A copywriting quick win: why using ‘etc’ in sales copy is a bad idea

September 25, 2018

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Writing is hard. It can be very time consuming. Lucky there are sometimes shortcuts.

Grammar and formatting can save us. Lists, ellipses, dashes and abbreviations can be our ticket-out of Lengthy Writersville while keeping us on track to the popular destination of Totally-on-Point.

Used right all the afore-mentioned help communicate ideas without risk of ambiguity.

Note I said ‘when used right’. I’ve seen copy derailed by misplaced ellipsis. And looooong bullet point lists that would pack more punch if written as a short paragraph.

The one that really gets me though, is the misuse of ‘et cetera’ (or its abbreviation, ‘etc’). Incorrect use will stuff up your messaging.

via GIPHY

 

Why I’m against putting etc in your sales copy

There are two reasons why including ‘etc’ in any of your sales messaging is a poor decision.

One: It looks lazy. If you’re selling a product (or products) you should be super-keen to talk about the item’s main features and why/how they benefit the potential customer. Writing, ‘It looks good, feels good, is easy to use, etc’ is sheer laziness. Not to mention the use of ‘etc’ in this context is incorrect, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

There’s a bigger issue. If you care so little about making the sun shine out of a product’s arse, why should potential customers give a rat’s backside about it either? Answer: they won’t. They’ll spend their money elsewhere.

Urgh, selling stuff is so hard etc, etc via GIPHY

Two: Whacking ‘etc’ in sales copy as an attempt to suggest there are more features and benefits than there actually are, isn’t smart. Don’t ever do that. You’re basically lying. And the ‘etc’ isn’t even needed, because there is no etc. You’ve said all you can say.

Perhaps I’m being an over-sensitive copywriter? But as someone who’s written thousands of product descriptions I feel like I’ve got a leg to stand on.

The right way to use ‘et cetera’ in your content

I stand by my argument that there’s no place for ‘etc’ in your sales copy. BUT if you want to use it in longer-form content, make sure you:

  • only use it in lists where it’s clear what’s kind of thing is being omitted (as in, everything in the list comes from a similar category so it’s easy to imagine what ‘etc’ could be in place of.) For example…
    • This works: The library holds books on many popular topics like history, fashion, art etc.
    • This doesn’t work: The handmade soap is made of yak’s milk, smells of roses, is suitable for sensitive skin etc.
  • don’t stick ‘and’ before ‘etc’ at the end of a list, because the ‘et’ in ‘et cetera’ already means ‘and’.

For a full explanation on the correct use of ‘etc’, take a quick gander at this article on Grammarly.

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