Copywriting has become a joke

by
March 2, 2017

Woman goes into a bar and orders a gin & tonic. 

Barman mixes it, puts slice of lemon on top, she pays for it, then takes a sip.

She calls barman back and says “I asked for a gin & tonic, but this is vodka & soda!”.

He replies “Gin & tonic, vodka & soda, tequila mojito…they’re all the same love – just content”

Silly story, and never likely to happen.

But that’s exactly what has happened in the marketing industry.  That’s how web designers, graphic designers, UX specialists, media people, account managers and most of their colleagues now regard words.  The attitude is that “nobody bothers to read the words any more, so they have become irrelevant.  They’re are all pretty much the same, just content, stuff, padding, filler, so who cares?”

Blah, blah, blah, yawn, yawn, yawn

This attitude has some fairly serious consequences

Nobody cares about the messaging any more.  Headlines, subheads, text – nobody gives a ****.  All that matters is a) Does it fit?  b)  Are the keywords in there?  c) Could we have got it any cheaper?

It’s a self-fulfilling attitude that produces messages that are virtually meaningless and utterly worthless.  Lazy, bland and clichéd words that don’t grab attention.  That don’t stimulate any interest.  That don’t create any desire for what’s being offered.  That don’t differentiate the product, service or brand from that of competitors.  And that don’t achieve any results whatsoever – obviously!

The holy grail of marketing, as people in the industry never tire of telling us, is engagement.  Why do they bang on about it so repeatedly?  Because they ain’t getting any.  And why is that?  Because what they are saying is so BORING – BORROWED, BANAL and just plain BAD.

Let me slip into something comfortable – like denial

People sit around in endless meetings and swapping emails about why the marketing isn’t working.

They spend hours focusing on the medium (pop-ups/banner ads, PPC, adwords, retargeting, twitter, product placement, Instagram, affiliate programmes, SEO, video, viral, influencers, in-game, PR, mobile, MMS, push notifications, QR codes, proximity marketing….).

They write endless blog posts on the mechanics (how to do this, how to tweak that, how to hack the other, 10 top tips on the best way to…).

And they go bang on about the importance of the metrics (not just likes and shares metrics but first visit metrics, online conversion metrics, click-through metrics, email engagement metrics, return on marketing investment metrics, key social metrics, subscribers’ metrics…).

But what about the message?  Oh, that?  Look, I don’t have enough bandwidth to get my head around that stuff.  Why don’t you just search for some other vaguely relevant content, do a quick cut and paste job, then run it through the readability checker, the keyword density checker, the plagiarism checker, then stick it into our automated CRM system…gotta go, conference call in five!”

Geek my brand

Since when did finding better ways to stick meaningless crap in peoples’ faces constitute doing a great job?  Or measuring the way people interact with it?  Since we let the geeks and nerds take over and stopped questioning what they were doing.

So much twee bollocks is talked about the sanctity of their brand by people who have handed it over to the tender care of the worst communicators on the planet.  Let’s think about this a moment…who is the very worst person we could find to entrust with communicating our precious brand values to our hyper-sensitive consumers and prospects?  I know, Sheldon, from the hit TV show, Big Bang Theory!  Supported by his mates Raj and Howard…. let’s just go along with whatever they say.   Yeah, we need to relate to people better, and those guys absolutely get it!

Kirsty and Phil know what I’m talking about

Talking of TV shows…Location, Location, Location.  Why’s it called that?  Because estate agents know that the most important three factors determining the value of a property are location, location, location.  OK, they are exaggerating to make a point.  The point being that a lovely house in a rubbish location won’t sell.  And that shifting a lovely house in a rubbish location, even when the price is low, will be a tough gig.  Likewise marketing – it’s message, message, message.  A rubbish message won’t work no matter how often it is presented to huge numbers of people through an enormous diversity of channels – it’s still rubbish!  And no matter how many clever ways you find to crunch the numbers, and represent them as wizzy graphs, diagrams or infographics, you are not making any difference to the thing that matters most – the message.

Politicians get it

It’s like that great phrase which one of Bill Clinton’s campaign strategists came up with during the 1992 election.  They wanted a message that would focus people on the real reason why so many people were feeling unhappy in George Bush’s America – and succeeded by telling them “It’s the economy, stupid”.  Meaning “it all makes sense when you realise the root of all these problems is the fact that the economy is not going well”.  So, for all those of you trying to get a handle on why the marketing isn’t working as well as it should, amidst all the chaff, chatter, and twitter, here’s your answer – “It’s the message, stupid”.

The last laugh

Jewish gentleman goes into a bar in New York, sees a Chinese guy, punches him. 

Chinese guy picks himself up in amazement and says “What did you do that for?!”

Jewish gentleman says “That’s to pay you back for Pearl Harbor.”

Chinese guy replies “That was the Japanese, and I’m Chinese, so you’ve punched the wrong guy!”

Jewish gentleman says “Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese…they’re all the same.”

Chinese guy thinks about this for a moment then punches the Jewish gentleman.

Jewish gentleman picks himself up, surprised, and says “What did you do that for?”

The Chinese guy replies “To pay you back for sinking the Titanic.”

“WHAT?!” says the Jewish gentleman, “The Titanic was sunk by an iceberg…”

“Exactly,” replies the Chinese guy, “Iceberg, Goldberg, Steinberg…they’re all the same”.

 

Picture credit:  Anssi Koskinen https://www.flickr.com/photos/ansik/

4 Comments
  1. Paul Eveleigh March 2, 2017 Reply

    Yes, Jim, some copywriting has become a joke. Wallpaper ads surround us. But most companies take their ads seriously. Owners/managing directors cast an eagle eye over every syllable, comma and full stop.
    I remember sitting in a boardroom with the MD. My copy projected on a large screen. Using a laser pen he went through every word of a four-thousand word bid. Worth millions, he wanted to check the bid was accurate and reflected the company's winning themes.
    He found two mistakes – small errors on my part.
    Bids, case studies, profiles, websites, CVs, brochures and flyers. Whatever I write, company owners and senior managers take a keen interest. No joke.

    • Jim March 3, 2017 Reply

      Hi Paul, agreed, when owners and senior managers can see the value of copywriting they pay a keen interest. But I find this quite rare - all too often they delegate responsibility to an agency or a relatively inexperienced marketing person and the message becomes less of a priority than the medium, the mechanics and the metrics. For this reason I try to work with owners and senior managers..as you obviously do too!

  2. Mike March 9, 2017 Reply

    Hey Jim,

    Love the opening joke and the close... nice job!

    Marketing managers often contact me b/c they're looking for a different angle, perspective, or upgrade to existing copy. However, I suspect many of them don't REALLY want that. No, they want to be validated.

    It's like, "Hey, great copy, thanks. Now if you could just tweak it so that it reflects our brand a little more."

    Translation: change out a few words, but the end result should not deviate from what everyone else in the industry's doing.

    • Jim March 12, 2017 Reply

      Hi Mike, thanks for reading and commenting - glad you liked the jokes. Yeah, too many marketing managers want to "stand out from the crowd" without saying anything that will differentiate them. If copywriting was more respected (and viewing it as "content creation" shows just how little we get) then they might listen. That's why I'm blogging more, to try and change attitudes...
      Cheers,
      Jim

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