7 Ways to Write Damn Bad Copy

7 Ways to Write Damn Bad Copy

Reader Comments (39)

  1. Good post. I understand this concept, but I’m essentially a poet/songwriter/novelist. My intent is to share my work and gain an audience. I don’t advertise and my posts vary from examples of my work to how-to posts. I’m not sure how else I could blog to gain more followers, other than write in this style.

    • Writing with style, or in your own voice, is not the same thing as writing sentimental or clever … however, even if that is what you do, there are always going to be exceptions to the rule. But those exceptions are rare. I looked at your blog and I get your voice/style … it’s good.

  2. The problem with spending hours trying to write perfect copy is that you can die from paralysis of analysis. Sometimes you have to just write and put it out there so that you can see what works for your audience and what doesn’t.

    You are never going to please everyone, short copy, long copy, funny, sad or whatever. It is useful to keep these things in mind and to always chase perfection but sometimes good enough works really well.

  3. “There is a limit to credibility. A limit to what people will believe. If you cross that invisible line in your sales copy, people will shut you down. ”

    Even if you really, truly can give customers a Russian bodybuilder body in just 10 days your audience has been trained to not trust claims like that! As you mentioned, people have been burned one too many times and now honest companies have to fight an even harder uphill battle to earn business and respect and trust from their target audience.

  4. Excellent points! As an editor, I can relate to all of these, but humor stands out the most. It’s true that everyone has a different sense of humor, and it’s also true that delivery can play a major role in how a joke comes across. It can be tricky to deliver humor in professional copy. So, it’s best to just avoid it altogether. The same can be said of clever copy. I’ve found that the writers who most often write “clever” copy miss the mark entirely. It’s hard to delete a sentence that you know that writer was probably really proud of, but when it doesn’t work, it just doesn’t work.

  5. I’m a huge fan of works that entertain me as I learn something. This packed a big one-two punch that included several belly laughs and a mouthful of tea splattered over my screen. Well done, Demian. CC

  6. Love the ‘Sentimental’ example. Classic. Great post, Demian! I like how you took the principles of the old school direct response and tied them in with content marketing. Thanks!

  7. Demian – Thanks for the post, it will serve as a good reference that I can drop in front of my clients whenever they ask for one or more of these (and they usually do).

    The most frequent direction they want to go is Clever because the think it makes them look smart while failing to realize it makes their message confusing and far less likely to engage a customer.

  8. Hi Demian,

    Very interesting piece.. I liked it!
    I am also very interested in the e-mail exchange which you had with John Carlton..
    Could be awesome if you could show us the draft you made and his comments!

    I’m always on the look out to learn from the best copywriters!

    Again, awesome piece.

  9. I’d add “#8 – Long” to the list. I’m totally guilty of using 100 words to say what could be summed up in 20 (but hey, recognizing the problem is half the battle, right??). Definitely something to work with, along with all the other types of bad copy you have listed here.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Sarah, yeah, we are all guilty of spilling out copy and not taking the time to clean it up. I’ve found it’s just a matter of pencilling in enough time to edit ruthlessly.

      • Sonia is right, long and wordy are not the same thing. We’ll read 8,000 words if it’s interesting. Wordiness is when you repeat the same thing over or don’t omit unnecessary words and sentences (making Strunk and White roll over in their graves) for the sake of being long. That needs to be avoided.

    • Sarah, I could not agree more. This is the #1 area I am working on in my own writing: saying what I mean — and being compelling and informative while doing so — in the fewest words possible. It’s something the vast majority of us can and should get much more adept at doing.

  10. I agree with Sarah – too long should be added to the list. One thing that keeps me reading is bolded points, short paragraphs, and not too long – oh and also not too small of a font. A tiny font with no end in sight of the article makes me go “click” and I’m out of there! These points are really good though. Loved the example of the “too sentimental” one.

  11. This might be my favorite post ever! It validates my decision to decline jobs that ask me to be their “wordsmith.” I just can’t do it– if they want someone to write copy like the example in #1, I am not your girl. I write normal things, words people understand. I just happen to pull all the thoughts, notes and words together a little better than the average Joe.

    I also LOVE #6. I believe marketing “experts” take too much liberty with the “I heart” stuff. My favorite example, a billboard that said, “I (picture of the home building company’s elephant logo) my new house.” Takes way too long to figure out what they’re trying to say. It’s the classic “I heart NYC” to extremes. Keep it simple.

    Thanks for a fabulous post!

