The Seven Deadly Sins of Copywriting

NOTE: The following segment was written to help writing students improve their craft. But it’s helpful advice for anyone who writes advertising copy, web content or public relations material.

We call these the Seven Deadly Sins. When you see them in your writing, make a brief confession and do penance by rewriting. Even experienced writers commit these sins. As with other transgressions, you can’t feel guilty until you know it’s a sin.


Write the way people talk, eliminate clichés, useless phrases, keep it conversational (read out loud).

Bad taste

Watch for sexist, racist, offensive language and symbols. If it feels wrong, it probably is.


Weed out weak, redundant, unnecessary words and phrases. Keep the flow of thought moving.

Generic Benefit

Provide consumer benefits in terms they understand. Appeal to their lives. Lead with strongest benefit. Is one benefit so strong that it is the central truth or one thing about this product?

Laundry lists

Don’t list features without reference to what they mean to the consumer. Weave benefits into the ad and prioritize them based on the consumer’s point of view.

Poor grammar

Watch for errors in spelling, punctuation and verb tense. Know the rules and when to break the rules. Use fragments if it improves readability.

Wimpy words

Use power words, active voice, short simple sentences. If it doesn’t feel strong, it’s not.

Adapted from Advertising Creative: Strategy, Copy, Design, 4th edition, Tom Altstiel and Jean Grow

Watch for Advertising Creative,
4th edition–
January 2016.

For more detailed information about copywriting, contact Tom Altstiel, Vice President/Creative Director, PKA Marketing