Writing Bad: Why bad copywriting will kick your brand in the gonads

Andrew Boulton is a senior lecturer on copywriting and creative advertising at the University of Lincoln. He’s also a copywriter with over a decade of scribbling experience at top creative agencies in the Midlands and once for a man who carved dolphins out of cheese.

He was nominated for the Professional Publishers Association Award for Business Media Columnist of the Year despite having little or no grasp of the semi colon. You can follow him on Twitter @Boultini.

For those of you who choose to believe that I spend my weekends stripped to the waist, fighting Tiger Sharks with nothing more than a gung-ho attitude and a tiny pen from Argos, you are about to be disappointed.

I spent the weekend baking bread. Some good. Some bad. Some so bad that my tasting team likened it to being stabbed in the tongue with a sharpened turd.

And with this somewhat jumbled analogy, we reach the theme of this week’s blog. Bad stuff is bad.

More helpfully, bad stuff is damaging, actively and aggressively discouraging people from returning for a second helping. It’s true of my bread. It’s even truer of copywriting.

I’ve written before about the incredibly high standard within our profession. Copywriting is in extraordinary health and there is a great deal of inventive, persuasive and original work being created which should make us, as a profession, feel very proud.

But amongst the excellence, there still lingers the execrable.

Copy that is drab. Copy that is poorly constructed and even more poorly thought out. Uninteresting copy and, worse still, uninterested copy. There are many copy crimes taking place, most are unforgiveable, all are extremely counterproductive.

I don’t think I’m being over generous when I say that a lot of the bad copy in circulation cannot be blamed on the copywriter. The insistence of overruling a professional copywriter, or worse still neglecting to use one altogether, implants a foul stench into many a written campaign.

Most people working in marketing have surely encountered an occasion where time, effort and expertise is devoted to perfecting the brand, the logo, the proposition and other such elements, only for the copy itself to be hurried and mistreated.

If you take 30 rounds of amends to get your logo colour right, why on earth would you behave so flippantly towards the very heart of your message?

To a discerning eye, bad copy will offend and irritate. To the casual observer, it will bore and alienate. Even the finest copy will not have universal appeal, but a poor piece of copy will estrange every pocket of your audience.

Never should a first draft of copy be the right one. Occasionally the fourth one might nail it. Most likely, you’ll be scribbling into the sevens and eights before it’s spot on.

The myth in copywriting is that these rewrites are an annoyance. Yes it is entirely frustrating when good copy is changed for no other reasons but the whims and peeves of someone else. But the due diligence of a conscientious writer is to never accept their own draft as ‘good enough’. Quite frankly, because it isn’t.

Buffoons may not value the importance of strong copy, but balls to them. Good copy is our responsibility and our responsibility alone. And if you have to stab someone to death with a tiny Argos pen to get it...

Follow Andrew Boulton on Twitter @Boultini

Andrew Boulton is a copywriter at the Together Agency. Maybe don’t taste his bread.

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