Insight. Antics.

Copy Blight.

In Advertising, Media on September 3, 2009 at 11:08 pm

Mad Men Boys - AMC

In our culture, brimming with brand barrages and sponsorship strafings, stepping back to consider the commercial colloquialisms of our media metabolism is eye opening.  (Good thing I didn’t have to read that off a teleprompter.)  So many of the same meaningless, vapid phrases are regurgitated and force-fed to us hourly, it can make you can feel like a duck being groomed for foie gras.

Space in print and time on television are costly and limited, so it’s amazing that these taken-for-granted lines have survived from Mad Men days until now, as they add remarkably little.  Let me explicate in translating Adman to Layman:


“Fun for the whole family!” is a guaranteed miserable time for at least half of the family.

Is it physiologically possible for Mom and/or Dad to enjoy Space Chimps?  Can their toddler’s teenage sister tolerate The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl without texting her friends?  That’s ¾ of a quasi-generic family right off the bat struggling to pay attention in the theater with more difficulty than a George Washington Bridge security guard.  Instead, advertisers should be clear and direct: “Kids love it!”  Parents know that this means they can entertain their tykes for a few hours at a flick without too many tantrums or complaints.  (Ohhh, nevermind, now I get it.  This is cunning copy.  Advertisers are leveling with the target: as a parent, any time without tantrums and complaints is considered fun.)

G-Force Movie Poster


Has “…and much more!” ever been anything or anyone good?

Or substantive?  If there were anything notable or cool to tell us about, it wouldn’t be hidden in an amorphous platitude that tries to elicit imaginative potential but usually turns out to be Tom Arnold or napkins.  Is this supposed to garner excitement about the unknown?  It actually makes me think that the things the ad does mention by name are not special enough to stand on their own, and need to be propped up next to flotsam and filler.


“Not available in stores” is not a selling point.  It’s a barrier to entry.

Actual meaning: “We couldn’t persuade a distributor to work with us or a major brand to carry us!”  The web is great but it doesn’t instill confidence if we can’t see your product in person anywhere.  On the flip side, this line does not create desire via exclusivity (or accuracy) when a consumer actually does end up going to Bed Bath & Beyond and sees the ShamWow and Awesome Auger waiting for them right in front.  If only your pitchmen could keep their faces from getting busted by hookers.  Or dying unexpectedly from an OxiClean overdose.  Or was it rogue luggage?

Billy Mays Products


“We’ll be right back” is always a lie.

Has a program ever said that, faded to black, and then faded back in?  It’s full license to go check the score of that [insert local sports team] game.  It’s probably the worst of them.  It needs revamping.  Some websites use “More after the jump” as a way to sell the click from main page story previews to the full link.  Why not adapt this to TV?  “Back after the jump” or “We’ll see you on the other side.”  If that isn’t palatable “Don’t go away” still works just fine.  It’s not as if the masses aren’t aware that TV has ads.  (HBO of course does not count, because “It’s not TV.”)

Savvier local newscasts, for example, have actually wised up before some of their commercial breaks and said, “We’ll be back in 60 seconds.”  Simple, specific, and tolerable: when people know how long a wait is going to be it often becomes more bearable.  (Think of the electronic screens in San Francisco subway stations if you’ve been.)  Viewers stay put while two 30-second ads run and then they get the local weather outlook, perhaps from the supremely nice Janice Huff.  Who actually looks likes she could have been an alternate for The Supremes.


It’s possible that some studies validate the effectiveness of these terms in practice, but in this case, who cares?  It may sound petty, but language matters.  It’s akin to what George Carlin said about euphemisms, the language “that takes the life out of life.”  Lobotomizing our words is unhealthy.  Copywriters need to evolve past this.  The rest of us have.

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