Who Do You Think You're Talking To?
Drop 'Industry Speak' And Talk To ME
By Matt Forrest
Whether you write or voice advertising copy or novels, video scripts or poetry, I'm talking to you.
Forgive me for indulging in a cathartic rant, but I felt compelled to write a few words about a scourge upon our advertising landscape. It's something that is not only one of my personal pet peeves when it comes to copy writing. It's a sure-fire way to get potential customers and clients to immediately tune out your message.
It's an evil villain, but one that is easily thwarted if writers just take a little extra time.
It's - industry speak.
But hold on, poets, fiction writers, and voice artists. I'm not just talking about writing and advertising here. Industry speak is more than just words; it's also tone.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
I read scripts and marketing materials all the time. I know when someone is speaking to me about my concerns, and when someone is speaking at me about their product.
Using terms and phrases that only others within your industry use - or worse, using terms and phrases that no one ever uses in real life - are copy killers.
I hear colleges using the word "dynamic" to describe their courses. I've heard businesses offering "robust solutions." Just recently, I came across a script for a landscape company selling paving stones, brick pavers, and stepstones. I honestly don't know if there's a difference.
WHY SHOULD I CARE?
When you use words that normal, everyday folks don't, you're saying, "Let me speak to you in a language you don't understand, about things you don't comprehend, so I can then wonder why you don't care."
What are pavers, and why should I care about them? Do I need them? Why should I get them from you?
As a consumer, I have a flurry of questions when I hear something like that - and more often than not, I don't want to be bothered with questions. I have enough questions in my life I'm trying to answer already without you throwing more at me.
ASK THE RIGHT QUESTION
On the other hand, if you ask, "Wouldn't it be great if you could have an outdoor patio area that's easy to clean, never needs staining, and can allow you to grill outdoors all year round?"
Well, now you have my interest. And you didn't even use the word "paver."
Don't get me wrong, if pavers are what you're selling, you obviously need to use the word "pavers" at some point. What I'm saying is, don't act like I already know what you're talking about.
Also notice I said "easy to clean" instead of "virtually maintenance free." You know you've heard "virtually maintenance free" in plenty of commercials before - but who actually talks like that?
TAKE TRIP BACK IN TIME
Before you write the copy, take a trip back in time and think about what life was like before you knew all this stuff. Think back to when you couldn't tell a flagstone from a fieldstone. When you didn't care about the difference between clay and concrete. Back when you didn't even know college courses could be "dynamic" (Personally, I think colleges just make up that phrase to sound flashy.)
Get rid of the industry speak. Get rid of the advertising-industry speak, as well: crutch phrases like "knowledgeable staff," "no-pressure sales," and - oh yeah, "virtually maintenance free."
Think about your listener or reader. Use the language that is used by the people to whom you're talking.
The same goes for you, too, storytellers. OK, well, technically, radio and TV commercial copy writers are supposed to be storytellers - and if they're not, they should be.
CONVERSING WITH YOUR AUDIENCE
It pays to read and reread. If you're a voice artist or speaker, look over the script and try to understand:
Understanding who you are, who your audience is, and why any of you should care about the message is of utmost importance.
There are plenty of tips out there about voice acting but, to me, they all come down to one truism: everything you speak is a conversation.
Again, it all boils down to knowing to whom, or for whom, you're writing or speaking, and targeting your language to reflect that.
As they say in the advertising biz: Know your demographic! Wait, sorry - Was that industry speak?
A voice over artist and commercial copy writer, Matt Forrest spent 25-plus years in radio, writing, and producing numerous award-winning commercials, before stepping into the realm of professional voice overs in 2003. He has also had several poems published in various independent collections around the country, and one of them, "Apple-Picking,” was nominated last year by the Young Adult Review Network (YARN) for a Pushcart Prize. Matt is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).
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