Is copywriting all nonsense?

Speaking as a seasoned copywriter, I like to think that on the whole I’m half decent at my craft. That I know how to string together a few words with the purpose of selling or persuading a reader on a brand or product. And quickly at that.

However, I can also honestly say that over the many years I’ve been applying my skills, I’ve probably written the odd line or two, under duress, which I wouldn’t want to own up to in the cold light of day.

The odd tacky slogan. And over enthusiastic promotional blurb. Or some rather boring corporate brochure waffle. I’m sure in this sense I’m not alone.

Sometimes, due to client demands or subjective viewpoints, what starts out as a good rational well-written piece can soon become convoluted piecemeal, patched together to address the ‘suggestions’ from the various parties with a vested interest.

In the interest of client relations, or motives of a financially driven nature, you do you best to accommodate, but it’s often only afterwards that you look at it and think ‘Did I write that?’ Yikes!

However, none of this can explain some of the absurd linguistic rubbish which is polluting the environment these days, and had me asking – how on earth did that get approved?

What group of people in their right minds could sit in a room and give it a smiling thumbs up before sending it out to be thrust upon an unsuspecting public who probably won’t even notice it because it’ll be buried within some poor excuse for a layout design amidst a buffet feast of similarly badly worded messages?

Some of what we don’t really see or notice day in day out is actually scary, if you pause to give it some rational examination.

Here are a few examples (I’m not naming names but they’ll know who they are even if you don’t):

Indulge in elegance – now what on earth does this mean? People can be elegant, yes. So can objects. Elegance we are even informed by another brand, is an attitude. But who indulges in elegance? We indulge in a tub of ice cream, in pampering ourselves, in excesses that we know are maybe not good for us. But how can you indulge in elegance? Bizarre.

Globally yours – this, for an airline. Actually I’ve always wanted to own an airline, like Sir Richard Branson, it looks cool. ‘I’ve got my own airline’. So, does this slogan mean that the airline advertised is mine? I was so excited when I saw it. No only that, I own it everywhere…the world over. Or are they trying to say something else?…

Quietly brilliant – now this was plastered on a gigantic billboard outdoors so I hardly call that quiet. If they want to say that the brand is brilliant…that the thinking and technology behind its products borders on genius (bit of a tall claim in today’s me-too world, wouldn’t you say? With the exception of one or two pioneering brands..not this one though) then fine. But the fact you are the spending advertising dollars announcing that makes the slogan a bit of an oxymoron..

Shaping timeless beauty – what??? How? We all know that ‘timeless beauty’ is up there with ‘the art of’ as one of the advertising cliches of all time, but how do you shape it? Something might be beautiful and have a timeless quality about it…but are we seriously meant to envisage a secret workshop somewhere where skilled craftsmen and women sit painstakingly ‘shaping timeless beauty..’? It’s a bit Harry Potter I must say.

Designed for humans – okay, this is for appliances and I think I know (putting my strategic hat on for a second) what they’re trying to say. They’re trying to say that most technology today is complicated and not suitable for normal people who are not techno-geeks. But for a start that’s an outdated territory because today’s gadgets are generally so simple even idiots who don’t bother reading instruction manuals (er..like me..) can usually just plug in and play. So it’s not exactly USP stuff. More than that, I have not seen too many cats and dogs wandering around with headphones on of late, or any giraffes having a chat on their handphones, so…it just sounds silly.

Of course it’s easy to criticise and I’m sure at some point I’ll be called upon to embarrass myself with some unintelligible waffle of my own sometime in the near future. I just hope and pray that it’s not on display in giant letters 50 feet above the ground next to the expressway.

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About Chris Kyme

Starting as a copywriter I've been in the creative business for longer than I am comfortable revealing. Let's just say I've been in Asia (Hong Kong and Singapore) over 20 years. I've been fortunate to work with great people in agencies like Leo Burnett, Grey and Draft FCB (then just FCB). I've won awards here and there. But more importantly to me, I've built creative departments and grown young people who have gone on to enjoy fruitful creative careers. I still love what I do. I love the challenge of a nice fresh brief. And I love working for good clients who really get it.
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