April 5th, 2011
Whether it is the name of your product, the sales pitch or the instruction manual, words are critically important. They have the power to drive clients and customers to your product or away from it.
Take for example the Volkswagen Toureg SUV. Besides being a word whose pronunciation can be confusing, its meaning is something far from what the VW marketing department intended. To them, Toureg conjured images of a rough and tumble people surviving rough environments. But in reality, the word is more commonly associated with political rebellion by a stateless, Kurd-like tribe.
Adding insult to injury, Toureg literally means “Abandoned by God.” Thus, what was intended to suggest a dependable, rugged vehicle actually turned the Almighty into sort of an anti-spokesdeity.
But effective copywriting is more than just finding accurate and coherent words; it’s also about finding just the right words that speak to the audience’s hearts as well as their minds.
Consider the following word: flame. You think of fire. The word conjures an idea of heat and perhaps brings to mind the image of a lighter or campfire.
Now try: inferno. It also denotes fire. But it also connotes very different imagery and associations. The cigarette lighter is now a furnace; the friendly campfire becomes a raging forest fire or perhaps an image of Hell itself.
While tangible materials are chosen because of the strength, flexibility, conductivity and efficiency they bring to a design, carefully chosen and well-crafted words exhibit all of these traits simultaneously and communicate a rich, multi-sensory message. In contrast, poorly chosen words convey only one message: marketplace failure.
And in the 21st century, words are called on to reach machines as well as people. With search engines like Google and Bing scouring the internet for keywords, Search Engine Optimization or SEO (which is another way of saying “choosing the perfect words”) means the difference between a high ranking, which gives your website visibility at the top of the results list, and a low ranking which buries your website at the bottom.
What is written about a product not only introduces it and educates the consumer about how it functions, it also distinguishes the product from the competition both on the web and on the shelf. Words have the power to inspire consumers, evoke an emotional and even visceral reaction that leads to sales, strong brand identity and customer loyalty. This is why copywriting is an important consideration in design: it provides information but also generates heat.
John Edwards graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with an M.A. in professional writing in 1996. Following grad school, he moved to Los Angeles, performing a variety of roles from location manager to writer and producer. His experience in the entertainment industry ranges from internet startups to major studios. Currently, he lives in the Bay Area and works as a writer for Digital Frontiers Media (http://digitalfrontiersmedia.com) as well as doing freelance work.