Brian Clark of Copyblogger Lashes Out at Me

Brian Clark, founder of Copyblogger, lashed out at me today.

Ali Hale wrote a guest post called Are Vampire Words Sucking the Life Out of Your Writing? on the popular blog, where she says you should always use concrete terms like “always” and “never.” You should competely remove “vampire words” like “quite,” “fairly,” “sometimes,” and “often” from your writing.

Of course this is bogus in many situations, especially writing advertising and press releases which is Copyblogger’s bread and butter. I commented that this doesn’t apply on scholarly essays: anything to do with academia, school essays, formal stuff. Brian said Copyblogger doesn’t care about scholarly essays. I said it applies to advertising also. Brian completely ignored this, latching on to the scholarly essays seed. He told me I could take my “esteemed input” elsewhere, which is meant to be sarcastic and patronizing.

I replied. He toned down his comment and didn’t approve mine. I’m sure he feels he is the “winner” now. Copyblogger is a great blog which I read often. It’s in the top 100 on Technorati and it is 100 times more famous than mine. I never expected such cowardice from its founder.

Here are the ORIGINAL comments.

Thripp 2009-09-01T16:56Z:

This is fine for informal blogging but it won’t work for scholarly research. You can’t make unverified claims there without qualifying them. Unless you’re 100% sure you must use “may,” “almost,” “generally,” etc.

The same holds true for high school and college essays.

Most of us aren’t writing those, but you have to use a separate mode for blogging than you do for formal writing.

Clark 2009-09-01T17:15Z:

Richard, no such qualification for scholarly writing is necessary, because that’s not what this blog is about. ;)

Thripp 2009-09-01T17:33Z:

@Brian Clark: No, it says “Writing” not “Blogging” in the title. Many of us have to write essays for college still, or for our jobs, where making claims that are false will not fly. A large portion of copywriting is for sales or advertising. There are laws about truth in advertising—you can’t make statements that are clearly false. This post is bad advice for a lot of writers.

“7 Reasons Why List Posts Will Always Work” and “Why You Can’t Make Money Blogging” are completely falsifiable. I could easily find a list post that has received no traffic or a blog that makes thousands of dollars per month. It would be completely unacceptable to market a cell phone with the headline “The Cell Phone that Always Works.” If you want to talk about writing copy, you have to talk about advertising and press releases.

This post requires a codicil stating that it only applies to blogging and informal writing.

Clark 2009-09-01T21:21Z:

Richard, with all due respect, what part of “Copyblogger” or “Copywriting tips for online marketing success” indicates we tackle so-called “scholarly writing?” Do you honestly mean to tell me you don’t look at the context of the publication you’re reading for semantic cues?

And please don’t show up here and tell me “what I have to do.” I’ve been doing just fine without your esteemed input.

Thripp 2009-09-01T21:35Z:

@Brian Clark: If you would have read my comment instead of just making assumptions, you would’ve seen that most of it was about press releases and advertising (”writing copy”). Obviously, a major part of this blog is about writing advertising, and advertising cannot make false claims. You read the my first sentence and my last sentence. Please read the whole comment before responding.

You don’t want me to tell you what to do? Did you want me to prefix it with “please” or “I think”? You encourage boldness in most of your articles. Why do you expect your commentators to be timid sycophants?

AFTER I released the last one, he removed the last sentence from his last comment and he did not approve mine. He’s in damage control mode. He realizes what he said, though not egregious, will hurt his reputation, so he wants to cover it up.

Unfortunately for him, I save everything.

If my comments didn’t have merit he wouldn’t have replied to them. And if they didn’t have merit he CERTAINLY wouldn’t have gone all emotional on me. You can tell with his last comment, he read about five words of my comment before letting off some steam. Most of my comment was about press releases and advertising, but he skipped right over that.

I’ve made comments that were a lot worse than his, and I regret them, but nobody knows Richard X. Thripp. Brian Clark is world famous. The more fame you have, the more gracious you should be.

A piece of advice to Brian: get one of your staffers to read your comments before you post them!

14 thoughts on “Brian Clark of Copyblogger Lashes Out at Me

  1. I think that advertising that overuses the words always, never, and other non-vampire words start to sound bogus. Because there isn’t a whole lot that you can guarantee will always do something, and never do other things. The only thing you can say is there is (almost) always fine print. I would rather a site skipped the fine print and just said things will almost always work instead of saying it always works, and then putting in itty bitty print “90% of the time under specified perfect conditions” or something of the sort. Good for your for standing up!

    ~ Kristi

    • I also dislike Office Depot, Staples, Fry’s, and other stores bandying about the word “Free.” Then you find out it’s free after mail-in rebate with a combined purchase. That’s always on the flyer, but it’s in such fine print that many people need glasses to read it.

      In advertising, guarantees are always bad too, because there will be fine print that basically nullifies the warranty. Instead of being absolute with an asterisk, advertisements should be truthful with no asterisk.

      That’s just what Copyblogger is discouraging.

      Thanks for commenting, Kristi!

  2. hahaha. I have to admit here, I’m really entertained by you two. Never before I have witnessed a debate like this.

