Three copywriting rules you can break


Ask any copywriter how you shouldn’t write and you’ll get good advice. Don’t use jargon. Don’t use cliché. And don’t use long sentences.

This all seems like common sense. Jargon isn’t universal language. Clichés don’t mean anything. And long sentences can bore your reader.

Speaking of your reader, a good copywriter will also say you should always write for them. If they understand a bit of jargon, you can use it. If you give a cliché some context, you can use it. And if your writing comes to an abrupt pause with every short sentence, you can use longer ones.

Let’s talk about this in more detail.

You can use jargon if your reader knows what it means

You should never use jargon because your reader won’t understand it. But as we established above, you should always write for your reader.

After researching them, you may find they use certain jargon a lot.

If they understand it, you can get your message to them quicker. But be sure they understand it.

You can use cliché sparingly, and if it has context

Clichés are metaphors, similes and sayings that have had the meaning written out of them through overuse. That’s why writers of all trades say you should never use them. But every now and then, you find an ‘every now and then’. Or a ‘blood, sweat and tears’.

If you can give a cliché plenty of context before you use it, it won’t appear so meaningless. But use it sparingly. If you use it in every sentence, your reader really won’t know what you’re on about.

You can use long sentences to give your writing rhythm

Long sentences can stop your reader from getting to your point. And stop them reading. That’s why you should use short sentences. But use too many of these, and your writing can sound stumpy and lack flow.

Use the occasional long sentence in your writing, plus some punctuation, and your reader gets a good rhythm they can follow.

What else can you do?

Are there any other copywriting rules you can break? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.


How a brand’s name can reflect its audience


I recently saw The Founder, a film about the life of Ray Croc. He was the person who turned the fast-food restaurant McDonald’s into a franchise, and bought the company from its founders: the brothers Mac and Dick McDonald.

There’s a scene in the film where Dick asks Ray why he didn’t just steal their idea and slap his name on it. Ray says this wouldn’t have worked, because no one would want to eat at a place called Kroc’s.

He explains he had to have the McDonald’s name, because it’s “all-American”. It’s a beacon for its target audience: families, who are sick of eating at other roadside diners because they were hangouts for teenagers and “juvenile delinquents”. Families wanted somewhere they could take their children and eat in peace.

This exchange of dialogue got me thinking about what brand names can represent.

What’s in a name?

The supermarket Aldi is a merging of the words Albrecht and diskont. The former is the surname of its founders, Karl and Theo, and the later is the German term for discount. Which is ideal, since Aldi is seen as a cheaper alternative to its competitors.

Lego is a contraction of the Danish phrase ‘leg godt’, which in English means ‘play well’. As Lego is a toy, this makes the name a good fit.

Volkswagen means ‘people’s car’. The brand came around at a time when German roads were reserved for the rich, which made it significant.

And the term Nivea comes from the Latin word Niveus, which means Snow White. Conveniently enough, a lot of their skin care products are this colour.

Even more stories

If you enjoyed this post, you can learn the stories behind even more brand names here.

What I read for the last time

Hello everyone, and welcome to my final ‘What I read’ blog post. I’ve decided to end this series and write more posts on copywriting. I want to take Thought Dump in this direction, and I felt ‘What I read’ isn’t right for it.

So for the last time, here’s what I read this month.


The Noise of Time

Julian Barnes, Vintage 2017

There’s a good story here, with lots of historical context. But it comes across as a random string of thoughts told in the third person, and gets lost. However, this doesn’t stop The Noise of Time from being enjoyable.



pocket-of-hong-kongLonely Planet: Pocket Hong Kong (5th Edition)

Piera Chen, Lonely Planet 2015

Don’t let the word ‘pocket’ fool you; there’s a lot of information in this book. I’d say there’s a week’s worth of reading for at least a month’s worth of activities, meaning Piera Chen’s guide is great value for money. The focus on cheap and free doings, plus high-end ones, is welcome. There isn’t much about the Cantonese language here, but this is better off in its own book.


a-woman-in-berlinA Woman in Berlin

Anonymous, Virago Press 2011

As the Russian forces were sacking Berlin near the end of the Second World War, this anonymous author recorded her thoughts in a diary. There’s some disturbing reading here, but it’s worth reading. A big thank you to the author for sharing this sensitive stuff.



