is the use of “less” when applied to a number as in “25 less people” rather than “25 fewer people”. This is now a fairly common mistake in journalism and advertising. Perhaps copywriters could become the primary defenders of the language and resolve to eliminate these errors.

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  7. Kelly Robbins said:

    I’m with Michael and Ali on this one. I truly don’t notice because I have too much to do to care. Lucky the marketer that grabs my attention!

    As a professional copywriter I feel I should be better at catching those things because I often don’t catch them. Because of that I pay someone to check over my work and catch those errors — an editor.

    One thing to keep in mind is who your audience is. As a copywriter I often sell MY products and services to other marketers. And THEY notice (many of them) those kind of errors. Your typical overworked entrepreneur could care less. I work with a lot of doctors — perfectionists. The ones that take the time to read the copy would catch that and be annoyed at the imperfection.

    It’s not worth your reputation to let it slide.

    Your average reader doesn’t care.

  8. Brett said:

    I think it is important, but at varying levels. Most people would never catch the error in your example. However, something more obvious definitely affects the brand.

    And while an editor would catch something like this, the web demands that we all respond quickly, which more times than not means no editor.

    So I guess we all need to start writing better.

  9. Jeff Brooks said:

    Clarity is more important that correctness. So are passion, sounding natural, and seeming human. We should always try to be correct, except when doing so is in conflict with something that matters more.

  10. Stan Smith said:

    Bob, it bothers me too. Repetition can be useful for emphasis, but when no emphasis is needed, as here, it’s just redundancy.

    As has been noted here, though, this one is so minor that it’s likely to flash right by the average, harried reader. In fact, such a reader might find the (redundant) use of familiar phrases like “$X per month” and “monthly payments” somehow comforting and reassuring….which could produce more sales!

  11. Jonathan Kantor said:

    I think radio copy has to account for the short attention span listener. Reiterating the words monthly and payments helps to get the point across when you only have 30 seconds.

  12. Sheri Cyprus said:

    Great topic, Bob, and excellent comments for both sides. It seems to be a real judgement call as to whether a redundant phrase will help sell or just annoy!

  13. Donor Power Blog said:

    Don’t use no bad English

    The bly.com blog (a copywriting blog) asks an interesting question: Must Copywriters Use Good English? On the table is this groaner, heard on the radio: “Monthly payments are as low as $300 a month.” Must we use good English? As

  14. Must Copywriters Use Good English? : My Netrepreneur said:

    [...] Must Copywriters Use Good English? A recent radio commercial selling land in Florida informs us that “monthly payments are as low as $300 a month.” It’s clear and factual. But of course, it’s redundant. If the payments are “$300 a month,” you should call them “payments” and not “monthly payments.” It’s a small matter, but as a professional writer, I tend to […] [...]

  15. CONNIE WERNER REICHERT said:

    Damn right. Every single word counts.

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    damion…

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