The aforementioned Josh Levine (see "Social Studies") preaches the gospel of the four Cs of effective grassroots marketing: customer, community, content, contribution. Here in the copywriting corner of that cosmos, we've got three Cs of our own: clear, concise and compelling. Following is a cautionary tale about the first courtesy of EE friend Joanna Miller.
I was in the shower the other morning, my brain and body moving more sluggishly than usual. After realizing I was due for a hair-washing, I picked up my bottle of Pantene Pro-V Restoratives Frizz Control shampoo.
This bottle had been in my shower for some months; when you don't wash your hair every day — per the recommendation of most hair stylists — the stuff tends to last. But it wasn't until this particular day (one on which I was especially hesitant to step out of so much warm steaminess and into my frugally heated Pacific Northwest house) that I was inspired to read the copy printed beneath the product name. This is what it said:
"repairs rebellious damage that causes frizz and actively locks in hair's natural moisture while sealing out humidity, for lustrous, radiant hair"
Missing capitalization and punctuation aside, this made no sense to me, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that I read those four lines of copy at least eight times, scratching my still-unwashed head in confusion. "Rebellious damage?" Was it me, or was it them? It was them, right? How, exactly, can damage be rebellious? Perhaps hair can rebel against damage, but is the damage itself rebellious? And more importantly, how was it possible that people were getting paid to write this claptrap?
How, exactly, can damage be rebellious? And more importantly, how was it possible that people were getting paid to write this claptrap?Second-guessing my sleep-clouded instincts, I dashed off an e-mail to my grammar mentors at Editorial Emergency. I was seeking validation; if these custodians of syntax agreed that this was gibberish, then by God it was. Blessedly, they concurred, seconding my disapproval and articulating the problem with even more clarity: "'Rebellious' should not be used to describe damage. That's just nonsense. And it's not the only problem with that copy. Is it the rebellious damage that (in addition to causing frizz) actively locks in hair's natural moisture, or is it the product that actively locks in hair's natural moisture?"
Yes, I got the gist of what that copy was trying to convey, but surely Procter & Gamble is coughing up sufficient shekels to deserve something more coherent from its creative agency. And yet, it was I who'd selected this very bottle of shampoo from a slew of other options on the drugstore shelf. Now that I'd taken the bait, however, trying to sort out the meaning of the sentence in question (if one can even call it a sentence) only left me perplexed and irritated. Frankly, it hurt my head. It was as if the copywriters simply cherry-picked words at random. I suspect this editorial abomination resulted, after endless revisions, from the ill-advised practice of "copywriting by committee." Still, if there's anything that pisses me off even more than dry, frizzy hair, it's being targeted by copywriters with seemingly no regard for the English language.
I had to ask myself: "Did these words, now absurd to my ears, entice me to buy this particular bottle of shampoo? Did the copy somehow make sense to me at the point of purchase?" I concluded, rather, that it was the term "frizz control" that reeled me in. You see, I'm a sucker for anything that promises to tame the frizzies, so waving the words "frizz control" in front of me is like posting a sign for a free 4 p.m. dinner buffet in Boca.
Will I buy Pantene Pro-V again? As I'm not in a hurry to reward bad copywriting, I bet not. In fact, my most recent shampoo purchase was from Clairol Herbal Essences' Hello Hydration line (again with the moisture issues), a product graced by this much more straightforward, friendly and, let's face it, cute invitation: "It's time to take every strand off dry land. Replenish your pretty parched head with my formula fused with essential moisturizers and orchid and coconut milk. It leaves hair silky and supple." They had me at "pretty parched head."
You might be interested to know that, like Pantene Pro-V, Herbal Essences is also a Procter & Gamble offering. I suspect P&G employs a different creative agency for each of its brands. Whatever the case, it may be time for the Pantene Pro-V brand manager to rebel — if there's any chance of preventing further damage.
Has YOUR hide ever been chapped by incompetent copywriting? Feel free to rant:
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Joanna Miller is a Portland, Ore., food writer focused mainly on desserts and assorted confections. Presently plotting an online forum dedicated to tracking the best — and
worst — cookies across the globe, she's a frequent contributor to Willamette Week Online ("Cravings: Oatmeal Cookies," "Concession Obsession"), PortlandFoodAndDrink.com
and SugarSavvy.com. Miller's guest column
"Candy Is Dandy, But Branding's Outstanding" appeared in Issue #9 of Editorializing.
Joanna Miller is a Portland, Ore., food writer focused mainly on desserts and assorted confections. Presently plotting an online forum dedicated to tracking the best — and worst — cookies across the globe, she's a frequent contributor to Willamette Week Online ("Cravings: Oatmeal Cookies," "Concession Obsession"), PortlandFoodAndDrink.com and SugarSavvy.com. Miller's guest column "Candy Is Dandy, But Branding's Outstanding" appeared in Issue #9 of Editorializing.