How to recognise copywriting BS

Ingrid Smejkal joins Rin Hamburgh & Co Copywriting Agency as Sales and Marketing Assistant

Our #WriterInResidence, Sam Whitlock, breaks down the nutritional value of words that attract buzzing flies rather than intrigued clients. These are copywriting do-nots that spell incompetence and smell frankly awful.

In theory, copywriting should communicate the heart of a brand - along with the benefits of buying from or working with that brand - to a specific audience. At times though it does neither, instead leaving behind a faint trail of eau le vache (that’s BS to you and me). Our decisions are usually swung by intuition rather than purely rational thought. So why can you sometimes tell something smells off?

We’re passionate, honest

Self-describing adjectives are almost always pointless. We’re passionate, we’re friendly, we’re amazing, we’re dedicated… unless immediately followed by concrete evidence, they’re as good as lies.

You shouldn’t need anyone to tell you that they’re passionate. If they genuinely are, you’ll feel it in the words they say and the substance behind them. It’s classic ‘show don’t tell’.

What have you just told me?

Imagine a first date.

Her: “So, tell me about yourself.”

Him: “Well… I’m a man, between the ages of thirty and forty. My job is transforming businesses, one client at a time. Every client is valuable – that’s my motto. My top three values are friendship, romance and business.”

Her: “Er… do you have any hobbies?”

Him: “I am renowned for my great hobbies.”

Her: “Yes. Um. What are they?”

Him: “In hierarchical order, I would say, 1) having fun, 2) spending time with people and 3) resting well.

Her: “Could you be more specific?”

Him: “It’s hard to narrow it down. I’m just passionate about all of life.”

Recognise anything here? Vague statements are like plastic food. They might look the part but you wouldn’t want to bite into them. A lot of copy exists only to sound businesslike, without giving you the details. Like a date who’s afraid you won’t like them if you really got to know them. Don’t be that guy.

Aspiration as fact

You read on a home page: “Here at World Trade* we create cultures of commerce that attract global attention.” But when you visit their About Us page you discover that World Trade has a team of one. Upon further investigation you discover this individual launched the business from their bedroom and may or may not have moved out of their parents’ house.

With enough hype copywriting can make a fledgling business sound like it’s part of the FTS100. Someone can say they’re changing the world – but the disparity between words and reality will seep through the cracks in the case studies and company history. There is a place for stating aspiration as fact, but it’s usually when an organisation is taking significant steps toward that goal. If Tesla says it is “accelerating the world towards renewable energy” it’s not much of an exaggeration.

(*We made these guys up, we’re not bad-mouthing anyone.)

Disconnected phrases

“Online marketing can raise business profits by 2,000%. Let’s increase your margins together.”

This word wizardry conjures a non-existent bridge between two statements. They could have said, “We raise business revenue by 2,000%. Let’s increase your profits together.” That would be a more significant correlation. Even then, I’d wear a sceptical hat and ask how often they achieve that margin.

A certain kind of copywriting relies on audiences not doing their research or being suspicious of bold claims. We’ve become a world that loves one-liner comebacks and soundbite inspiration. But without substance and evidence to back it all up, short, impressive statements can build distrust rather than confidence in a brand.

Words without meaning

“This isn’t copywriting, it’s semantics” is a meta way to describe a particular kind of BS.

You don’t need all those other guys, they’re just into carpentry. Carpenters suck. You need a woodcrafter.

Copywriting can be the equivalent of a politician carefully positioning themselves outside the pack. Names can be deceptive unless they are backed up by a concrete USP. If a market-surgeon washes up on your shore, check whether their methods or products differ at all from marketers. If not, throw them back in the sea with the digital conversation architects.

The overpromise

Usually it’s easy to spot an overpromise. It’s a little harder when it’s concealed by humour, concrete facts and a style that appeals to you.

Ultimately copywriting BS is just one factor that conceals or reveals the substance of the business. The truth is that good copy should lead seamlessly into an interaction with that brand that delivers what you’re expecting. 

But there’s always going to be a certain leap of faith when it comes to trusting a new company. That’s why you should choose Rin Hamburgh & Co. We will solve all your problems and you’ll live happily ever after. Honest.


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