May 19, 2022
They’re is at least one thing wrong with this sentence. Did you catch it? If you audibly gasp when you read the butchering of the their-there-they’re triumvirate, bless you. The copy editor inside you should be celebrated.
I happen to love finding those pesky little errors and omissions whenever I’m reading or writing creatively. But I’ve realized that a more specialized approach to copy editing is needed in 2022 for marketers. Getting the message across — especially in today’s age of fragmentation and infinite content channels — is a delicate art form that involves much more than words. It involves tone, mood, imagery, and heaps of encouraging interaction.
Attention spans are shorter than before, and with so much constant information being delivered to customers from myriad sources, creative teams have to work harder to make sure they deliver messaging that sticks. They have to push the boundaries of what’s already in the market, reinvent old ideas, or take the risk on a new idea and hope it resonates with the audience.
This is why copy editing in marketing needs to go beyond syntax, grammar, spelling, and punctuation. It has to focus on the overall intent of delivering a unique customer experience. It requires understanding the motivations of the copywriter and helping to make their vision come across in a seamless way. And it’s understanding that sometimes the copywriter meant to do something in a way that doesn’t follow conventional grammatical — or even punctuational! — rules.
Not You’re Father’s Copy Editing
There it is again. Did you catch it? Granted, intentional spelling mistakes in subheadings will always be verboten, but this specialized approach to copy editing differs from more traditional copy editing in a few notable ways.
Traditional copy editing relies heavily on “correctness.” Sentences need to be structured in accordance with grammatical rules as defined by style guides. And there is a good reason for this. The point of copy editing is to ensure that nothing impedes the message that the writer is attempting to get across. An incorrectly placed comma can change the entire meaning of a sentence, ruining the intent of the writer and disrupting the flow for the reader.
But what if the copywriter wants to disrupt that flow? What if they want to play on words or even concepts? How does a copy editor, who has been trained on making sure every “t” is crossed and every “i” is dotted, adjust to being thrown a nonconventional message?
This is what makes it difficult for many copy editors to transition from traditional editing to performing edits for marketing. The instinct to “fix” a sentence is strong, but marketing isn’t about the sentence or the “correctness” of things. The specialized marketing approach to copy editing is to shift focus from rules to context.
What is the piece ultimately trying to do? Why did they write it in this specific way? Why did they choose that labyrinthine word when this simpler word would have fit better?
Traditional copy editing focuses on making sure the story is seamlessly woven, whereas marketing copy editing needs to focus on whether or not the message will grab the audience’s attention at a glance and make it stick before they move on to the next message in their inbox.
When Adjectives Aren’t Adjectives
RAPP once had a creative piece come in where the copywriter chose to use a noun as an adjective. It caused a lively debate in our Teams chat, with everyone agreeing that the word couldn’t be used in that way. We sent the creative back to the copywriter with our note to use an actual adjective in its place, even suggesting some alternatives. The copywriter stood their ground and stated that they had chosen that word for a reason.
This is one of those situations where you have to “let things go” as a copy editor, but also an example of the challenges that come from copy editing for marketing.
Understanding that the creative wanted to use the word in that way to get across the message was more important than insisting a grammatically correct word be used. It stood out and caught our attention, and that was exactly what the copywriter was going for. As the “first audience” of creative’s vision, a copy editor’s reaction to the message is often interpreting how the intended audience will react, and anything that makes us stop and take notice is certainly effective and often worthy of “letting it go.”
Now, letting things go doesn’t mean ignoring the rules altogether. For that noun to work as an adjective and the focal point of that sentence, it was important for the rest of the sentence to be grammatically correct. If there were other errors in that sentence, it would have detracted from the impact of the copywriter choosing that specific word.
Paving a New Path Forward
For anyone transitioning from traditional copy editing to marketing copy editing, there are a few considerations to keep in mind:
- Does the message get across? Will a customer understand the point of the email when they open it and put together the words, tones, and images?
- Did the message disrupt your thinking?And if it did, was it in a bad way that made you not understand the message, or in a good way where it made the messaging memorable?
- Fragments are OK. In marketing, the messaging has to be quick and easily digestible. For that same reason, run-ons are less OK, but they could be fine if the context calls for a fun stream-of-consciousness play of words. The main point here is that context and intent are most important.
- Rules are meant to be broken. We’re not writing research papers to be graded by a stern grammarian. We’re connecting with audiences and telling them stories based on their needs and desires. Rules are less important in marketing than conveying the right tone and emotion to provide a personal experience to customers.
Letting things go is a balancing act between knowing what has to be correct in order to make the creative decisions shine. If things read wrong, then the messaging is lost. If things read too right, then the messaging is boring and sounds like every other message.