If it’s worth sharing

As I said at the start of this post, this is my final ‘what I read’. I won’t be writing book reviews in this way again. But if I read a book and I think there’s something worth sharing in it, I’ll write about it.

Thanks for reading, everyone.

Five things not to do in your first draft


Ernest Hemingway said “all first drafts are shit,” and he’s right. Your first draft is far from good, but it’s the difference between having something written on paper and nothing at all.

There’s no point getting upset over a terrible first draft. It’s not what your client will be judging your skills on. There’s also no point spending hours on getting it perfect. What you should be spending hours on is research and editing.

Your first draft is about getting something done quickly, which you can make better later. But there are some things you shouldn’t do when writing it.

  1. Don’t be afraid of going off-topic

Before you write anything, know what you’re writing about. A plan doesn’t have to be much, and it can show you what you should be writing and where you should be writing it. For my blog posts, my plans are usually just a list of things I want to cover, and I write this in the order I want to cover them.

A plan can stop you from going off-topic, but don’t worry about this yet. Just write. Anything that doesn’t fit can be taken out at the editing stage.

  1. Don’t fix your spelling and grammar

If you stop writing your first draft every time you misuse a comma, you’ll spend a long time getting it done. Bad spelling and grammar can be made good during editing.

  1. Don’t worry about your TOV

Your message is what you say, and your tone of voice is how you say it. For your first draft, focus on doing the former as best as you can. Your TOV can be sharpened up later.

  1. Don’t follow any other rules

Remember George Orwell’s rules on good writing? Don’t worry about those in your first draft. Use cliché. Use long words instead of short ones. Use six words where you could use five. All of this can be fixed another time.

  1. Don’t love your writing

Once your first draft is done, walk away. Leave it for at least 24 hours. When you come back, you’ll see what a shit job you’ve done. This will make it easier to improve.

Don’t fall in love with your first draft. You won’t want to change it, and your reader will suffer.

Your thoughts

What else shouldn’t you do when writing a first draft? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

10 years of the iPhone: how it changed copywriting


I read an article on the BBC website about the iPhone turning 10 this year. The author talked about how the device popularised certain actions. This blog post will look at the ways the iPhone, and smart phones in general, have affected copywriting.

Browsing the web got easier

It was possible to browse the Internet on a mobile phone before smart phones got so popular. But with their small, low quality screens, it was difficult. The iPhone changed that. Now most phones are hand-held computers first and telephones second.

Brands know this, and many build their websites to work on phone screens as well as computer monitors. You can tell when they haven’t, as their pages will appear cramped and probably make you want to leave their site.

More emails got opened

Again, it was possible to open emails on a mobile, but old interfaces made it a hassle. Since we now carry mini computers with much nicer-looking interfaces in our pockets all the time, we’re checking our emails a lot more than before. And brands are sending out more email campaigns than before.

Email campaign websites like Mailchimp let copywriters see what their emails will look like on smart phone screens, so they can adjust their copy to fit these.

Image sourcing got simpler

Many companies ask their marketing staff to be multi-disciplined. When you write a news story or blog post for their website, or content for their social media pages, you’ll often be expected to find the image for this too.

Your image may be determined by your copy, but for things like exhibition or conference attendances, smart phone cameras have made it easier to get these images yourself, and at a decent quality. All you have to do is go to your phone’s camera app, and take the picture.

Your thoughts

What other ways has the iPhone and smart phones changed copywriting? Share your answers in the comments section below.

Can anyone be just a copywriter?


When I studied a copywriting module at university, my teacher, who was a wise and experienced copywriter, taught me how to write for print and the web. They made it sound like I could earn a living from just this.

Accurately enough, I became a junior copywriter after leaving university, where I wrote copy for print and the web. My creative director, who was also a wise and experienced copywriter, made it sound like I could earn a living from just this. And there are loads of books that have told me how to be a good copywriter.

