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Copywriting for Liars, Cheats and Politicians

I recently came back from an event where I got to hang out with some of the most brilliant minds in marketing, internet and otherwise. Over the next few days and weeks, I’ll share more about what I learned, what I discovered, what I figured out from these brilliant people, and what some of them […]

I recently came back from an event where I got to hang out with some of the most brilliant minds in marketing, internet and otherwise.

Over the next few days and weeks, I’ll share more about what I learned, what I discovered, what I figured out from these brilliant people, and what some of them even managed to learn from me.

For example, here’s something important I learned.

I had the very good fortune to spend some time with my friend Perry Marshall. Now, if you don’t know Perry, let me clue you in a bit.

Perry is known worldwide as THE authority on Google Adwords. Although he started his business life as an engineer, and then as a salesperson for an engineering company, Perry’s passions are actually music and theology. In fact, he’s got websites about these passions that he fiddles with when he’s not showing his students how to 10x their businesses with small tweaks of their marketing tactics. (Check out Perry’s free Google Adwords course, if you’d like to experience the way Perry thinks, writes and teaches.)

Anyway…

Leave it to Perry to relate a Bible quote to Marketing. I don’t recall the exact quote, but it was something about how simple language is more trustworthy than complicated language. Darn it if I can’t quote it exactly.

But the point was that when people are talking at you for a long time, using big words and confusing sentences, there’s a darn good chance that they’re not trying to be totally straight with you.

In fact, you might even go so far as to say that they’re intentionally trying to deceive you, and hide the truth behind the big words they’re using.

So, fast forward from Biblical times to today.

Go take a look at your sales page, your autoresponder messages and all your marketing. Are you using big words or little words? Are you speaking with your reader in a way that the words, and your meaning, are immediately understandable?

Or, are you talking at your reader, and using the big words that so many manufacturers and marketers use to describe their not-so-perfect products?

Big words, it turns out, makes the readers brains work harder. Small words — the ones we learn as children — are far easier to hear and understand.

That’s all true, but that wasn’t the point of Perry’s quote.

The point of Perry’s quote was that people use big words and complicated sentences when they want to seem like they are being straight with you, but in fact are actually trying to deceive you.

When Perry mentioned this, our little cabal of internet marketers at our table all agreed.

But the REALLY interesting question was…do people perceive this?

I mean…well, let me ask you this question. If you read some gobbledygook kind of product description that over-hypes and promises the world to you, that uses lots of technical jargon but doesn’t answer the questions that are most important to you in a way you can understand, does your bullshit detector go off?

Mine does.

Let me know what you think, but I think that not only are some people trying to deceive us with their marketing, but the people who read the marketing AUTOMATICALLY know it, even if they don’t acknowledge it consciously.

Well, that’s my two cents, anyway.

And my question to you is: what does your marketing look and sound like to your prospects and customers? Because you’re a reader of mine, I’m assuming you deal straight with your readers. But take a look at what you’re really saying.

Does your market know you’re speaking straight with them, too?

Take a look, and let me know what you find.

And, if you want to get a real good example of what plain and simple language looks like, go sign up for Perry’s free Adwords course. Even if you have no intention of using Adwords, study the way that Perry writes.

It’s plain. It’s simple. It’s immediately understandable by anyone with a middle-school education, on up.

He doesn’t talk to you like you’re a college professor, yet his writing doesn’t treat you like an idiot either.

It’s a lot like being with him in person, for that matter.

To Your Success.

–Mark Widawer

P.S. So…back to that discussion we had…it ended kind of funny.

Perry was talking all about Marketing. And that’s when I said…”Pause! Let’s take the same exact lesson…but shift the scene to Washington D.C.”

It was one of those moments where the split second of silence was followed by uproarious laughter, because there is no place on the planet where there is such an obvious and intentional effort to confuse, avoid, and deceive the readers than in the laws and public speeches of our Federal Government.

The laughter was an AHA moment. YES! That explains everything that’s going wrong there in our great Nation’s capital.

Now look, I strongly believe that the USA is the absolute best country on the planet to live. That said, our country is in a state of serious decline because of the misguided leadership we have, now more than ever.

