Reading Time: 3 minutes

My son, aged 20 months, is now talking. It’s a fascinating process watching him suck in new words, digest them, and spit them out in his own ridiculously cute style. So far he’s mastered about 100 words, and with these he’s able to make himself understood. What’s more, I find myself talking to him in ‘toddler speak’. I use the simplest sentence structure and lose all the frilly bits.

Often our conversations are just one-word exchanges:
Me: ‘Bath?’
Him: ‘No!’
Me: ‘Milk?’
Him: ‘Nice!’

So far he’s focusing, for the most part, on nouns, with only two adjectives prefixing them when required (‘nice’ and ‘yuck’). He’s a very onomatopoeic lad; food is ‘num num’ (the perfect sound for food enjoyment), bath is often referenced with the sucky noise the water makes as it goes down the plug hole, and watermelon is requested by the smacking of moist lips.

Simple copywriting works

So where am I going with all this? Well, ‘toddler speak’ got me thinking about copywriting. So often we over-complicate our writing, especially in the marketing world.
We hope that if we shove enough adjectives into our copy we’ll convince. Hyperbolic statements regarding our greatness are sure to push that sale through, and long complex sentences, using polysyllabic words, show how goddamn intelligent we are, right?

Wrong. Even in the over-the-top world of marketing and advertising, less is more.

How to recognise extravagant copy

Here’s an example of some fussy copy:
“The company’s growth has been meteoric and (business name) has very quickly established itself as the most dynamic player in the market. Essential to achieving continued success is the recruitment of high-quality people and two new fabulous opportunities have been created to play a key part in (business name)’s expansion.”

So we have:
Hyperbole: ‘Meteoric’, ‘dynamic’, ‘fabulous’ and ‘essential’ are all examples of powerful words. Their use in the context above devalues them.
Unnecessarily wordy sentences: ‘Essential to achieving continued success is the recruitment of high-quality people’ conveys no more than would: ‘We need to recruit good people.’ The latter sentence also has the advantage of being active, rather than passive, voice making it more compelling.

Perhaps greater impact might be made with a simple sentence stating that the company is a large and growing one and there are two new key roles.

Here’s another:
“At (business name) you will be immersed in an innovative, energetic and driven culture, focused around your accelerated development and achievements of personal goals. The experience gained through this programme creates an awesome platform for your ultimate success.”

How many unnecessary or hyperbolic words can you find in this statement? Perhaps ‘innovative’, ‘driven’ ‘focused’, ‘achievements’ ‘goals’ and, of course, ‘awesome’. Long lists of adjectives describing a company just tend to sound desperate.

And so it goes on. Instead of aiming to be profitable you have to have “a proactive response to the markets ongoing consolidation“. Instead of watching carefully for new ways of improving sales, you have to be a “catalyst for growth” whose “focus will be to identify new opportunities and convert these into business reality”.

Learning from our toddlers

We can learn from our toddlers to keep it simple, write efficiently, use words sparingly and select the best possible word or phrase to communicate our meaning. Apparently there are around 171,476 words in the English language, but that’s no reason to use all of them in your next company brochure.

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