Do your Research: Don’t Drink the (Copywriting) Kool-Aid

I only want to make a very small point today. Purely because I’ve seen a few people approach copywriting with the same kind of attitude as content writing. It’s a short piece, I promise.

A fairly sizeable portion of you fine folk reading this will have begun your copywriting journey on the bottom rung of the ladder.

Unless you were born with a silver typewriter in your mouth and a loaded Rolodex up your arse, you probably had to try your hand at the dreaded content mills.

Now, I’m not going to delve into the many ways in which this business model is bad for the writer (and I mean many).

That’s already been discussed umpteen times by other (smarter) writers than me.

The one point I will make, however, is this:

Being forced to churn out words robs you of your baseline credibility and flatlines your fever for fervent research.

You don’t really know your subject if you’re pushing out a 500-word article every 7.5 minutes.

I wish you did, I really do.

But it’d be impossible to research an industry and absorb the necessary information in the short amount of time you have.

That’s fine, though.

Content mills pay shit, treat you like shit, are happy to accept shit, and get shit results.

You can quite easily get away with not knowing your audience and industry when you’re vomiting out words with the same intensity as I once did on a cold and bitter night in 2009.

(side note: I didn’t vomit out words because of a writing gig. It was New Years Eve. In an exceptionally drunk state I agreed to eat several dozen pages of a King James bible while sitting next to a fire in a field. The resulting puddle of Ye Olde English Cider, Apple Sourz, nail-varnish-flavoured vodka, and righteous testimony is probably still there. The fossilised remains of that throw-up will most certainly go on to be studied by archaeologists for decades to come.)

In copywriting, you don’t have the option to shit something out.

You don’t get to fake your way through the writing when it comes to copywriting.

It’s tempting to try, I know…

But like the sweet allure of a swift and sensual death via auto-erotic asphyxiation, it definitely isn’t worth the end result.

The audience will always know when you’ve been a naughty boy/girl and written your copy like it’s any old content gig.

They’ll know if you’ve consulted Wikipedia alone.

It ain’t like a content mill.

A Contrived Example

Hey, kid, you like movies?

Sure, you love ‘em, right?

Here’s a few of my favourite quotes from a few of my favourite films:

“Play it again, Sam.”

“If you build it, they will come”

“Hello, Clarice.”

“Greed is good.”

“Luke, I am your father.”

“I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto.”

“Do you feel lucky, punk?”

About 67% of you are scratching your heads and wondering when this turned into a BuzzFeed listicle about the ‘9 Most Dank Film Quotes’ or whatever.

But the other 33% of you are shaking your head and muttering under your breath.

“That’s not right, that’s not right at all. He’s got it wrong. None of these are right.”

Yeah, you got me.

They’re all slight misquotes of famous lines from movies – fairly common misquotes actually.

(Go look it up if you don’t believe me.)

Did you jump to correct me on any of them?

Are you already typing out a mean Tweet in which you call me a ‘normie?’

Of course you are, and you’d have every right to do so.

If you know something to be true, if you know something by heart, if you know the right way to do something…

You don’t like people messing it up.

It’s fucking annoying.

Be it a quote, a stat, a juicy bit of gossip, or a very specific tidbit about the state of public transport in the city of Naples, Italy – if someone hasn’t got their facts straight, they can’t be trusted (in the eyes of the knowledgeable reader).

No matter how small the percentage of readers that could catch your slip-up, it has to be avoided.

No matter where you are in the world, if you make an off-hand reference to ‘drinking the Kool-Aid’ (à la the ‘Jonestown Massacre’), somebody will push up their glasses, clear their throat, and gleefully inform you…

“Um, well, I think you’ll find that it was actually poisoned FLAVOR AID they drank on that fateful day.”

Do you want that to happen?

No, didn’t think so.

Do your research.

Learn the product/service/whatever.

Find an interesting viewpoint if you must.

Just don’t fake it.

Don’t drink the damn Kool-Aid.

For the record, I think bullshitting has a place in this business.

More so in the client acquisition than anything else.

I’ve written about it before.

But when you’re tackling something real – branding, advertising, direct response, sales, newsletters – please don’t bullshit your way through.

Do your homework.


Go follow me on Twitter.

I’m not selling you anything.

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