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Avoiding the bland – poor words get you nowhere

June 4, 2010
Image of Sergeant Walker from Dad's Army - good copywriters should NOT follow his example

Dad's Army's Sergeant Walker - an object lesson in how not come across as a salesman or copywriter


So the hard work’s been done, the strategic plan is written, the pricing matrices have been worked out, the packaging has been developed. Now it comes to selling the thing. But, oh dear, this is where all that Eastern promise can, and often does, get whittled away. From Fry’s Turkish Delight to just another Kraft-branded global mediocrity… 

Bad copywriting is the same as poor elocution. Convincing someone of the value of something is rendered much more difficult if the communication is idle. Indolent passion rarely results in anything other than the acrid taste of disappointment. Few people get anywhere with others if they can’t be bothered to involve their mind. 

Bad copy, bad talk, comes in many forms. Of course, we have the pure bone idle: phrases such as “comprehensive”, “complete”, “up-to-date”, “fabulous”, “amazing”. Words like these are often used to disguise the idleness of the inarticulate scrivener. No-one will buy anything described so blandly. 

And then we have those dreadful “business” posters with a picture of some serene Canadian lake and single words like “achievement”, “success”, and “profit”. Leaving the reader to somehow conjure up whatever was in the copywriter’s mind. Asking them to respect your genius without actually showing you have any. 

Then there’s the hackneyed marketing phrase we have criticised before on A Brand Day Out. You know what I mean – phrases like “get the bigger picture”, “change the game” and “think outside the box”. Yuk. Do me a favour and pass me the sick bucket. 

And finally, the vomit-inducing phrases usually linked to some overpaid sports celebrity – most famously, Accenture’s campaign of a few years back featuring “Tiger” Woods with the hideously lazy “we know what it takes to be a tiger” (notice the distinct lack of any reference to “you”, the customer, here…). Let’s just hope they’re not all dealing with a load of in-house harassment suits right now… 

The point with copywriting is that it needs to convey belief and passion, not tell people that it is conveying belief. Trust is earned by demonstration – it’s easy to say you could have sailed a ship to Dunkirk but who could actually do it under a hail of bombs? Those who know what it was like can tell the tale – those who were not there can only create but shallow mirrors, devoid of vibrancy. 

Poor copywriting is the marketer’s equivalent of the dubious dater’s “do you come here often? If you have invested millions in product development, the last thing you need to damage your success is to have your potential customers thinking you are some sleazy, queasy, cheesy, uneasy “It Man” (apologies to John Cooper Clarke’s fabulous lyrics and characters on Snap, Crackle & Bop). 

By the same token, you don’t want to come across as a suave conman whose silvery words deliver only disappointment and an empty bank account. 

Words instead must convey trust. Know your product, know what it does, know why it does it, and tell your prospects what your other customers think of it. Then, just maybe, you’ll be taking them for a date next weekend. 

Want to write good copy or be a good sales person? Think of these three questions a customer might be asking themselves when they smell your cologne for the first time: 

  1. Why now?
  2. Why you?
  3. Why not?

Have a fun weekend readers – next week, let’s get down to selling properly.

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