Note: This is adapted for more general audiences from an article originally written for Auctioneer Magazine. Here’s the published version, which is more targeted to auctioneers.
By Carl Carter, APR
One of the quickest ways to get me in a foul mood is to hand me a copywriting assignment and tell me to “add the fluff.” It always means the same thing: Take the asset or service being sold and slather on a bunch of adjectives and adverbs. I hate that kind of writing, because it doesn’t say anything. It looks like it should be saying something. It has words and periods and takes up space. But there’s nothing there.
Great copy starts with verbs and nouns, because they contain practically all of the language’s power. All you need for a complete sentence is a noun and a verb. He flew. I ran. They knew.
I know you can’t write a whole brochure or web site in two-word sentences. But you can tell a much more powerful story if you start when them. What are you selling? An antique sideboard? Nice. But you’ll really get my attention if you tell me it’s a Greene & Greene reproduction made of red oak with ebony plugs and splines, as well as hand-cut dovetails.
That takes a little work. You have to ask more questions, but but it beats the heck out of breaking out the same old filler words like beautiful, classic, ornate and elegant. Plus, it actually means something.
Let’s say you’re selling a luxury home. Of course it’s beautiful. Gorgeous, even. People with the money to build luxury homes rarely build something ugly (and if they did, and you wouldn’t tell anybody). So “beautiful” says little or nothing.
It has a big, luxurious kitchen (yawn) with top-of-the-line furnishings? Don’t they all? Tell us about the seven-foot-long island built of walnut, with a two-inch thick rose granite countertop from a quarry in Brazil.
Don’t tell me it’s an open floor plan. Tell me the stovetop faces outward so that I can see across the dining area and through the 14-foot floor-to-ceiling glass doors out onto the travertine patio and the 11,000-foot peak beyond.
If it’s a farm, let me know how many acres are tillable, with what kind of soils. If it’s a commercial tract, don’t just tell me it’s a great location. Get the traffic count and tell me how many blocks it is to the civic center.
Years ago, I had the challenge of writing about a home set up on a hillside in Colorado, and when I wrote the brochure copy, that was about all I knew. The seller assured me that “no expense was spared” in construction, and I was struggling not to doze off.
“What cost so much?” I asked.
“I wanted to build something that would last forever. You see those beams up on the ceiling? Every one of those is joined using mortise-and-tenon joinery. There’s not a nail or screw in the whole works.”
Now, you could argue that he was just being wasteful, but he was after the kind of buyer who’d like to know that sort of thing. It told the story of the home’s quality far better than a generic statement that about “exquisite detail and superior craftsmanship.”
As I recall, we sold the house, too.
If you can’t break the habit of recycling the same old fillers, try this: Every time you publish a brochure or ad, look through it and make a list of all the modifiers you used. Start a Word file with a list of them, and refer to it before you start writing your next one. Over time, you’ll build up a nice list of words you’re probably wearing out, and it’ll force you to put more thought into your next one.