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AMiable Solution #239: Setting Parallel Bars



What do you think of when I say “parallel”? If you instinctively cringe, recalling the days of learning how to parallel park, then you’re not alone. I think more than one of us learned what we needed to to pass the driver’s test and then hoped and prayed we’d always find a pull-in spot in the parking lot.

But doing things “parallel” doesn’t have to scare or intimidate us. In fact, when it comes to writing in parallel structure, all you need are a few concrete instructions and a little practice. Developing your copy and sales pitches in parallel form not only satisfies the more grammar conscious in your audience, but it also just falls easier on the ear and makes your copy easier to understand.

Parallel structure in your writing can take place within a sentence or between multiple sentences. As long as the items, phrases, or clauses you’re grouping together have the same voice and the same tense, then they’re parallel.

For an example, let’s look at this sentence from the “This is Hershey” page of the famous chocolatier’s website: “Today, we are among the most respected companies in the world, bringing snacks, community growth, and human opportunity to all corners of the globe.” In it, the author groups three simple nouns or noun phrases to illustrate the company’s efforts. The sentence reads as smoothly as its chocolate tastes.

So does this example from the company’s “Food Philosophy” page (forgive us: we must be hungry!): “We’re committed to delivering quality products to our customers. To being transparent and open. To having a positive impact on the communities where we operate. And to promoting well-being through balance and moderation.”

That paragraph wouldn’t have nearly the impact it does if the author had jammed all of the elements together, as is the case here: We’re committed to delivering quality products to our customers, being transparent and open, having a positive impact on the communities where we operate, and promoting well-bring through balance and moderation. Or if the author had mixed tenses instead of starting each new sentence with the continuous tense of a present participle, as is the case here: We’re committed to delivering quality products to our customers. We want to be transparent and open. To having a positive impact on the communities where we operate. And to promote well-being through balance and moderation.

But effective parallelism, especially in marketing, isn’t limited to the confines of one sentence. Marketers who apply the parallel principle across multiple sentences create rhythm, draw attention to key bits of information, make the mundane memorable, and sell products. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • American by birth. Rebel by choice. (Harley Davidson)

  • Outwit. Outplay. Outlast. (the Survivor television series)

  • Buy It. Sell It. Love It. (ebay)

  • Share moments. Share life. (Kodak)

Parallel copy, slogans, and ads please the ear, even to those who don’t actively recognize the structure. If you like what you hear, your audience will, too.


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