Direct Response Copywriter on Crispness

I spent my formative years in England. There were three TV stations and two of them only broadcast 10 hours a day. So I listened to the radio and I love radio to this day.

BBC Radio 1 had a show called ‘Pick of the Pops’ and the DJ for decades was Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman. He began each show thus:

Greetings Pop Pickers

Look no further for an example of crisp copy.

The wonderful Alan 'Fluff' Freeman on Pick of the Pops...THIS WAY to crisp copy...

I worked with one of the giants of direct response copywriting and he wrote that he admired the crispness of my copy. One of the nicest things anyone has ever said about me. I work hard to keep the copy tight and readable. Yes, direct response copy must be conversational but it must also avoid tongue-twisters.

She sells sea shells by the sea shore…

...And similar structures will not appear in my copy.

Let’s go back to our friend, Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman. ‘Greetings pop pickers’ includes obvious alliteration: 'pop pickers' and this comes from the alliteration in the title of the show ‘Pick of the Pops.’

Alliteration, according to my dictionary, is the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words.

I would go one step further and describe ‘Pick of the Pops’ as consonance…alliteration with clear use of a consonant: ‘Pop Pickers.’

For the copywriter, consonance is a powerful weapon I like to use sparingly. Why? Normal conversation rarely includes alliteration.

‘Fluff’ might come up to you and say, ‘Greetings Pop Pickers’ but I won’t—at least not in regular daily conversation.

The opposite of consonance is assonance and this has nothing to do with donkeys. I avoid assonance: alliteration with vowels. I go one step further and include ‘internal’ assonance as writing to be avoided.

Some examples:

  • An interesting interlude…
  • The eternal…
  • You use…

Internal assonance trips up the reader quickly and a tripped up reader will stop reading.

Let’s take a look at some crisp writing. Martin Amis, who is stylistically all over the place and whose quality can vary, can also be supremely brilliant and his writing can be textbook crisp.

From his novel, London Fields. The novel’s main characters have crisp names.

  • Nicola Six
  • Keith Talent
  • Guy Clinch

From the book.

Keith’s account of the football match. I’ve heard many such summaries from him – of boxing matches, snooker matches, and of course darts matches. At first I thought he just memorized sections of the tabloid sports pages. Absolutely wrong.

BUT…in the previous paragraph…Amis slips into some internal assonance.

"How will we teach the children…"

I would avoid, ‘will we’ because of the double ‘whe’ sounds.

I’m glad, I think, that I never met Hunter S. Thompson but there’s no doubting the power of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I once made the mistake of renting a cassette featuring Thompson reading this book and it was unhearable…just pure mumbling. But let’s take a look at some crisp prose from the pages of the book.

Suddenly I felt guilty again. The shark! Where was it? I tossed the paper aside and began to pace. Losing control, I felt my whole act slipping…and then I saw the car, swooping down a ramp in the next-door garage. Deliverance! I grasped my leather satchel and moved forward to meet my wheels.

The world’s crispest writer might be copywriter Herschell Gordon Lewis. From his excellent book about copywriting, On the Art of Writing Copy.

That’s a marketing problem, not a copy problem. But copy can set the right climate. A product enclosure, properly worded, can head off arguments. For example: You sell consumer electronics. Into each box goes a neatly typed or printed piece of copy.

Gloriously crisp.

There’s no correlation between short sentences and crisp writing and it’s a mistake to turn copy into a series. Of short sentences. And phrases. Now. Kept short. Truncated.

A long sentence can be crisp even though I would typically avoid long sentences in direct response copy, and press release writing, and TV scripts, and any writing that’s striving to sell products or services—even products and services I’m trying to sell to writers who enjoy long sentences and are looking for a way to garner more information about the art and craft of constructing elongated sentences replete with adjectival clauses, adverbial clauses, and, in fact, all types of clauses but only those clauses that clarify the ultimate meaning of the sentence so the copy motivates the reader to take the next step, whether it’s handing over an email address or pulling a credit card out of their purse or wallet.

I kept that one short.

Pop pickers.

Copy cognoscenti.

I wouldn’t use the phrase ‘crisp copy’ in my copy because it’s a tongue-twister and could trip the reader.

Oh and if you want to meet the wonderful Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman, go here. The king of all DJs.

Not arf!


I'm a direct response copywriter based in Charlotte, North Carolina. I specialize in providing copy and content for the direct marketing environment for clients around the world. Enter your info to the right for my free series: Seven Steps to High Converting Copy. Or contact me here.