Biggest Copywriting Pet Peeves

As any good copywriter knows, it’s not all about punctuation. A misplaced semicolon or comma can be annoying, but what really gets your goat is seeing other copywriters do a hack job (and get away with it!). Hence, here are some of the biggest copywriting pet peeves.

Lack of You Attitude

Having “you attitude” means putting the reader first – literally and figuratively. When an email subject line says, “We found these scholarships for you,” good copywriters cringe. Readers don’t care that the sender found scholarships; readers only care that new scholarships await. Start with the “you,” then include the “we,” but only if you have to.

The CEO of Netflix would have done well to learn this lesson before sending his infamous email, which used the words “we” and “I” many more times than necessary, thereby showing a clear disinterest in the opinions, cares and desires of his readers/customers.

Misleading Content

Unkept promises are annoying to more than just copywriters, but for those of us who have experienced first-hand how much effort it takes to be accurate – interviewing various team members, emailing drafts to the legal team, researching online, etc. – it especially gets under our skin. Why do we have to do the hard work when other writers can just phone it in? Why must we work hard for accuracy when they can get away with misleading content? And just to clarify, unfulfilled promises are not reserved for spammers vowing to enlarge your genitalia or sell you a designer watch for 1/12 the price. Plenty of “legit” businesses lie to us every day, too.

Spoken Puns Awkwardly Used in Writing

Red Lobster’s “We sea food differently” campaign is clever and sounds great when you hear someone say it, but when you “sea” it, it just looks like a typo. Some things work when spoken but not when read. It’s the nature of the beast. Good writers need to understand that and be willing to kill their darlings (a.k.a. reject awesome concepts) when they don’t meet a high standard of excellence.

Copy That Tries Too Hard

If a friend who tries too hard is annoying, then it’s logical that “tries too hard” copy would be just as grating. “Small is now huge,” claims a new ad campaign for the Nikon 1 camera. Is it really or are you just trying to blow my mind by being clever?

When Microsoft and Yahoo! launched Bing in 2009, I felt the same way. From my perspective, savvy marketers sat in a room and concepted a search engine name specially designed to be hip, cool and just a touch out-of-the-ordinary. No thanks. Today I use Bing occasionally (their airfare price predictor is undeniably cool), but I still dislike the name.

Unwarranted & Poorly Executed Change

When a store gets remodeled, most people are happy with the new version, but when it comes to rebranding, the public doesn’t always feel the same. For me, one of the most pet-peeve-inspiring examples of this was when San Francisco Bay Area’s public transit agencies decided to rename their re-loadable cards from “TransLink” – a sensible name that people had been using for years during the testing phase – to “Clipper.” Thousands of dollars were likely spent on rebranding, and thousands more to reprint signs and machines. And for what? So we could compare our transit agencies to fast-sailing ships from the 19th century?

What are your top copywriting pet peeves? Let me know in the comments!

Bonus Links!

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~ by SFcopywriter on November 30, 2011.

2 Responses to “Biggest Copywriting Pet Peeves”

  1. My biggest pet peeve is when people use idioms or clichés but don’t even get the cliché right.

    An example I came across the other day that drove me nuts was that instead of saying “overcoming obstacles” the writer said “lowering obstacles.”

    Really? Lowering obstacles? Really?

    Ha, because when you stop to think about it, lowering obstacles doesn’t make any sense at all. You don’t lower an obstacle. An obstacle is something like a boulder, mountain, large garbage heap, or, I dunno, maybe it’s a disgusting pile of vomit or human excrement. Whatever it is, I doubt your obstacle is going to come with a lowering mechanism.

    Poor word choice. Oh man, it drives me crazy.

    They should have a word, similar to malapropism, for getting an idiom or cliché wrong. Maybe something like malaalreadystupidclichéism. 🙂

    • Good one! My biggest “pet peeve” clichés (even when people quote them accurately) would have to be “near miss” and “same difference.” They’re the worst.

      Thanks for sharing, M!

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