What toddlers can teach us about copywriting

What toddlers can teach us about copywriting

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.

Did you like this post?

You might like my book ‘Confessions of a Misfit Entrepreneur | How to succeed despite yourself’ – buy it online here.

Want to have a chat?

If you need a Copywriter, SEO Consultant or Information Architect, then please contact me.

The Recipe for SEO Success
The Clever Copywriting School

What toddlers can teach us about copywriting was last modified: by
  • Gina Lofaro aka the wordmistress

    Ah lovely! If we could get someone to stand on a stage and spout this over-complicated nonsense, we could call it stand-up comedy and all have a bloody good laugh! How do they take themselves seriously?

    I prefer what I call ‘word economy’, and that’s why my own tag line is: “Make every word count.”

    Oh and don’t forget: K.I.S.S. 😉

    Great post, Kate! Loved the examples lol. And what a fine son you have!

    • @Gina thanks for commenting, I love ‘word economy’, perhaps I’ll get myself one of those fancy tag line things.
      @Paul ‘Kate Toon’s expansion’ needs no assistance very much, the creme eggs have done their worst.

  • While we’re at it, how about killing off ‘proactive’? It’s ‘active’ or ‘reactive’ or ‘inactive’. We don’t need the neologism.

  • Simple is best for sure. Great post Kate!

  • Ah.. from the mouths of babes.

    A great article to remind us all of the importance of simplicity in our communications. Now if we could only get our politicians to take note..!

    • Exactly, they all act like tantrum toddlers anyway! Thanks for commenting Anna.

  • Joanne Sunley

    Hi, great article and cute picture, is that your son?
    I work for a large insurance company and find that most of the copy we produce is incomprehensible. Do you have experience with writing for insurance, we could use you!

  • Kate – once you broke it down to say they had two new key roles I actually went “huh?” and had to reread the copy again! A perfect example of the message being totally lost on the reader….

    One of the challenges I sometimes face, after breaking down the lingo, is selling that simplicity to my clients. A recent client said that they don’t “book a great venue”; they “negotiate suitable facilities”. Hmmm.

    It can be a tight line to walk but I think it’s definitely the way to more effective marketing.

    And a fantastic analogy Kate!

    • Thanks Belinda. Yep it’s fair to say that simple copy is a very hard sell to clients. I know that many feel they’re being short changed if there aren’t a fair few adjectives in their copy. So yes a fine line indeed. Thanks so much for commenting.

      Joanne – thanks for your comment too, yes that’s my son, with some artful Photoshop work for the book. I do actually have insurance copywriting experience, give me a call or an email!

  • Her website’s growth has been meteoric and Kate Toon 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 Kate Toon’s expansion.”

  • Num num. That’s all I have to say about this post. Num num.

    • Ha ‘num num’ indeed! Now he’s a bit older his new favourite phrase is ‘go away’, which is slightly less endearing. Thanks for commenting.

  • Pingback: snabblån med betalningsanmärkning()

  • Pingback: How to learn online marketing: 82 resources | Raven()