A Lesson of Copywriting Gone Copy Wrong

Written by: Hannah Leitner, Copywriter Intern

January 2018 marked the beginning of my internship at PAVLOV; it also marked the beginning of my formal copywriting experience. My time at PAVLOV helped me learn some of the ins-and-outs of copywriting and the importance of strategy in all effective advertising. But probably the most valuable skill it taught me was how to recognize which copy is good, which copy is bad and which is a straight-up atrocity – because being your own best editor is an essential skill.

To be clear, when I say bad copy, I simply mean overused – tired, boring and sometimes pointless. Statistically speaking, consumers are exposed to thousands of messages each day competing for attention. So it seems very important that in order to really break through, your communication must be more than an echo of a cluttered market space.

As I challenged myself to be more aware of these items within the world and in my own writing choices, I noticed a few examples of not so inspiring (actually, quite annoying) phrases and taglines that definitely need to hand in their two weeks notice and head to Florida for retirement. Whether it’s a lack of creativity or simply lazy copywriting, here are a few copy crutches that I recommend avoiding:

Implying the impossible. In 2012, Nissan launched an exhibition to promote their new, electronic Nissan Leaf. The name of the exhibit was “FUTURE: TODAY.” The sentiment of this line isn’t bad. It implies innovation and forward thinking. However, this tagline is impossible. If you could get the future today, it’s no longer the future; it’s the present. I get why it’s used, but that doesn’t make it plausible — or good.

Claims of being “unique.” If businesses really want to be considered special, you need to do more than write, “we are unique.” That defeats the purpose. Think of Apple, for example – an innovative and forward-thinking company, no doubt. But instead of saying, “we are different,” they posed that everyone, “Think different.” Subtle, but the nuance is everything. A strong action paired with a purposeful slight grammatical error proved their point. If the tagline is different, the brand must be different. The same goes for businesses making any general claim. If your business claims quality, have quality copy. If your business claims innovation, have innovative copy. Don’t say it, demonstrate it.

Meaningless strings of words. What do Accenture and Deloitte have in common – bad copywriting, apparently. In 2011, Accenture launched a campaign titled, “High Performance. Delivered.” A couple years later, Deloitte introduced a similar tagline, “High Performance. Amplified.” Without context, could you guess which tagline goes with which brand? Would you even care after reading such dull copy? Tagging a random verb onto the end of a vague brand attribute, like high performance, does not make a compelling proposition. Think about Wrangler’s “Real. Comfortable. Jeans.” As opposed to what, “Fake. Scratchy. Denim?” What if Coca-Cola came out with “Real. Wet. Soda?” Even when the words could accurately describe the company, if it does not differentiate, it is essentially a meaningless waste of space.

Using stale spinoffs. The “Got Milk” campaign revitalized the consumption of dairy products in the United States. But putting “got” in front of your product is not magically going to make your product sell. It will magically make you look silly and unoriginal. These are some I’ve actually seen: “Got Leak,” “Got Air,” “Got Candy,” “Got Tires” and the list could sadly go on. Another example is the 1939 British campaign, “Keep calm and carry on.” Originally printed to boost morale during WWII, the posters for the most part remained in storage during the war. It wasn’t until the turn of the century that the posters were rediscovered and the phrase reincarnated into millions of different Facebook memes and brand paraphernalia. With each altered iteration, the idea cheapened. So I ask, Got Apathy? It’s ok, just keep calm and skip on.

Are you ever guilty of using one of these copywriting crutches? The point I’ve learned is that good copywriting takes work. Unless you’re willing to put in real thoughtful ideas, your future could end today.