Copy Tips From R.E.M.?

As a teenager I’d eat up anything related to Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and REM.

Peter Buck

Peter Buck -- Copywriting Guru?

Those three bands were tailor made for an adolescence spent in Nowheresville, Suburbia.

And I always remember an interview with R.E.M.’s guitarist Peter Buck.  I have no idea why this sticks in mind.  But over the past few months its become increasingly relevant to me and my work.

The exact quote I can’t find it anywhere online, but Buck reveals how the band spent 7 albums becoming more complicated  melodically.

They added more and more ‘layers’ and complexity because they figured it would improve the music.

But when it came time to record ‘Automatic For The People’ Buck realized the key was to strip everything back and simplify.

That made the music connect more directly with the audience.

And anybody who’s heard Everybody Hurts would probably agree it’s their most direct and affecting song.

So what’s my point?

Recently, I’ve seen way too much copy where the copywriter is drawing attention to himself.

Fancy metaphors, analogies and ‘word pictures’ get used so often they suffocate the copy and lose their power.

So if I ever find myself getting too “flowery” with my copy…  starting to fantasize I’m more novelist than copywriter…  I strip back to the essentials.

Let the copy breathe and it resonates that much better.

Thanks Peter for writing Man On The Moon and giving me a virtual kick up the behind in my everyday writing 😉

Matt is a copywriter, marketing consultant and conversion expert from the UK. Husband to Faye and daddy to Martha and Elliott.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • You (and Peter Buck) have a point there.  From a consumer’s point of view, simple and direct copy is easier to understand.  So it helps with deciding whether the product is really needed.  🙂  

  • Scott

    Question: How does one ‘know’ when you start getting too ‘flowery’? Do you have a process when writing that use to review elements [metaphors, word-pics, etc.] of what you’ve written?

    Or is it more of a gut-feel…or?

  • Hey Scott,

    More of a gut-feel for me. After you’ve written a ton of letters you can instinctively tell when it’s over-done. Some of my earlier work makes me cringe!

    Here’s what I like to do… finish up the “final” draft and then leave the copy alone for 2-3 days. When you return with fresh eyes, you almost instantly spot the sluggish, overwritten sections.