Write sizzling hot marketing copy with Hemingway’s iceberg theory
By Carolyn McMurray, SOCIATE’s Junior Copywriter & Blogstar
Good marketing copy is just the tip of the iceberg
The year is 2019 and I’m just about to embark on my copywriting journey.
I feel pretty confident. I love writing. I love reading. I was one of those kids at school who never had a problem meeting the word count.
And then my first copywriting project came in. I realised pretty quickly that I wasn’t exactly armed with the tools to write good marketing copy.
My whole life, I had been oohed and aahed over every time I wrote a long story. Teachers praised me on my six-page Shakespeare dissertations.
So, I approached copywriting with this same mindset.
Lots and lots of words. All sugarcoated in pretty-sounding language. The end result? Copy that sounded like something out of a poetry book.
Sure, it was written nicely. But it wasn’t going to sell.
What sold was short & succinct copy that got to the point.
No verbose language.
I had to unlearn 17 years of what I thought writing was all about.
What helped? Apart from months of cutting, editing, and sheer hard work – I stumbled across Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory. It was only eight lines long, but it taught me more about great copy than all my years at school.
What is the Iceberg Theory?
“If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.” – Ernest Hemingway.
Simple translation: cut the waffle, get to the point, and stick to the essentials.
Sounds easy, right? It’s not…
It’s easy to write about a product with snazzy words and a limitless word count. It’s difficult to write about in just a couple of lines.
How do you make it stand out?
How do you cover all the product’s features?
How do you cover everything?
Short answer is…you don’t.
Great iceberg copy doesn’t cover every single product feature. It actually shouldn’t cover that many features at all. Take a brand new microwave.
Readers don’t care about its dials and buttons.
They care about what it will do for them. They care about its benefits.
You’re essentially telling a mini story with copy.
You’re selling an experience, a feeling, or an aspiration.
Readers are also busy people.
In today’s age of “quick-fix, give it to me now” culture, people scan stuff. They look for the juiciest parts of a blog post or website – and then hone in on it.
Think about an iceberg. Half of it is submerged underwater.
There’s only about 8% of it peeking above the surface.
Approach copy in the same way. Write short.
But write in a way that leaves room for wondering and reveling. Reveal the tip of the iceberg in your copy, and let your reader’s imagination do the rest.
Hemingway’s short stories are a perfect example of this.
“For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
It’s literally just one sentence, but it evokes just as much emotion as a 100-page novel about an orphaned child would. Hemingway reveals the tip of the iceberg, but it’s enough to create a surge of emotion.
3 top tips for writing “iceberg” copy
Short, snappy copy? It’s easier said than done.
But here are a few tips to write a little more like Hemingway would:
Cut down on qualifiers
Qualifiers are a bit like spices. They jazz up a word and can make something sound stronger. VERY pretty. VERY simple. VERY delicious. They’re not awful, but when it comes to copy – less is more. The word “VERY” doesn’t really add much to a sentence. It sounds a bit forced. And it’s a bit of a generalisation.
Pro-tip: Whenever you feel the urge to write ‘very’ in front of an adjective, try to think of a descriptive word that means the same thing. You might want to say ‘very angry,’ but you could easily replace those two words with a strong adjective like furious or irate.
Think about your audience
When writing copy, don’t think about the entire world. Zone in on your target audience and what they know and like about your product.
Let’s say you’re writing about a shiny piece of software. If you’re writing for an audience with thorough tech knowledge, you don’t need to go into heavy detail. You can keep it really simple and throw in a bit of jargon without needing to explain everything. If your readers are newbies to the scene, cut out the tech talk and get down on their level.
Strengthen your inner editor
A good copywriter is equal-parts editor and equal-parts writer.
They know when to let loose and write like mad. And they know when to unleash their inner editor. It can be difficult to switch from one to the other in an instant, so try separating them out.
When you’re faced with a brief, forget about editing and how to make everything succinct.
Just get your ideas on the page. Write until your heart’s content. The creative process is a crucial part of copywriting, so just let loose. Once you’ve written up your rough draft, turn on your editor’s brain. This is when you’ll comb through your copy, cutting out unnecessary fluff and heavy phrasing.
It’s not always easy to immediately switch between the two, so try taking a break and coming back to your work later.
Good copy doesn’t happen overnight. Unless you’re a veteran wordsmith, you’re not going to be able to drum out a superstar line in minutes. That’s what we’re here for! We take your ideas and craft them into something that gets readers excited. Explore our copywriting services and hit us up at [email protected] today.