Copywriting's Turn to Radical Brevity

Today, fewer words means more customers

Once, copywriting was about the strategic creation of an appealing thought in the reader's mind.

It was the greatest era of commercial communications.

If you don't believe me, when was the last time you read something as good as this:

In case you're interested, it's from Bill Bernbach's Book. The best copywriting education that £210.98 can buy.

It was a time when advertising "creatives" were paid to create the one most important thing which brand owners couldn't create for their brand: charisma.

It lasted until technology happened.

Suddenly, anyone with a Mac was a designer.

And with a cluttered visual landscape, it became critical to have a visual appeal.

So Visual Identity was invented.

And what suffered was the writer's contribution.

Writers became people who had to fill in the gaps between the pictures in the designer's layout.

Designers rarely care what language can do. Why it should be longer sometimes. Or shorter. Or where paragraph breaks go.

Designers don't often care about strategy. 

They don't care what you have to say. (Professionally or personally, it often seems to me.)

But in the last five years, technology has saved the writer's job.

Highly complex consumer products are being created.

Unfortunately no one's got time to patiently work through and understand what they're about.

So the very, very best writers are creating succinct, powerful explanations.

Look at this landing page for Revolut:

Twenty words to say everything about a new financial way of life.

(And six of those words are unnecessary.)

It's an example of Radical Brevity in brand copywriting and tone of voice.

Compare with this landing page from a traditional financial institution:

More words than I can be bothered to count.

In the period 2020 to 2021, Lloyds added less than a million customers. And most trad banks were bribing people to become new customers. They actually had to give them money to get the customer to trust them.

In the same period, Revolut added 3 million customers. Even more impressive when you realize that was growth of 25 percent.

So, copywriting has changed again.

Now, fewer words mean more customers.

Every new brand launching in the last five years knows that.

(Luxury brands take a similar approach, but their radical brevity comes from a cold aloofness.)

Consumers have less time. So, fewer words.

Devices have smaller screen space. So, fewer words.

Apps die without immediate attention. So, fewer words.

Radical brevity.

It's not just fewer words.

It's a change of thinking.

No longer writing to fill in the gaps on the page.

Instead, how do you fill in the gaps in the reader's mind?

Empathy, not exposition.

Benefits, not features.

Sacrifice what isn't critically essential.

Don't spread your bets.

Have confidence.




The more you cut, the clearer the message.

Ask yourself, what is the one critical thing about this product?

George Orwell hated advertising.

But in Politics and the English Language, he created six rules for writers.

All still apply.

No. 3 more than most.

"If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out."

(And three of those words are unnecessary.)

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Chris West
Chris West is the CEO of the brand tone of voice agency Verbal Identity, working with writing and brand teams from organizations as diverse as Alphabet's moonshot factory to Saas digital startups. He is author of the book Strong Language, which launched in September.

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