Copy Righting

I understand that folks who work in advertising and marketing sometimes really want to drive home a point. As a hammer is to a carpenter, so repetition is to a copywriter. It’s a recognized tool of the trade and often the one that works best. Repetition is totally valid as a writing strategy. Even poets use it.

I have no beef with the following fake ad, for example:

When you come down to Hamm’s Burger this Memorial Day weekend, buy any two burgers and get a third one free! That’s right, you can get three burgers for the price of only two! A trio of burgers at two-thirds the normal price. That third burger is yours 100 percent free. It costs you nothing! A 90 percent lean all-beef patty is yours 100 percent free! Just throw it away if you want to! It’s gratis! We’re giving away burgers to folks who buy two! But you have to get here before we close! Otherwise we won’t be open! So get on over to Hamm’s Burger and choose from any of our twelve mouthwatering, delicious, savory signature burgers! Right next door to Frank’s Hot Dogs! Hamm’s Burger, Hamm’s Burger, Hamm’s Burger!

This is an example of saying the same thing in different ways and using simple repetition. However, copywriters often commit two terrible offenses:

Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  1. The free gift

I can tell you that all of the gifts I’ve received have been free. Any time I had to pay for something, it wasn’t a gift, it was a purchase. “Free gift” is a straightforward duosyllabic redundancy.

  1. Save X percent off.

Money off equals savings. Save 50 percent = get 50 percent off. What the copywriter is doing in this case (perhaps unconsciously) is combining the two phrases to communicate the savings message in two ways, via “save” and “off.” This is just bad grammar and a practice that I think has made some people believe that “save off” is a valid construction. But if a bricklayer when buying his supplies paid 75 cents instead of $1 a brick, he didn’t save off his purchase of bricks. He saved ON it. Note: There is an easy road to redemption here. Simply add punctuation. If you change “Save 25 percent off bricks!” to “Save! 25 percent off bricks!” you’re free and clear. (Just remember, fragments are a choice. Use them wisely.)

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