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More Cowbell! Don't Fear the Reader
By: Jerry Northup
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If the word comes down that your copy isn’t exciting enough or just doesn’t “grab” whoever is in the position to approve it, don’t assume it’s because he or she lacks the basic comprehension skills. Brilliant copy can sometimes fall between the cracks of individual experience, which causes “four out of five” to love it but leaves one out of the mix. When an intelligent person has to be led through a particular idea, other readers will be misled as well. Even if it’s a small minority that don’t “get it” at first, that’s enough reason to regroup.
Surrender, but don’t give yourself away. The knee-jerk alternative is attempting to dress up your copy in tired clichés or latching on extra exclamation points. It may get your draft past your dissenting “editor,” but it’s likely to lose the qualities that the majority found appealing in the first place.
  • What’s the production value? Exceptionally well-written copy can upstage the image. This is one of those times when “great” is the enemy of “good.” It’s easy to see when the visual production value of a simple advertisement is out of balance, but when it’s written “out of key,” the results can be jarringly funny. Not a good thing. If someone is reading your copy aloud and laughing inappropriately, you are likely using too much cowbell.
  • Don’t give the adjectives a solo. If you try to be too colorful in making a mundane point sound more impressive than it is, you risk turning up your copy to a level so loud your ears will ring with bad feedback. This is the equivalent of the bass solo in the hands of an average player. In this case, you’ve gotten away too far away from the simplicity of the cowbell.
  • Get back to the main melody. In the right song, cowbell has a perfect place. But without a great melody, it’s just a noisemaker. As writers, we get to compose the “lyrics” to the overall piece. It’s our job to ensure that piece has an appropriate beginning, middle, and end. In that case, always reach for the ultimate cowbell: the period.
 If you’ve got a great phrase somewhere in your text, that’s your chorus. Lead with it and the rest of your copy should fall into place. Otherwise, you’re just hitting the page with words that clank.


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About the Author
Originally from Toledo, Ohio, Gerald Northup has written professionally in the fields of advertising, marketing, social media, and corporate communications since the early ’90s. For a look at his blog posts and social media articles, as well as TV, radio, print, and website samples from his online portfolio, visit gnorthup1979.wix.com/44words.

Jerry is also a talented guitarist, an avid tennis player, and a lifelong student of linguistics.

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