Minds Wear Blue Jeans

Posted: September 14, 2010 in General Writing Tips, Marketing Communications

Most of us dress more sharply for work than we do for a Saturday morning lounge around the house. Thanks to Levi Strauss, when we finally reach that “I can be me” weekend moment and there’s no one to impress, America’s uniform is blue jeans.

Time to relax? Quick, everyone! Into your jeans!

Everyone also wears blue jeans mentally — all the time. No one you know gets up in the morning, stretches, yawns, and says, “Boy, today I want to leverage my current assets by investing with Morningstar’s Number 1 savings choice!” If that is nobody’s inner thought process, then why do we insist on writing to them that way?

Inside our heads, we’re all wearing blue jeans. Writing as if this statement is not true builds a barrier between you and the reader. Writing as if it is true builds a bond.

Even executives who wear slacks to work think in the get-real, unpretentious style of blue jeans. I learned this as a young freelance marketing communicator, when I turned in some of my earnestly-crafted copy to my client, the CEO of a small company. He flipped through my three-page draft, mumbling, “This is bullshit, so’s this, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, hmmmm.” The “hmm” stopped him on one interesting turn of phrase. One phrase in three pages? Most readers wouldn’t get that far.

When you’re scratching your head trying to figure out what to say about a product, it’s tempting to weave together standard marketing cliches. Remember that Lesson 1 is tell the truth. Did you just write that your product “does everything”? Bullshit. Your product is the “total solution”? Bullshit. Do you deliver “top quality and ultimate value”? Bullshit.

If you start any paragraph with the phrase, “As you know,” stop. Start over. How do your readers benefit by your telling them something they already know? “As you know” and whatever completes that sentence is you clearing your throat before you write something worthwhile.

If you start any paragraph with some version of, “Today, [blank] is all the buzz” or [Blank] is on everyone’s mind today,” stop. You’re trying to bond with a reader, but you’re proving you’re not a member of their community. Imagine an ad aimed at Latinos that begins, “You know, Hispanics are people, too.” That ad’s not going to work with Hispanics because no Hispanic worries about whether he or she is “people.” The subtext (that the writer doesn’t know what issues actually keep Hispanics awake) shouts much louder than the text.

Friends in blue jeans don’t talk to each other that way. How do they talk? They interact directly and informally. They share a similar style and vocabulary.They cut to the point without putting on airs. They’ve learned to trust one another because of shared experiences over time.

Get to know your audience, so you can write to them this way. Nobody wants to be sold, hustled, or conned. But everyone likes to hang out. Write to your readers in blue jeans style, in ways that seem authentic and direct to them, and you will rock their worlds. ##

How do you get to know them well enough to get inside their minds? Watch for next week’s entry.

  1. Kyle says:

    Where does this verbal pretense come from, do you think? I wonder if academia had something to do with it; young copywriters left school and wrote as if they were still trying to please their professors?

    And, anybody who still uses the catchphrase “Tomorrow’s ____, today” or any imitation of the Got Milk? campaign should be sent to work camp in Siberia.

    Now, Scott, what about those of us who don’t wear pants at all? 🙂

  2. Steve Pinzon says:

    As you know, I thought my writing was all the buzz. Next time I’ll take my slacks off, put my jeans on, and write more better. These are great, keep ’em coming!

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