Ad Nauseam: Copywriting at its Cringeworthy Best

The Non Sequitur, the Blindsiding Question and the Three-Word Tagline

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Does anyone not know which insurance company you're in good hands with? Or where to sign up if you want to be all you can be? Or what battery keeps going and going and going? That's advertising copy at its best.

Then there's copy that makes us cringe. Copy that seemed expedient for the writer at the time. And sadly it stuck.

Here are a few of the more egregious examples:

The non sequitur

Take the non sequitur opening. Please. It's used by writers who realize you may have just finished an article about how hot Jennifer Anniston is at 45, and now you're turning the page to an ad offering hemorrhoid relief. So their copy will attempt to segue like this: "When it comes to hemorrhoid relief, you can count on [product] for blah, blah, blah. "

Non sequitur openings are everywhere, as Google will attest.

"When it comes to staplers, Swingline is the go-to name." Craftsman assures us: "When it comes to cordless and power tool batteries, we`ve got what you need to get the job done." Maytag quips: "When it comes to vacuum design, we've really cleaned house." But wait, does that mean Maytag has gotten rid of vacuum design altogether?

It's kind of like edging up to a heated political discussion at a cocktail party and saying, "When it comes to auto parts, I rely on Manny, Moe and Jack."

This jargon often includes the always-popular "needs" phraseology. As in: "When it comes to woodworking supplies, you can count on [company] for all your woodworking needs."

Which means that in addition to my basic needs -- like food, clothing and shelter, I can now count on [product] for all my exfoliating needs, or [company] for all my storage shed needs, or [company] for all my aluminum siding needs -- even if my house is made of brick.

The blindsiding question

Another shopworn copywriting technique is blindsiding you with a question that's the furthest thing from your mind. Again, the writer realizes that if Agent Gibbs has just discovered a purse filled with the teeth of a freshly murdered Marine, the best way to grab your attention an instant later is to have a portly lawyer look you in the eye and ask, "Are you constantly being hounded for payment by the IRS?"

Blindsiding is also popular in ambulance-chasing ads, asking if you've used drugs that cause minor inconveniences. Like birth defects, liver damage, blood clots, sudden loss of vision or hearing, paralysis and/or incidents of death. Not death itself, just an incident of death. And who among us suffering from such an incident wouldn't be eager to contact a lawyer?

One customer at a time

Morgan Stanley introduced another gem many years ago with a tagline that proclaimed, "One client at a time."

Which, of course, is ludicrous.

Morgan Stanley has thousands of brokers with hundreds of thousands of clients hounding them 24/7 to make sure their nest eggs don't vanish. Which means they've never handled one client at a time. Except, of course, those clients stuck in their toll-free phone queue being assured that their call is being answered in the order it was received.

But what makes this tagline even more baffling is that it's been latched onto like bottled lightning. RBC says they're building a better bank, one customer at a time, while over at Gardner Bank they're building relationships, one customer at a time. Meanwhile, Hormel Foods is more interested in making a difference, one customer at a time. There's even a vegan eatery in Manhattan called Little Lad's Basket that's solving America's health problems, one customer at a time -- which should require nothing more than a single chair at a tiny table in the dining area.

The three-word tagline

Then there's the three-word tagline contrivance. It started gaining popularity when Wrangler introduced: "Real. Comfortable. Jeans". Which means their jeans are real, as opposed to all that fake denim flooding the marketplace. And they're comfortable -- so unlike other jeans, right? And finally, well, they're jeans -- just in case you thought they were designed for all of your exfoliating needs. But the "beauty" of this tagline is that if you take out those annoying periods, they're -- real comfortable jeans! Genius.

Unfortunately -- It. Never. Stops. For Fisher Price, it's "Play. Laugh. Grow." For every real estate developer in the country it's "Live. Work. Play." And for every supermall it's "Shop. Dine. Explore." Which brings to mind a terrific tagline for all my trend-loving copywriter friends -- "Blah. Blah. Blah."

Yet as much as we cringe, I do understand how difficult writing can be. Writers have deadlines. And we're not just working on one project, but many. Which is why the temptation to take the easy way out often becomes way too attractive for us. And why every ad can't be a One Show winner. So next time you spot one of the examples I've cited -- and you will -- be kind.

Nobody bats a thousand.

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