January 15, 2014Us vs Them: Why the nuances in your copy matter

I saw this ad on the tube today. What’s wrong with it?

Christians make better lovers

The headline copy is bold and eyecatching. So is the design — the fact that it forms a smile is a nice touch. If I were a devout Christian I’d seriously consider using this site. But I’m not — I’m just a regular heathen. And so, it seemed, was the copywriter who wrote this ad.

Take a closer look. Here’s the body copy:

“Christians believe in love. ‘Love one another’ is written into their code. So if you are a single Christian, why not give our award-winning dating site a try?”

At first glance, the body copy looks clever. The headline entices you — makes you think it’s about sex. But in the body copy, you find out it’s actually all about God’s will that we all love one another. Good stuff, right?

Yup. It’s perfect. Except for one word.

“Love one another is written into their code”.

Not our code. Their code.

Yet underneath the copy speaks of “our award winning site”.

In other words it’s us vs them.

Regular readers (and readers of my book) will know that the use of the rhetorical “why not… try?” is one of my least favourite pieces of lazy copy. It’s a question that asks you to find reasons not to buy the product.

And this copy gives you that reason in the sentence that precedes it.

By referring to their code, this ad implies that the owners of the website aren’t Christian. I don’t know if they are or not — I’m just telling you what the copy says.

If the copy said “Love one another is written into our code”, this would be a perfect ad for a product that’s by Christians, for Christians — warm and empathetic, it would say “we are like you, so we understand you. We want to help other Christians like us find love”.

That single word, “their” changes the tone of voice entirely.

It implies that we are not like you. That “Love one another” is not written into our code. Why not give this dating site a try? Well, if I were a Christian, I’d have good reason — because the people who run it don’t share my beliefs.

That’s when the seed of doubt forms. Are these people like me, or are they just trying to sell me something?

It may be a mistake — but it’s what the phrasing of the ad implies.

Of course, I could be overanalysing a very small copy mistake. But it’s a nuance the copywriter should have noticed, even if the client didn’t. It’s the kind of nuance a good copywriter would never get wrong.

Because he would check, check and check again.

Because he would know that an ad coming from people who understand and share the consumer’s values is more powerful than one with a tone of voice that’s a little cold and distant.

When you’re a copywriter, nuances matter. The concept can be brilliant. The execution perfect. The copy can be bold.

But ultimately, it’s the tiny details that make the difference between a good ad — which this is — and a brilliant one — which it could have been.


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