3 Copy Cosmetic Commandments to Not Break in 2013

It always saddens me a bit when I see otherwise smart marketers neglect a fundamental marketing truth.  If your advertising, marketing promotions and content is physically difficult to read, it won’t get read.

In this day and age of staring at smart phones and computer screens all day, a large percentage of the population need some sort of vision correction and according to one recent study that amounts to over 143 million adults requiring prescription eyewear.

I guarantee a large part of your target market has challenges with farsightedness (e.g. difficulty reading a book) and color blindness, especially if you serve a market that is 40 years and older.

While it’s easy to gloss over this statistic, if you’re serious about marketing response it would be a mistake.  Think about your own marketing for a moment…

  • When was the last time you thoughtfully considered and designed your marketing for maximum readability?
  • When was the last time you changed your choice of fonts, because you know certain types of fonts are hard to read than others?
  • Have you recently decided to forego a “prettier” design in lieu of a more readable layout?
  • If you do any type of newsletter, have you considered older readers and their ability to read your typeface choices?

I do get it.

Focus on readability, and what I call “copy cosmetics,” typically is overshadowed by other sexier techniques (and in some cases – gimmicks).  More than once I’ve heard something like…

“C’mon, are you telling me Mike if I simply use the wrong font, I could be affecting my results?”

And the simple answer is yes.  If a certain percentage of your market has difficulty reading your materials, the likelihood of them responding goes down and if fixing these readability issues is easy, why would you take the chance in the first place?

The response-driven marketer understands and adheres to fundamental copy cosmetic principles each and every day.

While there are many copy cosmetic nuances, I want to share three fundamental (and easy to maintain) laws I don’t want you to break in 2013 and unlike “don’t eat pasta” or “never drink beer”, these are much easier to live with.

Commandment #1: Thou shall consider the demographics of your readers.

If you serve a market where most people are 40 years and older, it’s even more important to keep ALL copy cosmetic rules in mind. (I have a theory that the younger generation is going to have even more vision issues as they age given the time spent in front of screens).

The big one here is typeface (aka font) size and to be careful you’re not using a font that’s difficult to read, due to its size.

One example that gets me every month is the recent redesign of the GKIC monthly print newsletter.  For some reason, they’ve decided to use a micro-sized font for their body copy and I know for a fact, it’s a challenge for a large segment of their subscribers to physically read it.  On the flip side, the new design makes good use of other copy cosmetic techniques like subheads and bullet lists, but the really ought to increase the typeface size of their body copy to make it more readable.

Commandment #2: Thou shall use the most effective typeface for your specific media type.

This is simple… for print marketing – use serif fonts (e.g. Times Roman, Garamond, Helvetica) for your primary body copy.

For online and mobile marketing – use sans serif fonts (e.g. Verdana, Arial) for primary body copy.

According to Colin Wheildon, author of “Type & Layout: Are You Communicating or Just Making Pretty Shapes?”…

“It is possible to blow away three-quarter of your readers simply by choosing the wrong typeface. If you rely on words to sell, that should concern you deeply.”

Wheildon conducted a study and showed for print marketing, five times as many readers showed good comprehension when a serif typeface was used versus a sans serif typeface.

Study after study concludes the same thing and rather than worrying about why, keep it simple and use the right fonts for print marketing and the right ones for web-based and mobile marketing.

Commandment #3: Thou shall never place important text on dark backgrounds or images.

You see this mistake every day in magazine and advertising design, where graphic design trumps marketing response.  It’s just plain stupid to place important text over any type of photograph or dark color background, since they both make reading more difficult.

Just today, I saw somebody touting some new software that allows you to place your web opt-ins over videos or photographs.  Design like this can definitely have a negative impact on readability.

