The other day, I received a postcard from the local Acme supermarket where we buy our groceries.
In one bullet point, the copy says the meat counter is a superior value. One reason cited is that Acme has “butchers who trim, bone, spatchcock, and grind to order.”
Now, I must admit, if I was the copywriter writing that copy, it would never have been occurred to me to use the word “spatchcock.”
If the audience for the postcard was chefs, butchers, gourmets, or meat connoisseurs, the supermarket copywriter might get away with this.
However, the postcard mailing targeted all of the store’s customers, and was not aimed specifically at either food professionals or even foodies.
Specifically, the piece was mailed to households located near the store: Our neighbors and fellow Acme shoppers who are, like us, every day folk. Not Gordon Ramsey.
And I suspected that, when I am grocery shopping at our Acme, not one customer in 100 knows what spatchcock is.
So, in my impromptu and statistically invalid in-store survey, I stood at the meat counter, held up the postcard, and asked about a dozen of my fellow shoppers if they knew what a “spatchcock” is.
Admittedly, though the survey results may have been influenced by bias confirmation, the fact remains that not a single person I asked had any idea of what “spatchcock” means.
And, although the postcard was B2C, the matter of word choice — and in particular the decision to use jargon and technical terms – is an even a bigger and more frequent issue in B2B copywriting.
To tackle it clearly, first we have to determine whether any given word or phrase is in jargon versus legitimate technical terminology.
So what’s the difference?
Sociologist Susan K. Brownmiller defines jargon as “language more complex than the ideas it serves to communicate.”
Applying that criterion, “operating system” is correct use of technical language, and not jargon, because it is the most accurate — and the most direct — way to refer to MS-DOS, Linux, and other operating system code.
On the other hand, “deplane” is jargon, because even though it’s short and sweet, there is a better way to say it using plain, simple English: “get off the plane.”
When writing to a lay audience (e.g., people who are not specialists), say things as plainly and simply as you can, whenever possible.
However, if the use of a technical term seems the clearest and most direct way of communicating your idea to the lay audience, then be sure to at least define the term the first time you use it in your copy or content.
As for overly complex language, in The Elements of Writing, Strunk and White advice: “Avoid needless jargon.”
For instance, an ad for a material conveying system told the reader that the processed material was “gravimetrically conveyed” from the machine to a waiting storage silo. Well, why not just say “dumped?”
Similarly, an ad for a dental splint said the device “stabilizes mobile dentition.” Instead, just say the product “keeps loose teeth in place.” In the same vein, do not write “utilize” when you can just as easily say “use.”
Why do I believe I am right? Because, after having written thousands of promotions, not a single prospect or reader has ever complained that my copy was too easy to read.