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Clever copywriting – where does wordplay fit in?

As a follow-on from my previous post, ‘Should advertising be clever’, this entry is about wordplay.

Perhaps the commonest form of wordplay is the pun. When I started out as an advertising copywriter, one of the first lessons I was taught was to try and avoid puns. For instance, if you’re selling an inexpensive shirt, there are far better ways of doing it than saying ‘you won’t get shirty about the price’. No disagreement from me there.

The problem is when you come to more wordy pieces such as mailpacks, sales letters and brochures. It’s all very well having a pure, carefully-honed headline if that’s the essence of your written communication (with maybe a few pithy lines of copy to go with it).

However, in your average mailer you’ve got an envelope line, a letter headline, letter subheads, a mailer headline, a mailer reveal line and more subheads. Plus shedloads of copy. And you’re not just communicating your offer once at the beginning, you’re expanding on it, substantiating it, reinforcing it and generally slapping on the make-up, looking at it in the mirror from every angle, and parading it down the catwalk.

So if you’re going to keep the reader interested and not simply repeat yourself, then you’re going to have to get a little bit clever with the way you write (while never sacrificing clarity, of course). Which, in some cases, could mean using puns.

Read any newspaper, particularly the tabloids, and you’ll find they’re chock-full of puns. People love ’em. So when it comes to longer pieces of copy, and as long as you’re not simply punning painfully, or for the sake of it, I think the occasional pun is okay. Just make sure it’s a current pun (geddit?).

There are of course, several other literary devices you can employ. Such as alliteration (using words that start with the same letter). Or assonance (that’s words with similar sounds within them).

You can also play a bit with the type. Sell broadband by saying you’re putting…an…end…to…slow…downloading. Or a business service that could help your profits rise.

And so on. Just don’t overdo it.

Incidentally, while we’re on the subject, the best advertising pun I ever heard of was one for a retail poster for Millett’s, the outdoor specialists:

Now is the winter of our discount tent.



For advertising with the occasional wordplay (but not just for the sake of it), please see my press and posters and my online copywriting pages.

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