I was always good at English at school. I preferred English Literature to English Language, mind – there was always something infinitely better about reading Eliot’s Waste Land and picking it to bits before writing my own messed up poetry (which kind of led to my writing for ska-punk powerhouse Lead Shot Hazard). I always found the concept of writing original stuff to get decent grades pretty fantastic – I could write whatever I wanted, however I wanted and tutors would always find something pretty decent about it.
Then of course, I graduated and realised that writing didn’t actually mean all that much to people in the real world. Unless you’re Craig David, J. K. Rowling, E. L. James or Will Ferrell, you’re hardly going to make money off writing prowess. That is, unless you’re a damn good copywriter – I’m talking in the vein of David Ogilvy or Dave Trott or Draper Daniels – strangely enough, all of whom have names featuring an abundance of Ds. Many of these so-called “Mad Men” went down in history from the mid-20th century onwards for being masters of their craft – essentially, in the words of Identity.ie owner Adolf “Spice Rack” Glynn, “finding new and inventive ways to sell shit to idiots.” Ogilvy himself clutched the title of “Copywriter” – in very much the same way Theo Paphitis calls himself a “Shopkeeper” (“I own Ryman the stationers don’t you know.”) – until the day he died. In the era of the traditional marketing boom, when the Marlboro Man had no idea about the horrors of lung cancer, catchy slogans were often what made a campaign – before you could put flashy videos on the sides of buildings on Regent Street or big screens at the O2, or create hilarious end of the world content stunts.
As such, copywriting was important, artistic merit was paramount and coming up with something that resonated with punters and got stuck in heads was the difference between a successful campaign and losing your job. It’s still pretty important, but it seems like too many big-enough-ugly-enough-and-established-enough-to-know-better businesses (and their respective advertising agencies) are getting so very slack with their advertising – and by and large, they’re almost getting away with it.
Take the amazing social media skills of Mix 106.5 Sydney, and their adorably terrible comparison between Mondays (or Monday’s) and Crocs shoes. Completely disregarding the fact that the joke is largely unfunny, what really made me want to punch whoever wrote and whoever proofread the copy for that image in the face was the sheer fact that Monday’s is unacceptably incorrect in this context. Monday’s what? Thankfully, at least one person (one person!) pulled them on it. It still got 98 likes and 16 shares, mind – no doubt considered a “success” in terms of page metrics for Mix 106.5’s social media agency.
Another example I’ve been unrelentingly exposed to this week comes in the form of the copy on the back of the case for Saints Row IV, the conclusion to a video game series I’ve followed since its inception in 2006. Admittedly, I don’t really play video games any more, but this one sneaked up on me and I’d conveniently been paid the day of its release, so there we are. Imagine, if you will, my shock and disgust upon finding, emblazoned on the back of a game that has been in development for two years, the words, “having proved their metal against the gangs of Steelport…” Surely, the term is “mettle,” as in, “to test a person’s mettle.” Even if we were discussing characters made of metal (of which, in the game, there are none), the sentence would feature the word “they’re,” and even then, “having proved they’re metal” doesn’t really flow properly. Well done, Deep Silver and Volition. How much did you pay for that fuckup?
Finally, in keeping with the whole trad marketing feel that began this blog post; I found myself the victim of a large, bus-mounted literary monstrosity last week. Enter Cargiant, market leaders in selling relatively driveable used cars with massively crippling finance agreements shackled to them. My Saturday morning hangover was made depressingly worse by the presence of the dealership’s latest we’re-getting-right-in-your-face marketing campaign – letting me know that not only were Cargiant existing in my life, but that they had “Thousand’s of cars to buy in one place.” I made sure to inform Cargiant of their terrible copywriting and proofreading, but it was only after I was later quoted on a Telegraph blog for pointing out the mistake (and the rest of Twitter went mad) that they made an effort to respond. As rightly exclaimed by Robert Colvile, “Just think about it. That advert – that horrible, horrible ‘Thousand’s’ – must have passed from writer to manager to designer to the guys at TfL who produce and paste on the posters, and not once did anyone, anyone in that whole ghastly chain of culpability, think to point out the staggering illiteracy, the sheer wrongness.” I couldn’t’ve said it better myself – so I haven’t.
Just because we live in an age where viral videos are all the rage and internet memes still do very, very well on social media (despite being tired and rehashed almost constantly), that doesn’t mean you can slack on the fundamentals of just fucking writing correctly. Michael Gove is currently rending the education system completely out of recognition, but when shit like this happens, it gives him ammunition – as the usage of apostrophes is expected of pupils obtaining level 2 – the average level for a child in year 2 at school. So, unless Cargiant, Mix 106.5 Sydney et al are all employing children in year 1 and below to write their copy for them (which is highly illegal, but probably far cheaper) then we clearly have a bit of a problem.
That being said, I’m sure there are quite a few copywriters out there who know their shit when it comes to standard writing practice. It would be stupid of me to not mention our own copywriters, in fact. Seriously, if you own a business, and your advertising agency, your in-house copywriting team, or your children under 10 aren’t getting the copy done to a good enough standard, do yourself a favour and send me an email.
And for anyone considering the notion that Cargiant’s rogue apostrophe was purely of the viral publicity stunt “please share this because like Peta2 we don’t actually have that many fans” type, then either they’re not doing it right, or you’re a fucking idiot. I’d rather not buy a car from a company spending my hard-earned money on shit copywriting that they’re then going to shove in my face on my daily commute. It’s just embarrassing.
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