    • Jessica, would you turn down work if you were just starting as a freelance writer? On the one hand, I understand you may not want to be associated with poor copy even if it’s what the client wants, on the other hand fledgling writers need to get started and may need the money.
      I’m not suggesting either is right or wrong, it’s just another angle.

  12. Great post – Sometimes looking at bad copy can be inspiring to write better copy! Completely agree that the advertorial is overused – and confusing to readers. Far too often inexperienced readers feel advertorial content is “trusted” and an extension of a site.

  13. Great post, Demian. I think another important characteristic of the results-oriented copywriter is that he or she isn’t afraid to ask questions. “Why do you think shorter copy is better?” “Why do you feel headline A is more compelling than headline B?” And so on. Good copywriters always want to get at the heart of the why so they can better understand the message their copy needs to convey and the goal it should achieve. The image-oriented copywriter really has no understanding of basic copywriting or marketing principles, thinks it’s all just subjective, and can’t reasonably explain or defend the copy choices they make.

  14. I was thinking to train as a webcopy writer, I’m reading books, practising writing but I have a major problem with this whole thing.
    If I see the internet marketing from the buyer’s view-
    You can sugarcoat it “it’s not an ad, it’s an editorial” Your copy should look like an article, you want to solve people’s problem etc.
    But every time when I see something like a webcopy, a landing page I immediately know that somebody wants me to buy something. So in case I was looking for that product and that’s howI found that page I just scroll down to see the price, I don’t have the patience to read endless blabbering and I have a very well developed attention span too so if the price is okay, I will order it. But I’m not going to read it!
    Same applies for landing pages with videos where they promise to share some information, I watch like 15 minutes of talking for nothing. Nowadays I immediately click away, don’t even care what they try to tell me.

    • The real-life examples of webcopy that frustrated you will probably teach you more valuable, relevant lessons that most of the books you bought. Take those opportunities to figure out why things don’t work and what you’d do differently. If your writing approach is end-user focused and it’s also formatted for ease of access and comprehension, you will find greater successes during your training. And we are always learning ways to improve our writing skills. One topic at a time.

  15. You are right about using humor, it should be used keeping the audience in mind. There are dozens of examples where humorous advertisements have gone really bad. I remember this McDonalds ad that said “I’d hit that!”; it was used in india and the people of India didi not like what the phrases alluded to and this ad was highly criticized and result in a very bad mark on McDonald’s reputation. Sometimes even the smartest of people make such silly mistakes. Great post by the way.

    • I’m from Wisconsin and I didn’t like that McDonald’s ad either. Sounded too gangsta’. If the Mac is about being in your happy place, why talk about hitting? Someone on their staff trying to be too clever. Just like Demian points out.

  16. Sometimes writers focus on themselves rather than communicating to their audience, as such their writing will have no relevance at all

  17. Just looking for an opinion. I was in a marketing meeting today which was focused on creating some copy for three different type of software users. One of the users is a carrier for auto transport. After writing down all the pain points of needing to keep the trailer loaded, stopping constant phone calls, ect He came up with the slogan “Make More Money”. I mentioned that yes that is important, but it sounded a tad like spam. He then asked how old I was and if I had kids. He then said if I did then I would understand that I would want more money.

    My thought was to create a message about “Load Your Trailer More Often” which to me equals making more money. He said continued to argue with me. I was just curious anyones thoughts on the message… “Make More Money” and the Call-To-Action “Show Me” as a link

  18. Hi Demian. The Ebay ad link under item #5 doesn’t help convey your thoughts any more. The auction item is closed and pictures are unavailable. Unless it’s my phone not showing the images.

  19. All these approaches will work in the hands of a skilled writer. Mark Twain was very clever, didn’t keep it a secret, and endeared himself to millions to become the first stand-up comic. I notice most of the “advertorials” have photos of pretty girls, which can beat even Mark Twain.

  20. IMO, good copy merely meets what the target market wants, desires and expects.

    Some copywriters say to never use complex or advanced wording in adverts. I say this ultimately depends on the target market. For instance, if a firm makes computers and sells them to IT equipment distributors, then technical jargon used in the ICT industry has to apply here. If the same firm sells computers direct to consumers, then obviously jargon cannot be used to the same extent. Writing sales copy is not like writing technical manuals, academic papers, or other specialised formats. One really has to tailor the writing style to suit the target market’s needs.

    Your example concerning the power drill was a good one. Not to say that persons who buy/use drills are silly, nonetheless I doubt many of them will take that sales copy seriously lol..

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