    For one, I agree with Richard. The “vampire word” has its use still. For example, if you want to sell a photographic device, such as a camera, you can’t say that your device will always work for everybody. little children and elderly people will not be able to lift that 10kg lens. (can’t find good example on top of my head now, too tired from swimming :P)

    BUT, Brian is also doing what his blog is doing best, to attract attention and create discussion. I’ve been reading copyblogger for years and the posts there are always full of confidence, so it fits his personality.

    Anyway, you both are defending your point in a fair fight, and thanks for the enjoyable posts and comment war :p

    • Also saying the lens will always work is an implied warranty. It could cause legal problems. Anything absolute in advertising can cause legal problems.

      Yeah, he is doing that well. Note that the post was written by Ali Hale, not him.

      I’m trying to attract attention here too, if you didn’t notice the title. :grin: Glad you enjoyed the debate, or comment war if you’d like to call it that.

  3. This is a very interesting point. I really enjoy Copyblogger and believe he is a good guy for the most part. I was part of teaching sells in its original installation was quite content with its content (really didn’t mean to write content in two different contexts). But I do agree with your points.

    Someone might be able to sell me with an article “7.. who ALWAYS.. do something” once. But if its not true then I’m not going to be sold twice.

    • He seems alright. Check out the long comment he wrote below. Maybe an article like “7 People Who Always Say Always” would’ve been better than the vampire words thing, which is narrow-minded. I know Ms. Hale didn’t want to mention the exceptions because she didn’t want to break her own rules, but she should have taken that risk.

      Brian is one-sided in many of his articles, but I am too.

  4. Richard, let me start off by saying you seem like a smart guy. Your processing power is certainly there, if lacking in perspective and wisdom.

    So when I finally clicked through to your site and saw that you’re only 18 and not some middle-aged crank, I “toned down” my last comment and ended a conversation that was distracting at best, but mostly worthless to Ali’s post.

    To the extent I’m in “damage mode,” it’s on your behalf, not mine. This is just another day at the office for me.

    You, on the other hand, find my disagreement with your pedantic, sophomoric argument so important that you’ve now wasted your time writing this post. Whomever happens to see it can evaluate how you spend your time and the argument you made for themselves.

    As for your “freedom of speech” comment on Twitter, I hope you’re kidding. The First Amendment has no application to my blog (it only applies to state action, a/k/a the “government”), but at least you can use your blog to say what you want. Commenting at Copyblogger is not a right, it’s a privilege for those who add value. In my sole estimation, you added zero value, and that’s the end of that.

    Anyway, most of the people I know and respect didn’t have a hint of real self-awareness until they hit 30 (including me). I suspect you’re on the same path, and I wish you well.

    • You do know that pedantic and sophomoric mean immature and narrow-minded, right? I’m no more pedantic than you or Ms. Hale. Her article presents a one-track mindset that doesn’t address the huge areas where it is completely inapplicable. You prefer this to balanced writing.

      Brian, I’m against weasel words too. I’m using them less and less, but I know when they’re needed. Surely a former attorney would know that there are tons of times you can’t use “always,” even in writing copy.

      It isn’t really an argument. First I said the article is inapplicable to scholarly writing. You said that doesn’t matter. I said it DOES matter and I added advertising and press releases, which is more important and applies to more of Copyblogger’s material. Then you were in “discussion over” mode.

      Don’t tell me you don’t know what scholarly means. The word has baggage, but it’s quite simple.

      OF COURSE our comments were worthless to most of your readers. You don’t have threaded comments. Not many readers are going to read my comment, then scroll down 20 comments to read yours, and so on.

      If I was making another praising comment, somehow I think I’d be “providing value.”

      I’m self-aware. I know this post only provides value to people who are interested in you. I don’t get more than 1000 visitors per day, so this is a traffic grabber. Don’t think this is about “social justice” at all. I don’t give a rat’s a** about social justice. I just want to start a Brian Clark lashes out meme. :grin:

    • I am in the middle of reading “Hound of the Baskervilles” and Brian just reminded me of Sherlock Holmes in this comment.

      • Ha ha that could be. I’ve read Study in Scarlett and The Red-Headed League a long time ago, and I’m a big fan of the Jeremy Brett series. Holmes would probably use the words pedantic and sophomoric and talk about self awareness. It all sounds stuffy to me.

        Do I remind you of Watson then?

    • Wow, the more responses I read from Brian, the less respect I have for him. Has he always been this much of a jerk and I just didn’t get it, or did he go off the rails somewhere along the line?

      He’s absolutely right about the freedom of speech issue, but to call you out for being young and (apparently) self-unaware seems a little douchey to me.

      I’m in my 40’s, so by Brian’s logic I’ve reached and moved beyond that self-awareness point, and I still think this was a valid argument about using words like “always”, “never” and so on.

      It’s too bad he apparently likes to talk down to and insult people who disagree with him rather than further the conversation like a mature adult.

      • Well, basically anyone older than you can say that you haven’t reached their level of awareness because of your age so you can’t understand their perspective. It’s elitism, really.

        I have noticed a disturbing trend. Men with beards all act like Mr. Clark.

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