Copy, Creative, Themes & Tactics That Need To Go Away
© Paul Edgewater All Rights Reserved
I’d like to preface the following diatribe with a quote from Channing Pollack, “A critic is a legless man who teaches running.” I’m not a professional critic and I attempt to distance myself from that stripe of ne’er-do-well although I’m about to join their ranks in this blog. The reason I work in the promotions, marketing and advertising industry is because I’m passionate about it. My whole life, I’ve taken notice of the industry and its trends. I’ve internalized ad campaigns, tag lines, slogans and jingles from the last 40 years and over those years I’ve dissected them and try to figure out why sometimes they work wonderfully and why sometimes they don’t. The next few blogs are chock-a-bang-full of my personal opinions and should not be considered scientific in any way. Give it as much or little credence as you wish, just as you would with any other critic’s opinions.
What follows are some threadbare advertising tactics that really should not be used anymore. I maintain that most should never have been implemented in the first place. In these next few blogs, the reader may notice that I have fire in my belly, as this is indeed a passion of mine. When I see examples of this bottom-of-the-barrel-advertising, I get upset by the wasted opportunity to win a customer and the waste of marketing resources. Whenever a company spends money to annoy potential customers instead of winning them over (intentionally or not), it rubs me the wrong way because everyone looses. I’m certain that this doesn’t happen by design, but the in the legal world there are two words to describe this phenomena; “criminal negligence”. As we all know, ignorance of the law is not carte blanche to break it. If the good folks at advertising agencies didn’t know that they were offending or annoying consumers before, hopefully they do now (should I be so bold to assume that they may be reading these blogs). In no particular order, here now are my marketing/advertising pet peeves:
Prefacing statements with the word “well” followed by an annoying pause and then finally either stating the obvious, a pun or a play on words. We’ve all seen & heard commercials with this kind of copy. They go something like this:
“If you buy the bargain brand of widget, you may get less than you—well—bargained for!”
It’s as if we, the listeners, are to believe that the voice over talent was reading the copy and right before they got to the tagline, they were perplexed that the copy writer didn’t realize that there was a pun there, or a play on words, or some sort of irony, etc. Now the voice over talent is fumbling for another way to say what needs to be said, but gives up and reads the copy as it’s written. By the talent’s expedient of saying “well,” we the listeners are now to believe that the voiceover talent is right there with us—suffering through the copy. It would be one thing if the talent acted well enough for us to buy that notion, but more often than not, the word “well” is simply read as just another part of the copy. I maintain that the suspension of disbelief in advertising is as important, if not more so than in other forms of entertainment, like movies or television shows. Why are we subjected to this in advertising? Wouldn’t it flow better by just saying:
“If you buy the bargain brand of widget, you may get less than you bargained for.”
Or better still (and to make the message stronger):
“If you buy the bargain brand of widget instead of ours, you will get less than you bargained for. We guarantee it.”
Indeed, when did stating the obvious, plays on words or puns and their cousins become things we had to apologize for? Moreover, why must there be a preemptive apology in the form the word “well” awkwardly inserted into the copy? Why the disclaimer for a pun that wasn’t even really a pun so much as a pedestrian flourish in homonyms? This is an annoying ploy from the ‘90s that should’ve been put out to pasture back in the—well—‘90s. I hope that annoyed the reader as much as it annoyed me to write it. Why is it that in some circles, there is a knee-jerk reaction to puns in the form of moans and belly aching? Talk about a conditioned response. I’m not certain if it stems from social or intellectual retardation. Pressed to decide, I would lean toward the former, since a lot of highly educated people would like to have us think that they’re too cultured and sophisticated to be amused by such things. We want everyone’s business of course, including those who think that this “well” phenomenon is a clever and/or sardonic way of dealing with what some may consider awkward copy, but let me make a bold assertion here; their numbers are one in ten to those of us who aren’t so insecure as to laugh at a pun, or are more than okay with the occasional play on words. It is our job as advertisers, marketers and promoters to break molds and precedent. Let’s put an end to this by abolishing the practice of emasculating the pun. If a copy writer is tempted to insert the word “well” into his or her copy and the ad isn’t about drinking water, they should take pause and be honest by asking themselves:
“Am I thinking creatively, or did I hear or read that irksome ploy somewhere else, think it was clever or cool, and couldn’t wait to write my own version of it?”
I can give you the answer for the former: no. If this copywriter answered “yes” to the latter, he or she needs to get a job as a spell checker at an M&M’s factory and leave the creative business of writing copy to fearless, trail-blazing, creative people. Let me add; people with a sense of humor; like the people reading this blog!
Check back next time when we cover antagonists stealing food from protagonists in television advertisements.
Thank you for your time!