‘No, there’s no cheese for you, Freddie!’
So we tell him. Yet there he sits, tilting his head and weirdly grumbling. Because Freddie only knows the word ‘cheese’. His over-literal Labrador brain can’t grasp negation – that ‘no’ means an absence of cheese. So all he hears is ‘cheese’. CHEESE.
Actually, our brains aren’t that different from Fred’s. If I say, ‘Don’t think of an elephant,’ you do exactly that.
Concrete language is powerful, bursting out of its grammatical box. And that’s an important lesson for the copywriter.
If you want the reader to want something, describe it positively. Instead of ‘lose weight’, say ‘get slim’. Instead of ‘reduce costs’, say ‘save money’. Whatever the product does, make it real.
However, if you want to scare or repulse the reader, use a negative. Then you paint a vivid picture of what they don’t want. For example, ‘the surest way to prevent a burglary’.
Sometimes, you have a choice. Then it comes down to the tone you want to achieve, and the balance of sentiment in your copy overall.
And now, for some reason, I feel like a bit of stilton…
There’s more on concrete language, and engaging writing in general, in Copywriting Made Simple.