How to Avoid the Destructive Power of Adjectives in Your Marketing Copy

Adjectives are a copywriter’s nightmare.

Pick the right adjective and your sales copy is memorable and persuasive. Choose the wrong one and you lose your reader’s attention.

How do you know which adjective is right? And which one is wrong? And how many do you need?

Unfortunately, no dictionary exists to tell you how to choose. No thesaurus contains a list of perfect adjectives. But there are a few rules that can help you write more engaging and seductive sales copy by selecting the most powerful adjectives.

definition of adjectives

Let’s have a look at adjective-free copy first.

The Benefits of Adjective-Free Copy

Leaving adjectives out of your text makes your copy shorter, so it can be read and understood faster and easier.

If you’re trying to paint a picture with words, you’ll need vivid adjectives. But if you’re writing instructions, your guidance should be clear, to the point, and easy to follow.

These examples are nearly adjective-free:

MailChimp helps you design email newsletters, share them on social networks, integrate with services you already use, and track your results. (MailChimp)

Collect information from anywhere into a single place. From text notes to web pages to files to snapshots, everything is always at your fingertips. (Evernote)

Copywriting tip:

If you can get your message across without using adjectives, leave them out, because it makes your copy simple and straightforward.

evernote description

Evernote’s text is simple and easy to read

Hollow Adjectives Kill Your Copy

Adjectives make your sentences longer, which requires more effort from the reader. Overindulgence in adjectives causes your copy to be verbose and cumbersome.

Moreover, flowery or bombastic words can make your copy sound insincere. Have a look at this example of gobbledygook that David Meerman Scott presents on his blog:

We have assembled surgical and clinical expertise second to none, have a state-of-the-art trauma center, developed sophisticated minimally invasive techniques, and called on innovative training and technology to ensure the highest level of patient safety and quality of care.

Adjectives like state-of-the-art, sophisticated and innovative are devoid of meaning. Such words demand effort without rewarding the reader – making the copy ugly, bland, and almost nonsensical.

How to cut strenuous adjectives from your copy:

  • If the meaning of your sentence doesn’t change when leaving out an adjective, skip it.
  • Use a stronger noun if it means you can leave out an adjective. A crisis is better than a severe problem.
  • Avoid using very and really. Rather than very happy, why not say you’re delighted? Rather than mention a really good movie, why not call it a fantastic movie?

Copywriting tip:

Your readers appreciate simple and short copy because it’s easier to read and understand. Avoid meaningless and redundant adjectives.

Persuade with Specific Adjectives

Specific adjectives are concrete. They describe technical details or real benefits and boost the credibility of your copy.

An example:

IKEA FAKTUM cabinets are made of sturdy 18mm board (…) with white melamine foil for a hard-wearing, moisture-proof and scratch-resistant finish. (Ikea)

IKEA’s cabinets are not just sturdy – they’re made of 18mm board with white melamine foil. The benefits of these technical details are hard-wearing, moisture-proof and scratch-resistant. This trio of adjectives adds stress to the consumer benefits.

Even an abstract concept like security can be made concrete with an adjective:

Get your team on board with bank-grade security and admin tools built for business. (Dropbox)

World-class security might have brought on a “yeah-yeah” reaction from your reader. Because what does world-class really mean? It’s an overused word. Bank-grade, however, makes the security level concrete and specific. It’s quite easy for the reader to imagine how secure Dropbox is by associating it with bank safety deposit boxes, locks, and security staff.

Copywriting tip:

Specific technical details add credibility to your sales copy. Try to explain the real benefits of these details. What pain does your product avoid? How does it make your customer feel better?

Engage with Emotion-Rich Adjectives

Emotion-rich adjectives make your readers feel something, and they will remember how you made them feel.

Emotion-rich adjectives can appeal to fear, anger, enjoyment, nostalgia, etc. Joe Sugarman used this phrase at the end of most of his advertisements:

If you aren’t absolutely satisfied, return your product within 30 days for a prompt and courteous refund.

Can a refund be courteous? Maybe not, but that doesn’t matter. The word courteous makes the company sound respectful (maybe an old-fashioned kind of respectful). It reassures readers and gives them a warm feeling about the company.

