As a copywriter, I’m tasked every day with finding the perfect words for the client. Original, “fresh” words to describe gluten-free foods, recipe nuts, snack nuts, snack nuts clustered with other snacky things, hair tools for semi-professionals, toys sustainably made from old milk cartons, mini ice cream sandwiches on sticks, dental devices with paste built in, and so much more.
These words have to be written for a specific audience (e.g., A woman age 25-35 in the $70,000 salary range who wants to give her 1.5 children a sense of authenticity in a hard and scary, post-9/11 world. She’s sustainable but not hippy, smart but not preachy, and youthful but not sophomoric -- less “ermahgod” and more “What a surprise!”.)
These words I create have to move her, motivate her, and speak to her.
And I have three days to find them. Or less.
The secret to tackling this daunting task? Not trying to nail down the perfect word, but rather exploring every option until the answer reveals itself.
That may sound a little McConaughey-esque, but it works.
This could mean brainstorming with team members, free association, or a good old-fashioned brain dumping. But other times, it calls for an online word search to spark new ideas.
Ranging from the resourceful to the ridiculous, these are the word searching sites I go to hunt down every trick in the book until something clicks.
4 Websites to Save Your Boring Copy
Rhyming, alliteration, homophones -- you maybe haven't considered these terms since second grade English class.
Rhyme Zone can elevate the simple to the sublime -- from Coleridge to Common. Stretch it, bend it, parse it apart, and see what comes of it. No, you probably won’t name your client’s new dry mouth rinse the Thirst Nurse (true story), but for all the times it doesn’t work, there are the times it does: StubHub, 7-Eleven, and "L'eggo my E’ggo."
How to use it: Type a word in the word box, and pick your options from the drop-down menu. You have your choice of rhymes, near rhymes, synonyms, antonyms, lyrics and poems, related words, similar sounding words, and homophones. Plus, there are a few unexpected surprises such as the “search for Shakespeare” option. If I could write the beauty of your eyes, then I would totally nail the LensCrafters account.
Idioms From The Free Dictionary
An idiom for a tagline? Brilliant! Never been done before! Now let’s push the envelope and get down to business.
We write to transcend the obvious, trite, clichéd expressions for our clients, so idioms may not seem the likely place for a writerly breakthrough.
However, searching through a database of idioms is a great exercise for finding new meaning in your client’s overworked words.
The Free Dictionary's Idioms Dictionary, compiled from the Cambridge International Dictionary of Idioms, features more than 7,000 idioms that you’ll be happy to toss out for richer, more breakthrough content.
How to use it: Type in the keyword you are writing about (e.g., your client makes herbal drops, so you search “drops”). Then see what idioms pop up that feature that word.
Drop everything. Drop like a hot brick. Jaw drops. Ooh ... That could actually work. And that’s the beauty of the idiom or the inevitable pun. They’re abhorrent until they’re too brilliant to ignore.
Words to Use
At the risk of being technologized out of a job, the site Words to Use is essentially a copywriter in a virtual box. Content is arranged in familiar, award-ready categories: apparel and accessories, body care, food and beverage, seasonal, global good, love and emotions, etc.
Take heart, though, the copy it generates is about as prosaic as it gets, and you would never actually use the words it generates for a paying client.
For example: Why just enhance your hair with enriching conditioner when you could enhance your hair with kissed-by-the-sun-drenched, plant-powered, oxygen-rich conditioner that you can’t get enough of?
The way this site can assist you is with word association. Instead of grouping words together by their meaning (i.e., Thesaurus.com), this site groups together subject-related words by parts of speech.
How to use it: Search by category (people and appearance, food and beverages, seasons, etc.). Then, narrow that category (i.e. beauty from the main category people and appearance). From there, you’ll have your choice of adjective, nouns, verbs, phrases, and even categories such as facial hair similes where you’ll find phrases like, “A beard like foam swept off the blown sea.” Hmmm. That sounds like the makings of the next Old Spice tagline to me.
Here’s a fun fact that will bring a little bile up to the back of your throat: There’s a whole community of people who create mood boards and write copy in their free time, just for fun. They’re not selling a product or a service. They’re capturing moments such as Jackson’s First Step and Sally Becomes a Woman inside pages and pages of double-sided, polka-dotted die-cut paper.
They’re called scrapbookers.
Scrapbook.com was created to guide these hobbyists through the memory preservation process and “keep them motivated to document life.” It’s full of inspiration for titles and poems, and it has a database of quotes for scrapbooks, cards, and other projects.
It’s cheese -- to the max. I’m talking “bushels of fun,” “fa-la-la-la festive,” “terrorificly” corny copy.
But there’s something to be said for silly and over-the-top. And if you’re writing for a brand with a sense of humor, this might be the perfect place to shake every take-myself-too-seriously bone out of your body.
How to use it: Visit the resources page, and refer to the poems, quotes, or titles categories for headline and tagline inspiration. Choose a category based on the task at hand. You’ll see categories ranging from adventure to childhood to kindergarten to zodiac signs.
Copywriting for the hot new pet treat delivery service? I see 169 titles for pets just waiting for you to peruse and then toss aside so you can come up with something as inventive as a customer service representative who speaks dog. Paaawfect.
Now that I’ve shared with you my secret sites for copywriting inspiration, I’d love to hear yours. I know I can’t be the only one out there who needs a little push to get the words flowing.
Where do you go to get word inspiration? Let us know in the comments!
Originally published Nov 4, 2015 9:00:00 AM, updated July 24 2019