Adam Barone

Article Summary:

How and why honestly beats puffery in effective copywriting.

Copywriting Tone: Why Honesty Beats Puffery

It never fails. Every conversation I have with a potential or ongoing copywriting client at some point turns to the topic of tone.

"We want our copy to be edgy."

"I think a light-hearted copy tone would work best."

"Can we throw a little humor in there?"

"We need to be serious without sounding too serious."

"We need to be hip."

But how important is tone, and what exactly is it?

Simply put, tone is nonverbal communication verbalized. What would be a scrunched brow, a sly crooked smile or a hand gesture to stress importance is expressed by tactful use of certain words, phrases, rhythm, punctuation or a combination of it all. Unfortunately, tone is not always an easy thing to manipulate to achieve a desired impression. Why? Because people, even like-minded ones, perceive things differently. What's clever and edgy to one person is arrogant and immature to another.

This is why I urge my copywriting clients to opt for clarity and honesty in their copy rather than innuendo and ambiguity. Sometimes, that's a tough call to make because everyone wants to sound distinctive and unique. Actually, that's very important, but it's possible to do that without "overtrying" to sound a certain way by "puffing up" the copywriting with expressions, catchphrases, buzzwords and word choices that leave opportunity for misunderstanding.

Here's the top 5 reasons that honesty beats puffery in copy any day:

1. Tone that leaves an ambiguous impression can damage your brand.
Say the wrong way, and you might not see the damage right away, but you'll see it through decreased sales and customer loyalty.

2. Honesty is a universally accepted tone that will always be respected.
Say what you mean and mean what you say-clearly. Over the long haul, people will listen to you more and remember more of what you say. And isn't that what you want in the first place?

3. Hype is easy to see and becomes tiresome over time.
Too many people rely on hype in the hopes of "breaking through" the clutter. There's lots of hype out there, and these days, people see right through it and tune it out. See #2 for a better alternative.

4. The more people understand your message, the more people will become your customers.
It's simple numbers. The better your message can be grasped, the stronger connection you're going to make with more of your potential customers.

5. In printed words, it IS what you say moreso than how you say it.
Address the needs and wants of your market in an open and honest manner. Show them that you can offer them a solution no else can. Do it clearly and concisely because if they perceive you trying to "puff it up" to convince them, they won't believe you. Achieving an original tone is important, yes, and can still be done, but not at the expense of real, useful information and clarity.

Adam Barone is a Boston-based freelance copywriter specializing in creating brand-driven B2C and B2B copy for a variety of mediums, including print, online and broadcast. Some of his clients include The Timberland Company, Bank One and Sprint Wireless. For more information visit

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