Copy by Committee Kills Creativity
Whether you write for your product, or have an agency that handles it for others, a copywriter is a key asset to use. Together, two copywriters can make even better stuff, bouncing ideas off each other like a ping pong stalemate. The second set of eyes on a given project can also catch those silly mistakes that happen when someone has worked on something by themselves for too long.
Now let’s add a third copywriter. There’s more bickering than consensus, and now there’s voting that can be won by a majority – never a good idea in creative work.
Now add some managers. All of a sudden, non-writers are entering the conversation, bringing in unworkable ideas that hold more sway because of their senior position. Ideas win or lose based on politics and authority rather than effectiveness or insightfulness.
Oh no. Too many cooks in the kitchen. What happens next?
Danger #1: Losing Your Voice
With too many people combing through copy, the voice and tone settle into a flavorless, neutral point between all those involved. There’s a reason that “________ by committee” is usually an insult, not a compliment. As marketers we need to write copy that truly represents not only what a client is asking for, but also what a client needs. You can’t just go down a checklist to say it:
- Incorporates all the client’s concerns
- Mentions their brand and product
- Meets all legal requirements
- Contains their slogan
- Has a Call to Action
Good Copywriting Improves Your Voice
Copy has to be swimmin’ with the real juice to get people to drink. Good copywriters make sure your copy:
- Speaks to the target audience in their language
- Doesn’t hammer the sale to death
- Has a consistent voice and a little character
- Doesn’t think it’s better than the audience
- Encourages desired action throughout, not just in CTA
- Flows naturally from place to place
- Focuses on benefits, not features
- Is enjoyable and engaging
Non-writers often fail to look for these, which isn’t their fault – it’s not even their job!
Danger #2: Copy That’s Riddled with Unimportant Agendas
Everyone loves their job…a bit. When people other than a copywriter get their hands on the copy, they often feel compelled to add their spin on it. Here are some dangers to look out for:
Engineers: They spent all this time making an amazing product with amazing features. The hours slaving over hot code and caring about the GamerChanger™ technology that powers their app will lead to them writing all about it. Only problem is, no one cares, it doesn’t convert, and it wastes valuable real estate.
Account Managers: They manage the relationship with the client, and the client’s wishes should be addressed in copy. However, if the client was capable of writing copy, they wouldn’t have hired you – don’t let them take over the process by these crowd-pleasing proxies – they’ll end up with an inferior campaign.
Marketing Directors: As someone who came up with various marketing concepts and maybe even some slogans, they’re very likely to sway copy towards these ideas when they take a crack at it, so they’ll have something to point to when it’s time to award credit. As creatives know, it’s difficult to let your baby go, but if you’re strangling everything around it to make it fit, you’re going to end up with a baby in a graveyard – now that’s very out of place.
Danger #3: Neutering Your Message
Image: Tara Suik
Would “Got Milk?” Have Happened if it Was Written by Committee?
“Got Milk” — You know it’s one of the most famous slogans in advertising history – just a few words off, would it have been as effective? Those two exact words in that exact order conveyed their message, mentioned the product, and expressed a colloquial, conversational and somewhat confrontational tone that got attention and inspired action.
“Do You Have Milk?”
What if one of these other choices was pushed – especially that last one? It says the same thing, but completely loses its edge. Being grammatically correct is an easy change to encourage, especially in a room full of people.
You don’t have to be writing brilliant short ads to run the risk of screwing an awesome message. Copy that comes from the most logical place is generally the result of too many people touching the copy, because groupthink tends to favor safe plays, and logical arguments tend to sway in meetings among businessfolk.
Word choice, word order, tense, punctuation and more can be combined in a near-infinite number of ways, and recognizing the connotations of these combinations is a writer’s duty. You can’t assume that your audience will read a message the way it was intended, you have to anticipate how different people will read it, and design sentences and paragraphs to lead them toward the correct message.
Everyone’s a Critic, and That’s Okay
Don’t take all this to mean your copywriter should have carte blanche. If no one gave feedback, the first pass could end up being the one that goes out to the public. Ad than the imbarrasing typos yu see hear could end up bing red by yur awdience.
If you have a copywriter who isn’t down for some criticism, or at least another set of eyes, you need to remind them that they aren’t an artist, their words aren’t gospel, and that teamwork is key. But if you have an account manager who thinks that typing emails to the client makes them a writer, you’re going to end up with some pretty dry stuff…
And the audience should only be thirsty the very end of the pitch.
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