What can we learn from bad marketing copy?


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Every now and again, an ad or marketing campaign comes along that’s so misguided, it’s baffling to think how it ever made it to fruition.

A bad idea or poorly executed theme is one thing, but when it involves copy that’s clearly been painstakingly created, reviewed, and approved – it’s all the more disconcerting.

Here’s a few examples of marketing copy that missed the mark, and what we can learn from the mistakes made.

Beware of misconstrued messages

If you’re one of those people who reads all the adverts on the tube instead of an actual book, you might have come across this recent ad from alcohol brand, I Heart Wines.

It reads: “Not every day, you understand. Not all the time. Just sometimes. You know. In moderation. As a treat. Maybe after work. With a bite to eat. While gossiping with the girls. Or just watching the telly. Also on hols. Sometimes at the weekend. But you know. Not every day. Obvs.”

i heart wines tube ad

On the surface, it might sound like a fairly light-hearted and giddy ode to the joy that is enjoying a glass of wine (or three). The tone can be perceived as sarcastic and self-deprecating (if a little sexist), with the narrator cheerily revealing how often they enjoy a drink. 

However, reading between the lines, the ad could also come across as unsettling and actually quite dark. Are they inadvertently admitting a problem – or hinting at the reader’s own? It does read a bit like an anti-drinking campaign, which is likely to leave consumers feeling put off rather than in the mood for a tipple.

In this case, a shallow concept and shoddy attempt at relatable humour is a dangerous combination. In a more general sense, it’s wise to remember that ads with no imagery or related slogans – which also take a sarcastic or ironic approach – can present a double meaning. As a result, it’s important to make intention clear, and to always read from the perspective of the consumer.

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Going rogue is a risk

Unlike I Heart Wines, which is perhaps more thoughtless than overtly offensive, other brands seem on a sure-fire mission to cause controversy. 

One recent example of this comes courtesy of another wine merchant, Lot18. The brand (for some reason unbeknown to anyone) decided to collaborate on a range of wines with MGM, based on the television series of Handmaid’s Tale. 

Just to be clear, that’s a dystopian series involving themes of sexual slavery and reproduction control.

handmaid's tale wine

The concept itself is murky enough, but that’s nothing when it comes to the actual copy written in conjunction with the campaign. 

One product description reads: “Completely stripped of her rights and freedom, Offred must rely on the one weapon she has left to stay in control – her feminine wiles. This French Pinot Noir is similarly seductive, its dark berry fruit and cassis aromatics so beguiling it almost seems forbidden to taste.”

Unsurprisingly, the campaign (and wine itself) was scrapped within a day of launch due to backlash. Who knew writing whimsical copy based on rape and oppression would be such a bad idea? Duh.

Meaningless phrases make little impact

These days, many companies fall into the trap of creating meaningless and rather redundant slogans. You could argue that Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ or Apple’s ‘Think Different’ sound fairly arbitrary. However, they evoke a brand ethos, as well as resonate with a target audience.

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In contrast, some brands haven’t quite succeeded. Take Lexus’ ‘Experience Amazing’ for example – two words that, when combined, actually don’t make much sense.

lexus ad slogan

Another brand that ditches grammatical correctness is Deliveroo, with its similarly forgettable slogan of ‘Eat More Amazing’.

Never mind the fact that it’s using an adjective as a noun – and not in the right way – but it also puts ‘more’ in front of it, maybe just to rub in its madcap use of language.

deliveroo ad slogan

This one might be more of a personal preference than anything – meaningless slogans might be your bag – but I think many marketers could learn from the lack of impact these examples generate.

They don’t say anything about what the brand offers consumers, i.e. a point of difference or USP, or even create much of a reaction from consumers. As a result, they tend to go in one ear and out the other. 

We still hate jargon

For B2B brands, jargon is something of a reflex – often used in marketing copy without much thought or consideration. This kind of copy, which is most commonly seen in website ‘About Us’ sections, is often accepted in moderation. However, some do go a little too far. 

Sapient Razorfish has one of the most infamous websites when it comes to jargon, using words in a deliberately convoluted way.

Sapient Razorfish explains that it “enables agile and perpetual improvement in mutual value between you and your customers”. Which, might sound impressive to some in the industry, but is likely to sound like gobbledegook to others. 

sapient razorfish copy jargon

Marketers should never assume people know what they’re talking about. Instead, copy should explain a product or service in the simplest terms, using language that anyone can understand.

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Slack is a good example of how to use copy is this way, with the brand taking the opportunity to tell users exactly what its product aims to do – not what the brand claims to be.

slack simple copy

Slang should be used with caution

In order to reach and resonate with a young audience of teens, twenty and thirty-somethings, many brands believe they have to speak like them. This is true to a certain extent, actually, as a conversational and colloquial tone of voice can be effective. 

However, some brands are also under the impression that young people use slang in every other sentence, and in a bid to sound cool, attempt to jump on the bandwagon themselves. 

This can often be a mistake, as slang-ridden copywriting can be annoying at best – inauthentic and patronising at worst. In fact, a survey by I-Com found that 64% of British consumers dislike brands that use slang, largely because they don’t even use it themselves.

Kellogg’s has been guilty of misjudging its use of language, clearly jumping at the chance to use the term ‘#goals’ in the below tweet. 

However, this type of language just doesn’t align with the Special K’s wider image, and neither it is likely to resonate with the brand’s core audience.

While other brands might be in a better position to use slang, it can still come off as unnatural or cringe-inducing. Ultimately, it’s wise to think twice before trying too hard to sound cool. 

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