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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Adjectives and copy...The amazing, unparalleled, fantastic power of those incredible, irresistible, persuasive adjectives...Or not...


Here's an actual headline from a squeeze page supporting a tool that promises "hypnotic sales copy that writes itself":

"Master Copywriter Mr 'F' Reveals The Revolutionary Push-Button Technology He Uses To Create Killer Sales Copy That Makes Millions of $$$ For His Clients..."

MASTER copywriter

PUSH-BUTTON technology

KILLER sales copy

Whoever assembled that page was following the old maxim that adjectives produce results. That's a common attitude.

Al Martinovic would certainly agree with that strategy. He writes:

"Even single words can invoke a reaction in some people that can be used to add "punch" to your sales material. I call these power words. Some power words to use in your marketing include:

Free, Powerful, Incredible, Easy, Shocking, Cheap, Revealed, Best, Uncovered, Hidden, Proven, Results, Revolutionary, Profits, Fantastic, Inside, Learn, Enhance, Hottest, New, Improved, Unbelievable, Ultimate, Offer, Master, Scientific, Private, Breakthrough, Save, Guaranteed, Tricks, You, Love, Limited, Special, Secrets

You can use power words to add punch to a headline, sentence, a short ad, or whatever fancies you."

The bulk (though not all) of Al's "power words" are adjectives.

Neither the squeeze page author or Martinovic are making this stuff up, either. They've come about the belief honestly. For years, copywriting gurus and English teachers have been encouraging the use of adjectives as a way to add pep to writing. Adjectives make things interesting and powerful, they say.

Daphne Gray-Grant sees it differently. Her article (discovered via The Copywriting Maven) "How Adjectives Can Kill Your Conversion Rate" argues that over-reliance on those so-called "power words" can backfire.

Gray-Grant maintains that the adjective use we see in many sales letters suffers from imprecision and creates a "hard sell" feel that trims sales instead of encouraging them. She advocates choosing verbs that will do the job and provides recommendations for doing just that.

My opinion? Gray-Grant is on to something. We tend to latch on to adjectives as writers because it is easier than choosing the best possible verbs. In discussing split infinitives in an earlier post (see: "Doing the splits..."), I noted that kind of laziness can lead to an overreliance on adverbs, too. Too often, writers heap on the adjectives in hopes of dressing up an otherwise dull sentence. We're better off making the right decisions and using language to our advantage in the first place.

However, there is a role for adjectives. Adjectives exist for a reason and there are times when mentioning a "big house" makes more sense than using "mansion." There are times when a headline will benefit from the use of the right "power adjective" instead of an alternate version with better verb selection.

As with so many things, moderation is the key. If you buy a Content Done Better sales letter, you might get a headline with a few adjectives. You might not. It will depend on the circumstances. There are times when adjectives enhance precision and there are contexts in which a more "hype-y" approach will be more effective than the alternative.

And that's all I have to say about this fascinating, thought-provoking, one-of-a-kind, intriguing, red hot topic that sheds massive, undiluted, clarifying light on the essential, critical, crucial art of copywriting.