But my teacher, creative director and books didn’t tell me how to be an events organiser. Or an analytics reporter. Or a design expert or an SEO guru. And I’ve read lots of job descriptions that ask me to be all of this.

A small part

Search any recruitment website, and there are tonnes of job adverts for marketing assistants or campaigns executives. These adverts usually say copywriting only makes up a small part of your role.

The rest of your time is spent reading and reporting on the analytics of your company’s website, helping them set up with promotional events, improving their SEO (something which divides copywriters) and using design software (which regular readers will know I think is an entirely different discipline).

I searched a recruitment site for copywriter jobs, and found loads of job descriptions for marketing assistants and communications assistants. Here’s an example of the duties involved in these:

“Maintaining and updating the company website and marketing materials (experience using WordPress would be hugely beneficial); writing and updating marketing materials using InDesign and/or Illustrator; developing and managing marketing image library; monitoring social media accounts; monitoring and tracking marketing activity – e.g. competitor analysis; working alongside the Marketing Manager to plan and analyse current and future marketing campaigns; keeping company documents and sales presentations up to date; creating and monitoring email marketing campaigns to support our sales teams.”

Writing website copy gets a small, somewhat clouded mention at the beginning. Here’s another example:

“Creating and scheduling HTML marketing emails and managing mailboxes; database and website updates; management of social media pages; organising and processing book reviews; marketing direct mail, catalogues and flyers; producing a monthly marketing report; customer relations, including answering publishing related enquiries by email and telephone; creating promotional book displays for conferences and attending coffee breaks; research and contact conference organisers to promote publishing services; creating and editing promotional material, including use of Photoshop and InDesign.”

‘Pure’ copywriter jobs

Adverts for ‘pure’ copywriter jobs do exist, but personal experience suggests they don’t appear as often as marketing assistant ones. I did find one during my search, and the description was a lot shorter than the other examples:

“If you’re a super talented writer who is passionate about content, obsessive about words and is looking for the next career step – then you may have found your calling.”

And of course, many freelance copywriters advertise themselves as just that. Copywriting is their speciality, maybe because they’ve earned the right to sell a high-quality service after decades of hard work.

A dilemma 

There’s lots of great advice on copywriting out there. But with so many jobs asking for more than this, I have a dilemma.

Should copywriters be multi-disciplined to find work, or should recruiters respect copywriting as something that can’t be put under an umbrella with other things?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please share them in the comments section below.

How alcohol can improve your creativity


A few weeks ago, I published a blog post about what brands can learn from Weatherspoons. In that post, I apologised to anyone taking part in Dry January, who may have felt envious from the talk of alcohol. I also said I’d make it up them.

Since Dry January ends tomorrow, I decided to do that now. So read on to learn about a study from issue 3102 of New Scientist, written by Helen Thomson, about how alcohol can improve your creativity.

Also, please drink responsibly.

Creative solutions

According to an experiment carried out by Andrew Jarosz of Mississippi State University, Starkville, and several of his colleagues, a small tipple of alcohol “makes it easier to solve problems that require creative solutions.”

They had 40 men complete a series of memory tests. The men were then put into pairs with similar working memory capacities. One of each pair drank a vodka and cranberry. Both of them were then asked to solve a series of word problems.

Those who drank “were better at solving problems that required thinking outside of the box.”

Why was this? Well, the theory is alcohol reduces our working memory capacity, or our “ability to focus on one thing rather than blocking out peripheral information.”

When we lower these walls, “your mind can wander, making novel connections that can otherwise be overlooked.”

Get out of your head

You hear a lot about how spending time away from your desk or computer screen is essential for creativity. And about how the idea process mostly happens away from your place of work, when you’re not trying to focus so hard on one task.

This gets a mention in copywriter Andy Maslen’s Write to Sell, and advertiser James Webb Young’s A Technique for Producing Ideas.

We won’t think of a miracle by staying inside our own heads. If we want to be more creative, we need to let our minds wander, so they can make “novel connections” between the things we usually overlook.

Other good things

A small amount of alcohol may be good for our creativity, but what else is? If you know of anything, please share it in the comments section below.