Kill Wimpy Copy!

By John Pellegrini

Two opening lines from actual commercials:

1. “You’ve been thinking about it and thinking about it. This might be the year you buy your new Acura from…”

2. “I love my new Chevy.”

Which opening line makes you want to punch the writer in the face?

The quickest way to turn off a listener is to beat around the bush. The quickest way to lose an audience is to waste time. Producing commercials or promos, or imaging statements with lines that don’t come to an immediate point, that have no direct action, is worthless.

Direct action sells. Example 2 establishes direct action in just 5 words. Example 1 has no action at all. The rest of the commercial is the same, with phrases like, “you might”, “maybe you should consider”, “it’s looking like”, etc…

Why would I buy a car from a dealership that can’t make up its mind if it wants me to buy a car or not?

Unfortunately this kind of wimpy copy writing is rampant. Among fast-food chains, Arby’s isn’t even close to the top 5, maybe not even in the top 10. There are varied reasons for this, but I am convinced that one major factor is their pointless advertising. Their current ads, featuring the world’s dumbest detective (honestly, would you hire that idiot?), are pretty useless. But in terms of a complete waste of advertising dollars, their previous campaign wins.

“I’m Thinking Arby’s.”

Hands down, that is the most pointless slogan I’ve seen by a major advertiser.

Three words that carry absolutely no significance. The word “Thinking”, is the disaster. Really? You’re “Thinking”? Does that mean you’re going to do something, or are you just “thinking”? How long do you plan to be “thinking” before you take action? Should we wait for you?

“I’m thinking Arby’s but I’m going somewhere else.” Now that’s an actual commitment.

Quite a difference between “I’m Thinking Arby’s” and “I’m Loving It” from McDonalds.

Three words each, but the latter is far more direct. Nothing to ‘think’ about at all.

Direct action is the prime motivator in all successful advertising. Note, I didn’t say ‘call to action’. If your commercial has enough direct action in it, the ‘call to action’ is already included in every line. The ‘call to action’ should be the entire commercial!

Here are two examples of commercial setups for the same product.

Example One:

(Sfx: Door bell.)

(Sfx: Door opens.)

Female 1: Hi Tina. I’m so glad you could come over!

Female 2: Thanks Gina. Wow, your house is amazing!

Female 1: Thanks Tina. We really like it.

Female 2: It’s so bright and clean, Gina.

Female 1: That’s because we just had our carpet cleaned by Dust Suckers Carpet Service. They do an amazing job.

Female 2: Are they the ones that have a toll free phone number and a guarantee?

Female 1: Yes. And they have a courteous, professional staff.

Example Two:

Announcer: Your carpet looks terrible, but you can’t afford new. So call Dust Suckers Carpet Service. Store brand carpet cleaners just don’t get the dirt out, compared to Dust Sucker’s powerful ‘Big-Suck’ technology. ‘Big Suck’ from Dust Suckers Carpet Service is guaranteed to safely restore your carpet to brand new condition, or your money back.

Example One wastes the audience’s time through four lines of useless dialogue before it finally gets to the point of the sale. Even after the client’s name and purpose is revealed, we’re still given nothing that compels us to be interested, much less call their ‘toll free phone number’.

Example Two, while not any kind of a creative award winner, at least establishes the purpose of the commercial immediately and continues with valid reasons to pay attention.

Let’s go back to the first example and see if we can have dialogue with more directness.

Female 1: Tina, I love your new carpet!

Female 2: Actually, Gina, it’s not new. We had Dust Suckers Carpet Service clean it last week. They said they could restore it to brand new condition.

Female 1: Well it definitely looks new, alright! I’m always worried that cleaning the carpet might cause damage.

Female 2: That’s why we went with Dust Suckers. They offer a money back guarantee.

Want to try something that will really surprise you? Take a look at any commercial script you’ve written this past week. Go through each line and remove the ones that don’t directly sell the product or service. Next, take all the lines you removed and copy them to another page. Can you tell, just by looking at those deleted lines, what the product or service is that’s being offered? Do those lines have any relevance to the sales pitch? Are they absolutely necessary?

We hear listeners complaining about how some things they hear on the radio are boring. Here’s the truth: ‘boring’ is the result of wasting the listener’s time on tedious, worthless babble. Advertisers complain when their commercials fail to generate results. Copy that has no direct action will always fail to deliver results.

Your copywriting isn’t supposed to win awards. It’s supposed to SELL. Otherwise there is no reason for anyone to advertise. If your sales-generating copy manages to win an award, that’s great. Just as long as it sells so much product that the advertiser increases his or her budget with your station. That’s the real award.

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