Take any paragraph from that bill (a bill which no senator or congressperson has ever read in its entirety). I challenge you to understand it. For that matter, I challenge anyone in government to understand it, besides the policy wonks who wrote it.

It’s just not gonna happen.

At our table, this particular topic concluded with another observation by Perry…If the government really wanted to solve the health care problem, it wouldn’t need a bill 1100 pages long to do it.

It would have needed 10 pages…even with all the wherefores and whereases.

If you’re really trying to FIX the problem, you need fewer laws, not more. You need simple rules, not complicated ones. You need clarity, not confusion.

And for that matter, if you want to sell something, be clear with your market.

Your readers are not idiots. Don’t treat them like one.

P.P.S. I hope you enjoyed what you read. But frankly, it’s also just fine if you hated it. Either way, feel free to rant or rave about this post (or me) below. I welcome the conversation. Just keep it simple so us “regular folk” can understand it.


10 replies on “Copywriting for Liars, Cheats and Politicians”

Perry and I have so many similarities in our background it’s scary.

I was an engineer at HP for years, and a senior technical writer/learning-products engineer for 20 years (30 years total).

A poster the head of QA had in his cubicle is memorable and instructive:

If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance…

Baffle them with [Barnyard Solid waste of the male bovine variety].

That’s one case where I like to use “big words” to make those of inferior vocabulary wonder what you’re talking about. 🙂

Clarke

Hello Mark
As usual, great insight, excellent article. After spending three years of my life on capitol hill, I came away having learned several ugly lessons. The main one was, “If you do business outside the beltway, the same way our leaders routinely do inside the beltway, you go to jail.” Noticing that most there were lawyers gave more meaning to the lyrics in an Eagles song; “Cross a lawyer with the Godfather baby, he’ll make you an offer that you can’t understand.” Leave it to Don Henley to put it in perspective where our fearless leaders remain oblivious to the obvious.

Did you ever stop to think that if we took all of our laws, removed all the ancient latin and greek language and replaced it with plain english, there would be no need for lawyers as interpreters. Hence, this will never happen.

Regards,

Ted

Yes, well…. so much of the English language uses greek and latin. You remove them, you remove much of the comprehension of what’s being said. Also, you don’t want to dumb it down so much that you sound like an idiot. I’ve read through some pretty language butchered pages; no doubt you have too.
KISS does have its place, but so does reputation and authority through language use.

Brian

Thanks, Mark, for a timely and profound post.

I don’t expect you to publish this, but I wanted to give you the insight that I would like you to listen to some of the rants/pitches of your pal, Tellman. I don’t doubt he is a fine fellow, doing good deeds and all, but his materials just make my “bullshit” detector go off for different reasons…Same with Bill Glazer… Love Kennedy, distrust the outrageousness of Glazer.

Take it for what it’s worth. I’m a newbie & these guys are fantastically successful – to listen to them tell it.

On the other hand, you and Perry come off rock solid. Sigh!

Go figure. Nothing personal, just input from a guy with 35 years experience in Sales & an entrepreneur for 20 of them. But a babe-so far- in this arena.

God bless,
Dave Smith

My bullshit detector goes off when the gobledegook words are comming out of the mouth of a bullshit marketer. However, when I am listening to a technical guy make a presentation I understand from my own past experience that they often need to use unfamiliar words to describe concepts that would be beyond the comprehension of most bullshit marketers.

Hi Mark,

Thanks for the tip, I’m a newbie myself and and have learned in the last 8 months the amount of hogwash out there. I’m determined not to be like all the hypsters out there. Sometimes I feel like a sucker and I’m hoping to never treat anyone like how I’ve been treated by these so called “Gurus”. Thanks Mark for your candid thoughts and comments.

God Bless.

Michael

Mark,

Clear as a bell.

The lesson about simple is better is found in two old books (1940s) by Rudolf Flesch. “The Art of Plain Talk” and “The Art of Readable Writing.” Rudy goes so far as to have me count the average syllables per word as a key indicator of simple (or complicated) writing… These are two fun books with a pack of wisdom.

cheers.

Eugene
from Alaska

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