You don’t have to search for famous examples of bad copywriting when it’s all around us…even in my kitchen!
Since I’m in a mood and I’ve recently picked apart another piece of bad copywriting, let’s do another.
This is copy from food packaging that was in my kitchen. I changed it a bit to keep it anonymous (and it was juice, not cereal), but the gist of it is the same:
What’s wrong with this copywriting?
Spend some time with this. Read it a couple of times.
What jumps out at you?
First, there’s the headline: Put Good in. Get Good Out. Right away, I hope you see the mistake there? Why is in lowercase but out is capitalized? If nothing else, this just looks wrong.
But beyond that, I’ll tell you what jumps out at me: utter nonsense.
Admittedly, I am a mom and I am reading it through a mom filter (even though my kids are grown and gone). But I am also a retired copywriter and it annoys me on both levels. It’s insulting to my intelligence as a mom and it’s disappointing to me as a copywriter.
It doesn’t touch on any customer pain points. It doesn’t give me a reason to be happy with this choice of product. It doesn’t resonate with me at all, although it seems to want to appeal to parents?
To be honest, this is just a jumble of words. Seriously.
Break it down, and it is four different statements:
Put Good in. Get Good Out. That’s what we believe at XYZ.
OK, so that’s all about them and how they make their cereal and their philosophy, but it doesn’t tell me anything.
We take pride in making every box of cereal the go-to choice for your family.
Ummmm…wouldn’t that be about flavor then? Or nutrition? Or convenience? But this doesn’t mention flavor or nutrition or convenience. How do they make it the go-to choice for my family? And when I think of go-to choice, I think of busy school mornings trying to get kids out the door on time.
You’ve got enough on your mind, but at least you can rest easy knowing your family will enjoy the goodness of what goes into every box of Sugar Snacks cereal.
So…yes, everyone has a lot on their mind, and I don’t for one second believe my child’s breakfast cereal is going to relieve me of any of that anxiety so that’s just B.S. Plus they haven’t told me what the goodness is and we are back to the questions we asked earlier: Is it nutrition? Flavor? Something else?
We make Sugar Snacks with the same philosophy you use to approach life, because we all know the effort you put in is equal to the good you get out.
And now we are talking about my life philosophy? That seems a stretch for a box of cereal! It’s a bit presumptuous too, because they know nothing about me! And again, they are referring back to their headline of good in, good out, but still nothing about what the “good” is.
Where did this copywriting go wrong?
Whoever wrote this got off to the wrong start from the very beginning. How? They left out the customer.
Here’s the best copywriting tip I will ever be able to pass along to you: Whether you’re a copywriter or someone who writes marketing materials for work, you have to start with the customer! What do they want? What are their challenges? How can you help them solve their problems? What will make them want your product over someone else’s?
This copywriting on the cereal package is all about the company that made the cereal, not the customer who bought the cereal.
Is good copywriting dead?
Poor copywriting is one reason I get so worked up about ChatGPT and all the marketers jumping on that bandwagon. Since I retired from copywriting, and even before that, I’ve seen a decline in the quality of copywriting…a rapid decline in quality.
And if people can’t recognize this decline in quality in the marketing that’s all around them—even on their cereal packages—they aren’t going to recognize poor writing in general. And…if they can’t recognize poor writing, they aren’t going to realize that their own writing is bad.
People need to know how to write well at work for all kinds of reasons. (Read about three of them here.)
Be one of those people. Start reading everything—even your food packaging—with a critical eye. Start paying attention to how well you write and how well those you work with write. Stay with me and learn through my blog, newsletter and classes the many easy ways you can improve.
And if you’re a copywriter? Don’t settle for the low quality other copywriters seem to think is “good enough.” Even if your client or boss can’t recognize bad copywriting, you can…and should. So do it.
Photo of man with hand in front of face by Karolina Grabowska: https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-in-yellow-shirt-covering-his-face-with-hand-and-showing-stop-sign-gesture-4379959/