The Grumpy Grammarian

What Bull Taught Me About The Laws Of Copywriting

I like watching TV and dedicate 2-3 hours each day to my shows.

I don’t consider it “wasting my brain.” I actually consider it research. I even keep a notebook with me to write down tidbits I find interesting.

During episode 19 season 4 of Bull, Michael Weatherly and Freddy Rodriguez defended a judge, Kelcy Griffin, who’s on trial for obstruction of justice. This judge helped a witness in her courtroom escape federal arrest. She wanted to uphold the idea that a courtroom is a sacred space within the justice system.

While riding home in their car (where the best defenses present themselves), it finally dawned on Michael Weatherly that the judge believes in the spirit of the law — not the letter of the law. The judge broke the law because she believes it’s open to interpretation based on the intent behind the law.

Instead of obeying the literal interpretation of the words of the law that dictated the judge should let the feds arrest the witness when she was done testifying, she thought about the intention behind the law and decided to honor the sanctity of witnesshood. This judge wanted the witness to feel safe enough to tell the truth in her courtroom without repercussions.

That’s where I paused my DVR and had what I call a “shit, yes” moment. (When I have these moments, I open my notebook and jot them down to think about later.)

Because I believe in the spirit of copy editing — not the letter of copy editing (see pedantic grammar rules).

The Spirit Of Copy Editing.

Pedantic grammarians pound 400-year-old grammar rules into our heads with their red-pen gavels and enforce them without regard for deeper meaning. Instead of interpreting the rules based on the intent behind the rules (like being clear, concise, or compelling), these sticklers apply grammar rules literally. Even if it flagrantly violates the rule’s intent.

And here’s why you, as a copywriter, should believe in the spirit of copy editing and not the letter of copy editing — Because brands aren’t in business to teach grammar. They’re in business to sell. And it’s your job to write powerful copy that sells their products and services. This means your copywriting must be clear, concise, and compelling.

How To Explain To Your Client That Bad Grammar Is Good For Sales.

I’m sure you’ve had a client scold you for making a grammar mistake.

Like that time you spent two months writing a sales page for a client.

You researched their industry. You analyzed surveys and testimonials from their buyers. And you followed the copywriting formula that best fits your client’s product or service.

After you put the finishing touches on it, you clicked the send button and waited to hear back.

A few days later, you received an email from your client:

“Hey there,

Thanks for sending me the sales page.

We had a hard time getting past the grammar mistakes, though. Do you have a proofreader? We don’t want people to think we don’t understand basic grammar rules.”

Sound familiar?

Unfortunately, some brands think great marketing copy follows the same rules as writing an essay that wouldn’t lose marks in Grade 11.

While these companies might be quick to grab their red pens and mark up your so-called mistakes, it’s your job as a copywriter to break the rules if it means better conversion copy.

And it almost always does.

Grammar rules are meant to be broken because language is constantly evolving.

Grammar is inherently nitpicky and definitely tricky (said in my best Run-DMC voice.) But the good news is that it’s constantly evolving.

The idea of grammar rules isn’t new. It’s been around since the 1st century BCE.

Shakespeare liked to play (pun intended) with words. So much so that he invented 1,700 words and phrases like “dawn,” frugal” and “skim milk.” We still use most of them today.

But inventing words and phrases wasn’t his only talent. Shakespeare broke grammar rules and did it with style. Specifically, he used unique ways to construct sentences that added a poetic element to his writing.

Grammar’s been evolving since Shakespeare was alive.

So break grammar rules like Shakespeare.

In copywriting, where the goal is to sell products, services, and ideas — those hard-and-fast grammar rules have turned into suggestions.

Be Like Bull – Defend The Spirit Of Copywriting.
Be Like The Jury – Find Pedantic Grammar Rules Guilty Of Killing Sales.

Copywriting’s goal is to ignite the inner emotions of a target audience and urge them to buy. This is where grammar stays inferior and rhetoric gains ground. These exceptional ad campaigns attracted millions of dollars in sales even though they broke grammar rules.

Pedantic grammarians, who focus on the letter of copy editing, often point to their compliance as a means to justify themselves. They discount deeper meaning or reasons behind the rules.

That’s why you need to be someone like me or hire someone like me, who believes in the spirit of copy editing, so your copywriting is clear, concise & compelling.