Let’s talk about words, phrases, spelling, punctuation, and grammar. No, this isn’t the table of contents from your grade school phonics book. It’s a look into the English language and how it can be used misused in copywriting. This isn’t just a look, though. It’s an examination of how easily marketing copy errors are made and how misunderstandings continue. And it isn’t just any old examination, either. We got insight from Quattro’s own copy team about the blunders they see WAY too much, with some copy and content writing tips included along the way.
“The copy mistakes that drive me nuts are…”
Jim McAvoy – Copywriter
- When "EDT" or "EST" (or similar) time zone designation is used incorrectly. I just received a seminar invite that contained this mistake. As a copywriting tip, it makes so much more sense to use the simple "ET," "CT," etc., especially since when these go into effect has changed in recent years.
- The repeated use of the name of the product/company over and over, especially when it’s a compound name and sounds extra clunky. This causes what I call “reader fatigue” and the distinct impression that a robot, rather than a person, wrote the ad. Copy should sound smooth and conversational.
- Mixing up “they're/their/there.”
It’s doesn’t matter if you’re a professional marketer or a third grader in Mrs. Roth’s English class, there should be no confusion as to when each should be used in a sentence, because they’re words whose meanings are quite different, really. But judging by the content I often come across, there are a lot of brands (and people on my Facebook timeline) who don't seem to understand the differences — AND their marketing is suffering!
Don’t even get me started on "you're" v. "your!"
We won’t Jim, we won’t.
Scott Armstrong – Creative Director, Copy
- It’s just one, but it’s a big one for me: the misuse of parallel construction. Understanding that bulleted copy needs to be written in parallel from a grammatical perspective.
Consider this example…
By calling now, you can:
- Save time
- Save money
- Don't forget to ask about our big offer
“By calling now, you can don't forget to ask about our big offer.”
That makes zero sense.
Same concept applies when writing a series of headlines or subheads. It oftentimes helps the reader move through the copy more easily when these are written in parallel.
See, I told you we were going talk grammar.
Eric Zerbe – Creative Director, Copy
- Using a dangling modifier. When companies set up a sentence like this: "As a valued customer, we are excited to give you 10% off your next purchase." This reads that 'we'—the company—is the valued customer. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
- When someone says the next step is to “flush out the copy.” Guys, it's “flesh out,” as in give it full-bodied content, aka life. Mind you, this is more marketing-speak than marketing copy, but after picking a creative concept, please don't “flush out” my copy down some proverbial toilet before I've finished it!
#AgencySpeak. It’s a real thing.
Scott Armstrong Jr. – Associate Copywriter
- The use of what I like to call “two-dollar words.” A good example is writing "utilize" instead of "use." This may be language you use on your college term paper (as well as increasing the size of periods), but there's no reasonable application anywhere else. If you wouldn't say it, don't write it. Note: This does not apply to disclaimer language.
- The excessiveness of exclamation marks. When you use exclamation marks too much, they lose their impact. Whether it’s on social, email, banner ads, or copy for websites, let your copy get the message across and create the excitement for the consumer with words, not symbols.
Bottom line: You CAN use exclamation marks, but pick your battles. Please. (Hooray! I restrained myself!)
Dan Connolly, Content Writer
Once our copywriters aired their copy grievances, I couldn’t help but jump in—particularly from a social media perspective.
- How often do you see a “Dos and Don’ts” headline come across Twitter or from your favorite blog newsletters? Pretty frequently, right?
Did you know there’s a glaring error in the above sentence?
“Do’s and Don’ts” is, in most cases, the correct spelling of these words. It’s odd, because there’s an apostrophe added in “do’s” to pluralize it, which generally goes against punctuation rules, AND the apostrophes are in different spots in both words. Again, odd. However, AP Style is a big believer in this structure, as are many who specifically write for web.
And there you have it. Even if we couldn’t provide all of the copywriting blunders that keep us up at night, I guarantee you won’t have an issue with any of these again. Or else…we will find them.
Want to see how we create copy and beyond? Check out some of Quattro’s work here.