You know, that stuff they use to fill out the meat in sausages so they can scrimp on the production costs. The air that gets pumped into your bag of Lay’s to make three chips look like 50. The rambling verbiage that 12-year-olds put in their essays to turn 300 words into 500.
You’re not 12 anymore. It’s time to cut the shite.
Filler will kill your copywriting. I’ve written on copywriting length before. In that previous post I mentioned the technique of writing as much as you think you need – and then cutting it in half. Well, one of the best ways to do that is to rid yourself of filler.
Halving, though, is a blanket technique. Slicing away the fat becomes even more critical when you’re looking specifically at high-traffic copy areas – headlines, subheads, bullet points, call outs, etc.
I’ll See You That and Raise You One
Star blogger and tweeter Grammar Girl (@GrammarGirl if you’re not already following her) started off a tweet-a-thon recently about disappearing articles in marketing speak. It even landed her in a Wall Street Journal article on the topic. While the piece largely focused on “the” disappearing from brand names (which is very smart marketing in my book), I have to take that one step further and address the role it plays in other high-traffic copy objects.
Evict the Squatters in Your Copywriting
Headlines are prime real-estate. Don’t let “the” squat on your territory, especially as the first word. These filler words weaken the impact of your copy. Be sharp. Be concise. Be blunt.
There’s a subtle but important difference between, say, “Sunrise over Sea” and “The Sunrise over the Sea”. In the blink of an eye, Option 1 is stronger. That’s what you usually have to grab someone’s attention – the blink of an eye. Be careful not to water down your message.
Out of context, this phenomenon can be hard to get your head around. But dwell on it for a while as you read others’ copy or craft your own. You will begin to see how this often-overlooked distinction can improve or dilute your writing. It’s a principle engrained into me by my mentor. It’s a principle I’ve practiced for years. And it’s a principle I’ve instilled in many other copywriters who have had the privilege or punishment of working under me.
Now, I’m not totally, absolutely, forever and always anti-the. The definite article has its uses. I’m sure I’ve written it into copy hundreds of thousands of times. I just think copywriters should “apply sparingly”.
(As you might have noticed, there’s a “the” in the subhead for this section. Without it, the line would have connoted something slightly different. I kept “the” here because it works.)
Call to Arms
In sum – go skinny on the the’s.
Sorry, Grammar Girl. I know you’ve resigned yourself to accepting some of the “bad grammar” used by marketers even if you won’t convert to the dark side. I respect you and appreciate the public service you provide to befuddled writers everywhere, but the marketer in me has to aggressively take up the banner on this issue. Down with “the”!