How trying to sound smart can backfire on you

Chief Creative Officer

I recently saw a LinkedIn post from a copywriter who used the word “utilize.” 


This told me one of two things was true:

He’s an actor immersing himself in the life of a lousy copywriter to prepare for an upcoming role. Or more likely …

He’s a lousy copywriter. 

Now, it’s not my intention to use this newsletter as a platform to wag my finger at lowborn typists masquerading as marketing pros. 

I wouldn’t stand downwind from much of my own earlier work.

(Gotta be one of my radio scripts from 2015)

But here’s why you should be as twisted about “utilize” poisoning the groundwater as I am …

You would never say that word.

Don’t believe me? 

OK … think about all the things you use, then say you’re utilizing them and see how that feels.

Did you just smack yourself in the face?

Happens every time. Because you’d never utilize barbecue sauce to baste the chicken any more than you’d utilize a hose to wash the car.

* * *

“Use short words in place of long words.” 

That’s what advertising Hall of Famer John Caples tells us in his classic, Tested Advertising Methods.

He wrote that over 90 years ago and it’s still copywriting advice that punches well above its weight class.

But Matt, what if I’m speaking to a sophisticated audience?

Even the fanciest of pants don’t want to suffer through complex phrasings and formal language.

It’s not about sounding smart. 

It’s about connecting with your reader.

And if you want to do that, you don’t “embark on an excursion.” 🧐 

You “take a trip.” 😎

Here’s the truth … 

There’s never a good reason to make your copy feel like an SAT prep test. 

The simpler the message, the greater the chance your reader will be drawn in, follow along, and do what you ask.

And look, I’m not saying big words are completely off-limits. Just try subbing in some shorties when you can.

Like this 👇

Illustrate >>> Show

Strategize >>> Plan

Verbalize >>> Say

Convey >>> Send

Achieve >>> Reach

Opportunity >>> Chance

Conclusion >>> End

Attend >>> Go 

Manufacture >>> Make

And without exception, even in the presence of royalty … 

Utilize >>> Use 

* * *

Here’s a song to play you out >>> 

See you next time. – Matt

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Chief Creative Officer
Matt is a professional storyteller. That used to be a thinly veiled way to say you still lived with your parents. But the truth is stories have existed since the dawn of humanity and they still have the power to move people, even if it’s no longer from the path of a charging mammoth. Throughout his career on both the agency and client sides, Matt’s work has been known to compel audiences to indulge in higher thread counts, abandon Lenten sacrifice, or move to the suburbs. He’ll even conjugate a noun if he has to. The bottom line: Matt is our agency twofer. Strategy and Creative. The Big Idea and Stealth Deployment. He’s a single expense yielding a dual return. And who doesn’t love a bargain?

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