Copy, Creative, Themes & Tactics That Need To Go Away PART VII

“In A Word” © Paul Edgewater All Rights Reserved

I am more than happy to slay this one with far more than one word. How many times have we heard something like exhibit A; “Why do I drive a German car? In a word: Quality engineering.” Excuse me, but that was more than one word. Of course I could be mistaken. Let’s look at this together—just to make sure I’m not missing something. Let’s see, after the promise to address the query—with a solitary word—as to why someone would chose to drive an automobile with Teutonic lineage, I see the word “Quality”. Okay, there’s one word. But wait; is that another word immediately after the one and only word we were expecting? Why yes, I believe it is. Upon closer inspection, I’m definitely seeing the word “engineering” after “quality”. Would it have killed the copy writer to instead use exhibit B; “Why do I drive a German car? Two words: Quality engineering.” I really need to step back away from this one and walk around it because it confounds me. I’ve seen and read adverts that set up the tag line with the preface “In a word:” and then actually make the statement in one word; cool. But that would only account for 50% of the spots that use this cliché. Frankly, I like when there is an opportunity for this kind of brevity. Less is more in advertising after all.  Perhaps it is this desire for brevity that copy writers cling to this ploy—even when it isn’t in the cards to get the point across in—well—a word (Did that annoy you? Good. I’m still making sure you’re still paying attention). Instead of reworking the spot that may have been entirely based on the threadbare, “in a word…” tag line, they sneak a second word (& sometimes, yes, a third word) into the copy, hoping that the reader/listener/viewer only pays attention to the subject and not to any superfluous adjectives, or the other way around. I’m sorry but an adjective is still a word in my world and there is nothing wrong with exhibit B. In fact, it’s more powerful because the word “engineering” without a favorable adjective could just as well be “crappy engineering”. Just ask anyone who drove a Yugo or Trabant back in the day (if they survived the experience). Moreover, is it really that bad if two or more words are used? With all this said, inserting the preface, “in a word”, adds three words of copy; brevity indeed. Should this type of copy be banished from advertising? In three words; yes it should.

Thank you for your time!

Check back soon for part VIII!

Copy, Creative, Themes & Tactics That Need To Go Away PART VI

“Real_____For Real People” © Paul Edgewater All Rights Reserved

Not too much needs to be said about this one. An example of this type of copy is used by a flea market in the suburbs of Chicago who’s slogan is, “Real bargains for real people.” Nothing against people who go to flea markets, but the message here seems to be that only people who go to flea markets (or people who need or want to save money) are the real people amongst the rest of us animals, space aliens, cyborgs and robots who don’t mind paying full price. I’ve been to a few flea markets in my day and I can assure you that it was not an experience akin to Pinnocchio’s metamorphosis from a wooden toy to a real boy. My DNA double helix escaped the experience without being mutated into a homo sapiens-because I was fortunate enough to have been born a real person in the first place. Note to copy writers; anyone who can read, see or hear your copy is a real person and we’re not impressed.

Thank you for your time!

Check back soon for part VII!

Copy, Creative, Themes & Tactics That Need To Go Away PART V

“The Female Reveal” © Paul Edgewater All Rights Reserved

In these commercials, very often we see several scenes showing a very skilled rider on a motorcycle, who’s putting the bike through its paces and beating another, obviously skilled rider in a competition, the viewer is then to be “shocked” when the winning rider removes her helmet to reveal that it was a beautiful and feminine woman the whole time at the helm of this otherwise manly machine. Not only is this as predictable as the rising sun, it is completely demeaning to women. Because the intended reaction these advertisers are trying to illicit is to shock the (male) viewer by smashing an assumed and antiquated assumption that only a man could know how to ride a motorcycle like that. Note: this assumption is held only by the agency or client—not you, the viewer. You can substitute the motorcycle in the commercial with any other activity that requires that a helmet be worn, which can conveniently conceal a beautiful head of female hair. What in the world is the message here? On the surface it is to challenge the spurious assumptions of the viewer. We, the viewer see this rider put their motorcycle through its paces and outperform other riders; I mean, what else could we possibly assume? It’s a male rider and a manly one at that, right? But wait, we weren’t even questioning that. We were engrossed in the action, interested in the motorcycle and seeing ourselves (us males, that is) doing the same thing with that magnificent machine. Wait—what’s this? Of for the love of God! That was a woman this whole time?! She just took off her helmet after winning the race and is showing this world full of Neanderthals that a woman can beat all these men—at their game. Can you say “adding insult to injury”? Is nothing sacred? Wait—that’s not enlightened thinking. What company is this commercial for, Honda? They must be telling us that today, women can do anything. Well, let’s all go out and buy Hondas and hopefully I can hold my own when some mysterious, leather-clad and androgynous looking figure appears on the motorcycle next to me at a red light. Maybe if I channel Alan Alda whilst dropping the clutch, this mystery challenger to my masculinity and virility will show me mercy. After all, did I not buy a product from the company that showed me the light?

