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Three Ways to Turn Vague Attributes Into Compelling Copy

by Jonathan Kranz  |  
February 15, 2005
  |  18,786 views

If you have clients who want you to write about who they are, you probably have clients thrusting a list of attributes in your face.

On the list, you'll find the usual suspects: quality, commitment to service, out-of-the-box this and proactive that. These attributes will be deemed attractive to customers and, indeed, the client may even legitimately embrace them. But while clients would be content, even thrilled, if you were to literally and liberally spackle these words into your headlines and body copy, you're hesitant. With good reason.

Big attributes have little credibility. In any industry or category, the same claims are made by multiple competitors, diluting their impact. Worse, big attributes are large abstractions—foggy, ethereal ideas that don't have the concrete physical presence that evokes emotion.

As a corrective, consider the following three techniques for transforming vague attributes into compelling copy.

1. Look for the "objective correlative"


Let us go then, you and I, to T. S. Eliot. (Yes, the author of poems we were supposed to read in college while we were munching popcorn and watching General Hospital.) In addition to writing poems that plumbed the depths of existential despair and the heights of religious ecstasy, he offered critical insight of great value to copywriters, too:

The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an "objective correlative"; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked. ("Hamlet and His Problems, " The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism, 1922. )

Here's my translation in less lapidary prose: If you want to scare the cloak off Little Red Riding Hood, don't lecture her about the woods and its perils—put the wolf's hot breath on her neck. In copy, that means not saying "excellence," for example, but giving a concrete, specific instance of it that makes the reader feel the presence of excellence.


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Jonathan Kranz is the author of Writing Copy for Dummies and a copywriting veteran now in his 21st year of independent practice. A popular and provocative speaker, Jonathan offers in-house marketing writing training sessions to help organizations create more content, more effectively.

LinkedIn: Jonathan Kranz

Twitter: @jonkranz

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