Mark Foster / Copywriter

Words and ideas for all media

Invisible writing

Part of the work that I do is as a mentor for an online freelance copywriting course. I’ve been doing this for almost ten years now and have seen a huge range of talent pop into my inbox. The majority of learners find out pretty early on that copywriting is not for them. Only a tiny minority go on to set up their own profitable businesses.
One of the things that strikes me is how many of these budding writers try to create their own tone of voice – and how hard it is to do it effectively. I remember in my teenage years writing short stories and trying hard to find my own voice. I never did, because I was trying to create one rather than let it come naturally.
For copywriters the problem is that what they write should, by and large, not be in anyone’s voice – not even the client’s. The test of good copy is for the reader to get to the end of it without even noticing the writing. We should try to write like John Steinbeck, and not Ernest Hemingway or Cormac McCarthy. Steinbeck was the master of simplicity, and his writing is all the more powerful because of it.
Of course you’ll be shouting out exceptions. That cutesy little fruit smoothie (which everyone seemed to hold up as the height of copywriting a while ago) is one of a very few. I’ve been reading the Abel & Cole marketing guff recently, and while it has a definite character, it’s a little like drinking double cream: it’s not long before you’re heartily sick of it.
The art of good communication is to get your point across quickly and seamlessly. If you start filling your copy up with oh so clever little jokes and quirky phrases you’re creating stumbling blocks. The same with punctuation. Semi-colons? Be very careful. Long rambling sentences? Nope. You need to get in and out quickly, saying what you need to say in the simplest terms – even for the most sophisticated audience.
Maybe it’s a question of relinquishing your ego and not letting your own character come across. Good copywriters don’t show off, they use rhythm and logic to fashion a persuasive argument, or tell a convincing story. If the reader notices the writing, the game’s up.