The Bottom Line

The correct use of copy cosmetics can increase response (conversely making fundamental copy cosmetic mistakes can lower response).  Online or offline, it doesn’t matter.  You must understand what increases readability and response and what decreases it. If you want to know the right way to improve the response of your copy and marketing, check out my CopyBoosting Profit Secrets home study course.  This is the recording of a one-day workshop where I focused on showing the right way to use more than 20 copy cosmetic techniques to improve the attention-grabbing power, readability and response of your copy.

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For a limited time, save $200 and get it for only $97.00!  Visit www.copycosmetics.net to grab it!

About Mike Capuzzi

Mike is a publisher, Amazon # best-selling author, and coach for business owners, entrepreneurs and corporate leaders looking to stand out from the competition by authoring, publishing and leveraging short, helpful books. He is the author of 19 books, including two Amazon #1 Best Sellers. Learn more about his publishing opportunities at BiteSizedBooks.com.


  1. Jay Johnson on January 9, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Thanks for addressing the issue with GKIC’s type font on it’s monthly newsletter. I have had a big problem reading that section of the newsletter. I am 68 years old, wear glasses and for the life of me I can’t figure out why more people who publish written documents do no take into account their readership.

    Thanks so much for your concern and I hope others are made aware of this situation.

    Jay Johnson
    Cary, NC

  2. Edwin Soler on January 9, 2013 at 11:14 am

    Mike, great post as always. It’s good to be reminded on these basics, we tend to look to shinier things and forget that the basics still need to be followed. It’s also interesting what you say above regarding: copy cosmetics, typically is overshadowed by other sexier techniques (and in some cases – gimmicks)….

    In the newsletter last month that was also mentioned on page 11 of the GKIC newsletter. It was still fresh in my mind when I read your post. It was pointed out that a dentist split test a post card wher one was pretty and the other one ugly. The pretty one pulled 1/3 in call ins than te hugly one. I’m sure redability may have had something to do wit this but it also drives your point home that “sexier” is not always better. Of course, Dan also clarifys that this is not a unviversal reliable fact but more often than not the beast beats the beauty.

    With that said, what are your thoughts or advice in doing a split test when reaching out to customers? Thanks Mike.

    • Mike Capuzzi on January 9, 2013 at 11:26 am

      Edwin, “split testing” is often times used as jargon and thrown around as if its the magic pill for everything. Having said that, split testing can be very effective if you have something worthwhile to test AND you have the ability to accurately determine the test results. Not sure what you are considering testing, so it’s hard for me to comment.

  3. Edwin Soler on January 10, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    I was thinking about testing headlines on postcards. In your opinion, is this something that should be tested first in an email or online setting? This would be a far less expensive way to test out and is extremely easy to measure on line. On the other hand, on line and off line responses can be worlds apart for different reasons. What do you think?

    • Mike Capuzzi on January 13, 2013 at 10:08 am

      Edwin, you can easily test a postcard and it’s not too expensive, but this is a “small” test especially since you are talking a postcard. Postcard marketing is focused and short. You would be better off testing two completely different postcards instead of just the headline (different look, different copy, etc). And you are right, you can easily test a small test like headlines online.

  4. Paul on January 12, 2013 at 8:01 pm

    I have to say you broke your own commandment with this email.

    I first viewed it on my smartphone and it was completely unreadable! When I saw you were talking about readability I just had to laugh.

    Mike, I am over 60 and have just about given up on most links in an email when I am using my mobil device. And I have to say even sitting here at my computer it’s a strain to even read this article now.
    Does everybody think we all have 20/20 vision?

    • Mike Capuzzi on January 13, 2013 at 10:10 am

      Paul – I cannot deny the fact that mobile devices (and different web browsers for that matter) render emails and web pages differently. You would not believe how much consternation this causes us as we try to get emails that are as readable as possible. There is no perfect solution for online viewing. Print marketing is a different animal and much easier to control. Thanks for your note.

  5. Chris Rembold on January 15, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    I have told this same thing to people about their business cards, make them so somebody can read them. One company owner I addressed this issue with said his main customers are over the age of fifty, but he still did not get it.

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