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Keep It Simple

The most effective ad copywriting gets right to the point.

Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabal would have made an awful advertising copywriter. He's purported to have penned the longest sentence ever strung out on paper: 128 pages!

Copywriters, on the other hand, must aim for the shortest possible sentences--ideally, no more than 17 words, according to the late writing expert Rudolf Flesch in The Art of Plain Talk. The sales message should include a good sprinkling of five- to 10-word sentences as well. This makes reading a breeze.

It's also important not to use so-called $10 words when $5 and $1 words work just as well. This sounds almost quaint in our techno-babble world, but even sophisticated people appreciate simple language.

Moreover, ad copy shouldn't call attention to itself. You're not selling the copy, but rather the product or service it describes. While puns, double meanings and other random acts of cleverness can spice up the sales pitch, witty phraseology can distract.

I like the way the late Gene Schwartz, one of the iconic copywriters of yester-year, put it: "You want the person to look through the copy like they're looking through the glass in [a] showcase." In other words, the advertising message should make a prospect savor the product, not the description of it.


Jerry Fisher is a freelance advertising copywriter and author of Creating Successful Small Business Advertising.

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This article was originally published in the May 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Keep It Simple.

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