You also can use emotional words to show you understand your reader’s feelings. Getting into your reader’s head is a powerful way to engage. After you’ve shown you understand your reader, it’s much easier to sell him your solution:

Testing and optimizing your landing page and lead generation funnel for better conversion and higher search engine rankings is often confusing, complicated, and inconvenient. Premise makes conversion and search engine optimization a snap, so you can get back to focusing on your business. (Premise)

Copywriting tip:

Appealing to your reader’s emotions makes your copy stronger and more memorable. Use emotion-rich adjectives.

premise copywriting text

Copyblogger Media understands the issues their readers face: SEO is confusing, complicated, and inconvenient

Seduce with Sensory Adjectives

Sensory adjectives can be visual (bright or drab), tactile (sticky or polished), or related to sound (fizzy or chirpy), taste (refreshing or boring), or smell (stale or stuffy). Sensory adjectives are most often used for physical products:

This fast-absorbing body lotion leaves your skin extra soft, extra smooth and extra beautiful. (Dove)

Enjoy entertainment in dazzling full HD on a large screen. (Samsung Galaxy)

(…) everything is sharp, vivid and lifelike. (Apple iPod touch)

Research suggests that sensory adjectives make abstract ideas more impactful and memorable. Stories can be exciting or bland. Thoughts can be dark, and your day can be rough. This is what Apple says about using the A5 chip:

(…) makes everything you do feel smooth and natural. (Apple iPad mini)

Copywriting tip:

Adjectives that appeal to the senses add impact to your copy because they activate different areas of the brain.

Improvise to Grab Attention

Surprise startles the brain and grabs your reader’s attention. Of course you can surprise your reader with an unexpected turn of events. But what about creating a linguistic surprise?

Shakespeare understood the surprise trick. He used adjectives as verbs: Thick my blood. This is a pretty smart move, because not only does it surprise the reader, it also shortens the sentence by two syllables (compared with make my blood thicker).

You also can use a new or rare adjective to grab your reader’s attention. For instance:

And the iPod touch loop makes it all even more un-put-downable. (Apple iPod touch)

Un-put-downable works well because it conjures up a clear image and a feeling of wanting to continue playing with something even when you know you have to get back to work.

Copywriting tip:

Surprise your reader to keep him engaged. Try making up the occasional adjective. But be careful, as new words can make your copy complicated and reduce readability.

The Truth About the Persuasive Power of Adjectives

Beware of over-the-top, bombastic, and wishy-washy adjectives. Instead, make abstract concepts concrete by appealing to the senses.

Be creative. Write sparkling text with emotional words. Create distinctive copy with dazzling analogies. And above all, have fun and let your personality shine through. Your enthusiasm for your products is contagious.

About the Author: Henneke Duistermaat is a marketer and copywriter. She helps companies boost business by writing persuasive web content. Sign up for her ultra-short, entertaining copywriting and content marketing tips at Enchanting Marketing.

  1. Refreshing read. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way, but It’s great that we’re starting to find our way past “fluff”. The more useful and easy to read our copy is, the more It’ll naturally engage our customers.

    With that said, tweeted.

    • Thank you, Yuriy.

    • Fantastic one Henneke. Marketers must really realize the importance of keeping it simple and straight forward to make most of the users understand and share their content. Its really easy to get ignored if the sentence or the content contains lots of adjectives and is too complex to understand. Simple content can never be blessing in disguise.

  2. Most of us who’re good with the language aren’t good enough when it comes to writing copy that engages. Thank you for an excellent post. Invaluable for cowboy copywriters and do-it-all entrepreneurs!

  3. Very useful post. I would use this idea’s in my writings.
    Thanks a lot

  4. Henneke – what a great post!

    Having worked in quite a few enterprise software companies, I found adjectives to be a complete nightmare. Often times I would have to fight execs over copy like “Product X is a powerful, easy-to-use solution for end-to-end monitoring of complicated, inter-dependent transactions across enterprise-grade, large-scale infrastructures”… :)

  5. Hey,

    You are doing a good job. Keep it up. Keep providing us such a useful information.

    Thanks,
    Jenifer Taylor

  6. Interesting. Apple’s copy is full of adjectives, always in the superlative. They seem to do quite well with it.

    • Yes, that’s true. Apple’s Copy is full of adjectives. Most of the adjectives Apple uses are specific,sensory, or emotional.

  7. You’ll notice that David Ogilvy likes to use a lot of specifics in his copywriting. Take for example “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls Royce comes from the ticking of its electric clock.” Specific information (#s in particular) are far more effective than adjectives.

    • Yep, specificity works. And that’s why adjectives often don’t work, because they’re non-specific, fluffy or bombastic.

  8. Excellent post. I have been making many problems in marketing copy and now i will make them perfect. :)
    Thanks

  9. Ramsay Leimenstoll Apr 26, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    Insightful post, Henneke! You really broke this complicated, often intuition-based process into a concrete plan copywriters can follow. Thank you!

    Of course, you forgot to mention a great way of using adjectives that led me to click on this post in the first place:

    Loss-aversion is a stronger motivator than potential gain, so using the negative adjective “destructive” in this headline was even more compelling than oh, say,

    “Use specific and sparkling adjectives to write better copy”

    Good work.

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