Copywriting Tip: Play Dumb

Everybody likes to feel smart–it’s a fact.  It’s an ego boost when you can walk into a room and come out of it feeling like the valedictorian of the minute.  When it comes to promoting your business, there’s something to be said for painting yourself as smarter, classier, and better-informed than both the consumer and the competition.  When blogging for business it is important to strut your stuff; after all, the backbone of any content marketing schema is being able to share information with your peers and clientele.

However, sometimes it’s important to know when to step back from the head of the class and play a little dumb.  Work with me on this.  If you think about it, it’s not necessarily good to have a reputation as a know-it-all in real life, so what’s wrong with playing a little stupid in your copy?

Get Your Stupid On

In general, I like to portray myself as a well-educated, thoughtful individual.  I have a ridiculous vocabulary that I like to use as will (a casual comment on the petrichor that Seattle produces makes my insides aflutter with nerdy delight), but that doesn’t mean I want to shoot down everybody I meet with knowledge all of the time.  Frankly, it gets tiresome and even I can tell when everybody in the room thinks I’m becoming insufferable.  (Sad, but true.  I can admit it.)

So it’s good to back off a bit.  Playing a little dumb helps others gain their bearings around you and gives everybody a chance to shine.  Your kindergarten teacher was right: you don’t need to blow out everyone else’s candles to make yours shine brighter.  So here are some tips on how to get down with your dumbness and help everybody shine brighter, including your bottom line at the end of the day.

Being Dumb Invites Others to Step Up

In this rather interesting article about the art of playing dumb, Simone Smith speaks about how playing dumb can get you discounts.  But playing dumb doesn’t actually mean being dumb; if you do your research ahead of time and come into the game with the knowledge needed to win it, playing dumb can help lure the other into a sense of false superiority.  Then, at the moment of truth, you can lay the knowledge down.

Now, I’m not suggesting you set traps out for your clients with your copy.  What I’m suggesting is that you use your knowledge to invite answers, rather than just dropping knowledge on the heads of your readers like a bomb.  Maybe you know all there is to know about widgets, but formulating copy that withholds information and invites others in to add input is a great call to action and can get your bloggers talking.  Don’t just drop your knowledge like it’s nothing.  Withhold it, ask questions, and you might be surprised how much more active your blogs and social media feeds will get.

Question Everything, and Question Often

As Kent Healy says, all great leaders ask questions.  Question everything.  Question your readers.  Question your colleagues.  Question your superiors.  Question your copy.  Asking questions all of the time leads to people giving you answers.  And this is called a conversation.  Again, the entire point of content marketing is to start the conversation, and what better way to start a conversation than with a question?

If you need help coming up with good questions to ask your clients, superiors, and competitors, we advise to start simple.  Painfully simple.  Here’s a good list to get you started:

  • Why?
  • Why not?
  • Why is this different?
  • Can you tell me more?
  • Can you elaborate?
  • What is your opinion?
  • Why is this surprising?
  • What is going on?

Another good way to play “dumb” in your copy is to think about how a child interacts with the world around her.  Everybody who’s been around a two-year-old knows that the favorite word is “why?”  Children spend most of their time trying to figure out the relationships of things around them, and connecting things often begins with the word “why?”

And if children are effectively creating relationships, you should take a page from their book and bring that into your copy.  Learning isn’t about knowing the answer.  It’s about asking the question.

Effective copywriting is like this, too.

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Laura Hancock is a co-owner of She has also been a long time writer for us. She writes with a passion for accuracy and flow. While her administrative duties have grown, she is a still a big piece of our content writing services team! Currently pursuing a certification in Technical Writing at the University of Washington. She lives in Seattle. +Laura Hancock

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