I’ll remove my tongue from my cheek now. The sales message is lost because the assumption being made is that everyone watching this commercial is a chauvinist pig and has either forgotten the countless Gloria Steinem appearances on the Donahue show, or is too young to remember them (if you’re the latter, thank your lucky stars). This may have been cute and clever in the ‘70s when it first started happening, but the ‘70s are a long time ago. In closing, were Alan Alda and Loretta Swit cool in the ‘70s? No. Were Burt Reynolds and Sally Field? Yes.


Thank you for your time!

Check back soon for part VI!

Copy, Creative, Themes & Tactics That Need To Go Away Part IV

The “Challenge” © Paul Edgewater All Rights Reserved

    When Pepsi launched the Pepsi Challenge in 1975, it was novel; it was different. It was perceived as gutsy and adventurous, which it was. The distant, number two fiddle in the cola wars (Pepsi) was taking on the number one fiddle (Coca-Cola). As far as an ad campaign, it worked. Whatever your preference is, be it Coca Cola or Pepsi (mine is Coke—hands down), the campaign was memorable. It took on a life of its own. It was re-launched every few years and for the most part, was a successful ad campaign every time it was implemented. It may have lost some of its luster over the years, but it was still honest & effective every time it was introduced to a new, well—Pepsi generation—of consumers (see how annoying that is? Just making sure you’re still paying attention. See: The last time I was aware of it being pushed hard was in 2000. There was a little 10’X 10’ tent set up at a few of the events our company was executing that year. It was great to see the challenge live and participate in it. However a little challenge goes a long way. Nowadays, it’s almost impossible to get through a day where we don’t hear of the latest “challenge”. More often than not however, it isn’t a company pitting itself against its arch rival in an honest blind taste test with consumers as it was with the Pepsi campaign. It is the company challenging the consumer to find flaw with its own product or offering. It goes something like this:
“The Blowhard Box Spring Challenge; if you find the same mattress priced lower anywhere else, we’ll refund you double the difference in price”.
Allow me to translate:
“We’re a mattress store & like all mattress stores, we sell a proprietary line of mattresses that can’t be found anywhere else. You see, when ACME Mattress makes this beauty sleep 2000 for Blowhard Box Spring, they call it something else at the Mattress Monster down the street. In other words, we’re challenging you to a game where you the consumer, can never win. Since nobody else sells the Beauty Sleep 2000, you won’t be able to find a better price anywhere-guaranteed.”
It’s this kind of underhanded marketing that has jaded consumers look the other way when the word “challenge” is thrown into the equation. Think about it; when you are home from work, tire and kicking back on the sofa after dinner, are you watching television itching for a challenge? Do you want to throw down every time you’re challenged to find a better price? If so, you have a lot of spare time and energy and do not represent the average consumer. I can assure you, when you need tires for your car you aren’t looking to face off with the service manager at the local new car dealer in a bout of mixed martial arts because his company challenged you to find a better deal on a set of tires that are unavailable anywhere else. You just want new tires and want to end up on the winning side of the limited-shaft-principle. I know when I’m veggin’ at home watching television, I’m not looking for a challenge. I want to relax and be entertained. I’ve worked hard all day and I don’t need to take the Oreck challenge. I already know my vacuum cleaner sucks (notice: no “well” If I took on the challenge, I would end up feeling like a dumb dumb for buying what I bought. You want a real challenge? I challenge Mr. Oreck to get in the ring for 18 rounds of bare fisted, early 19th century pugilism with Gentleman Jim Colbert. That would be more entertaining than to give Mr. Oreck the opportunity to rub it in my face that his vacuum is better than my SUX2002, thank you. If the goal of these faux challenges is to actually chastise the consumer, then it’s mission accomplished for 90% of these “challenges”. If on the other hand the goal is to sell more products or create new customers, then its definitely mission-not-accomplished. Just give us the features and benefits then go away. If you can do that, while at the same time being mildly entertaining, funny, memorable and motivational, then more power—and—money to you. When Pepsi challenged us, there was the very real possibility that people would choose the competitor’s product-and they often did. Fortunately for Pepsi, when the cameras were rolling, more people chose Pepsi than Coca Cola and the rest is history. What’s more, if Coca Cola was picked 2 to 1 over Pepsi in those early Pepsi Challenges, those ads never would have seen the light of day. Of course, that victory only represented an increased market share for Pepsi and little else. Coca Cola is still king in the world market as a recognized brand, but eating into their market share at any level can be considered success, but I digress. That was the only simple and pure “challenge” this author knows of.
To recap: If you have a product or service that your are comfortable would defeat your competition, go ahead and put together some sort of challenge. Just make sure it’s a challenge where not only you company wins, but more importantly, where the customer wins.

Thank you for your time!

Check back soon for part V!