The Red Pen Rule for Marketing Copy

The Red Pen Rule for Marketing Copy


There are more benefits to keeping your marketing copy short and sweet than simply saving ad space. Clear and concise messages stand a better chance of being read or heard in their entirety versus long-winded messages weighed down with filler words and extraneous information consumers don’t care about. Fortunately, there is a tool you can use to make sure your marketing copy is succinct, and consumers actually receive your most important messages – the messages that will lead them to action. I call it the ‘red pen rule.’

The Red Pen Rule

Once you have written final marketing copy that you feel is tight and compelling take out a red pen and delete at least 30% of it. Your copy will be better off without those extra words.

Once you apply the red pen rule to your copy, your most important messages will jump off the page. Consumers will be more intrigued, and more of them will actually make it through your marketing piece and reach your call to action. That 30% you deleted would have slowed your audience down. Consumers are used to immediate gratification, and they’re not willing to wait an extra second to process information that isn’t instantly useful or interesting to them. Don’t give them a chance to tune your message out. Keep in mind, the red pen rule is not an edict – 30% is more of a suggested guideline than a rule. The key is to delete more than a couple of words here and there.

Test It and See for Yourself

You can test the results of the red pen rule by choosing a marketing piece to use as a test subject and creating two versions of it – one before and one after the rule has been applied. Show both versions to friends, family, current customers and colleagues to get their reactions. You can also run live tests where you place both versions of your copy into the market and compare the response rates to both versions.

The Red Pen Rule in Action

1. Online Banner Ad
Before: You can grow your business and increase sales with a risk-free trial of our award-winning email marketing programme

After: Increase sales with a FREE email marketing trial. The after copy says the same thing as the before copy, but it’s more concise, gets the message across faster and more clearly and it leaves out the extraneous detail about the programme being ‘award-winning.’

2. Email Marketing Subject Line
Before: Get 5%, 10% or 20% off Your Purchase When You Come to Scent of Heaven to Preview our New Line of Fragrances

After: Get up to 20% off at the Scent of Heaven New Fragrance Preview. In this example, I simply cut filler words and extraneous details that don’t add to the effectiveness of the copy. The new copy is easier to read in an email subject line, and it’s more compelling. Bottom line, you don’t ever want consumers to read or listen to your ad or marketing piece and think, “Hurry up and get to the point.” Instead, keep your messages short, sweet and succinct, and your results will prove that the red pen rule works.

Susan Gunelius
With nearly 20 years of marketing, branding and copywriting experience, Susan Gunelius is also an entrepreneur.