Words Grandma Will Understand

January 2nd, 2020

From the very beginning of my copywriting career, I have followed one simple rule of thumb …

Creativity comes second to effective communication.

Because of this, my preferred approach to writing is simple, clean and conversational. Basically, I like to write how people talk. It’s a faster read and much more relatable. And don’t get me wrong; I like to be creative, too. I mean, that’s one of the most exciting parts of my job. But that’s not my main objective. My absolute main objective is to make sure the reader isn’t left saying, “Huh??” Because that doesn’t result in action (a laugh, a tear, a social share, an online purchase,etc.). And we’re all about generating action in this industry.

Well, recently I came across a Forbes article that shared my sentiment: The Grandma Test: Are You Explaining What You Do In A Way That Makes Sense?

While the article focuses more on how to avoid overusing jargon in a jargon-heavy industry, I think it offers up a very helpful thought-starter for advertising professionals.

What it introduces is The Grandma Test, created by linguist Jeffrey Punske, Ph.D., director of undergraduate studies in Linguistics at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. This test asks you to first think about what you want to say and then “try and explain it to your grandma, to your uncle at Thanksgiving or to your mother-in-law,” he says. In other words, talk to someone who’s far removed from the product or service you’re providing.

Dr. Punske is definitely onto something here. It’s basically what I do every time I approach an ad. And it’s something you should do, too. Whether you’re a writer, designer or account exec, step back from the ad and remember The Grandma Test. “Sure, the ad is beautiful, but is the takeaway buried?” “I’m glad we think it’s funny, but does the reader actually know what we’re selling?” Step out of your creative shoes and ask yourself whether or not it’s effectively communicating the message.

Check out the entire Forbes article here.