Ad agency copywriting is often so unorthodox that it’s ineffective. While agencies manage to pump out some pretty decent TV commercials that catch my attention using quirky and irrational premises, the same techniques doesn’t work nearly as well in the written word.
The current ad agency fashion is copywriting that is so self-aggrandizing and sarcastic, it borders on psychotic.
The current trend I’ve spotted in print ad agency copywriting is what I call cocaine monologue copy – a sarcastic, exceedingly casual personal “rant” injected with strong personal opinions and observations. It’s copy where the writer gets drunk off their own “clever” brillance by making puns, while disregarding the reader’s own desires and interests.
Here’s an example of this style of copywrtiting… verbatim, from the product label of my zero-calorie orange Vitamin Water sports drink:
if you ask us, its no coincidence that ‘morning’ and ‘mourning’ are only one letter apart. ok sure, there are a few good things about mornings (we’re looking at you, pancakes). otherwise, forget it. not only does a 15 minute snooze pass in what feels like a blink, but let’s be honest, the sound of birds chirping is a bit over-rated. so to help give your morning some nutrition, we added 120% of your daily value of vitamin c per serving plus some other key nutrients we think’ll brighten up your day. but don’t worry, not rip-open-curtians-with-no-warning kind of brighter.
vitamins + water = all you need
nutrient enhanced water beverage
What’s Wrong With This Copy?
In my opinion:
- It has improper, all-lower-case capitalization. If you want to be casual in copywriting you should do it with your words and your tone. The sturdy linguistic conventions of capitalization and punctuation aren’t good things to mess with. It doesn’t look casual, it looks like a communication signal that is amatuer and shouldn’t be trusted – right from the start.
- It starts off focused on the writer, not the reader. By leading with “if you ask us” – it sounds like the copy is about to launch into a rant or a personal diatribe – which it sure does. Don’t scare readers off by “telegraphing” you’re about to launch into your personal opinions. Readers are they’re interested in “what’s in it for me” – so focus on that.
- It tries too hard to be ‘clever.’ It makes a pun between ‘morning’ and ‘mourning’ and suggests that mornings are grim and dreadful. While the analogy helps set the stage for how the product can cure these blues – the cleverness doesn’t help sell anything. (It mostly just helps pump up the writer’s ego.)
- It sarcastically assumes the reader has the exact same taste the writer does. The copy boldly asserts that pancakes are one of the few good things about mornings, otherwise “forget it.” Well.. I don’t personally care for breakfast pancakes – the combination of refined white flour, butter and sugary syrup is a recipe for a stomach ache and a sluggish + unproductive morning. And if someone were to say “We’re looking at you, pancakes” I think I’d have a hard time not laughing at them. By assuming that I like the same things they do – when in fact I have distinctly different taste – I feel turned off. It diminishes trust and credibility in the copy. That defeats the purpose of the copy being there in the first place.
- It ignores the lifestyle of the target audience. The lament about “how quickly the 15 minute snooze button goes by” might sound brilliant to the other 9-to-5 employees at the ad agency they all hate working at. But I don’t relate. I’m a freelancer with no alarm clock. And much more importantly, I’ll bet some of the target market for Vitamin Water are athletes who like to wake up early and train before work. My advice: focus on the people who are likely to purchase sports drinks and appeal to them. “Bottle” your own prejudices.
- Features and benefits are discussed last. It’s good to know that the drink contains 120% of my daily allowance of Vitamin C. But I wish they’d put how it can help me and brighten my day up towards the top, rather than buried it under their sarcastic personal opinions. I also wish they’d name the the “other key nutrients” it contains, rather than casually alluding to them. I want to believe that drinking this tasty Vitamin Water is good for me… enough so that it justifies the asking price and me buying it again and again. Convincing me of this is the product label copywriter’s job, and they didn’t convince me here.
- The headline and tagline are on the bottom. The headline (“nutrient enhanced water beverage”) is great, except for the capitalization. The tagline (“water + vitamins = all you need”) is the most compelling equation and concept in the whole rant… so they should put it at the top. This is the standard, expected convention for headlines that has existed long before the invention of the printing press. Breaking it isn’t cutting edge or trendy, it’s ass-backwards.
What Do You Think?
What are your own feelings on this Vitamin Water copy? Did it resonate with you or not? Does it have an effectiveness or charm that I was oblivious to?
Am I ironically guilty of any of the sins that I called out, here in my own blog prose?
Let me know what you’re thinking in the comments below!