Don’t let a bad copywriter ruin your brand

David M. Ogilvy erstwhile spy, farmer, researcher, promoter and of course iconic ad man wrote in his popular book “Confessions of an Advertising Man”, that there are essentially three main points of view on what is considered to be a good advertisement.

Ogilvy, “What is a good advertisement? There are three schools of thought. The cynics hold that a good advertisement is an advertisement with a client’s OK on it.

Another school accepts Raymond Rubicam’s definition, “The best identification of a great advertisement is that its public is not only strongly sold by it, but that both the public and the advertising world remember it for a long time as an admirable piece of work.”

I have produced my share of advertisements which have been remembered by the advertising world as “admirable pieces of work”, but I belong to the third school, which holds that a good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself. It should rivet the reader’s attention on the product. Instead of saying, “What a clever advertisement,” the reader says, “I never knew that before. I must try this product.”

Bearing these comments in mind, I would like to draw your attention to an advertisement that appeared recently in the Malaysia Daily Star newspaper.

In any market, good copywriting is needed to sell cars

Firstly have a look at the tagline, “This Season’s Style Icon.” What does that say to you? Does it say, “Buy this car and have trouble free motoring for years to come” or does it say, “quick get one now before the end of the season (traditionally a season in the fashion industry is 3 months) otherwise it will be out of date?”

One could argue that the good news is that there will be a newer model at the start of the next season.

I haven’t test driven the ASX but I’ve seen it on the road and it looks like a nice bit of kit and certainly doesn’t deserve to be portrayed as something fashionable to own for a season, especially when it costs almost US$50,000 in Malaysia.

In case you can’t read it, the sub heading reads, “The exceptionally stylish Mitsubishi ASX Euro.”

And the copy proclaims, “They say it’s the clothes that make the man (There’s the link to the fashion industry but I doubt it encourages many women to pay attention). In our case, that means the panoramic glass roof (Malaysia is a tropical country and the last thing anyone wants is a panoramic sun roof magnifying the sun’s glare) and 8-way power leather seat (Has anyone ever bought a car because of the number of options available on the power seat?) in our latest ASX Euro.

Not only do they (that’s the sun roof and leather seats) make this Euro-spec (does that mean it comes with a heater?) urban utility vehicle look classy (the sun roof that no one can see because it is on the, well roof and the seats make it look classy?), but also anyone who’s behind the wheel (So a sun roof and leather seats will make me look classy? Have you seen me?). If that’s not alluring enough, it’s only limited to 200 units. So hurry down to your nearest showroom today (Does anyone hurry to buy a car?).

I believe the art of copywriting is really under appreciated in Malaysia and you can see why. I think that this is one of the many reasons why 86% of Malaysian consumers no longer believe what they read in advertisements.

The poor quality of copywriting has led to shortcuts and the use of increasingly ridiculous claims that are at times laughable.

A copywriter should communicate a relevant or legitimate meaning quickly, connect with needs of the target segment, influence and hopefully persuade that segment to seek more information.

I don’t see how this ad does that. But it must have the client’s OK on it… What do you think?


5 thoughts on “Don’t let a bad copywriter ruin your brand

  1. Great analysis on the ad! I’ve had a fair share of lousy copywriting presented by ad agencies.. and they (ad agencies) tend to put the blame on the client’s brief. (these are the so-called “award winning” ad agencies!)


    1. Hey Munira, thanks for commenting

      I agree although I’ve seen some pretty bad briefs in my time and I don’t mean the ones my brother wears!

      In this case the CEO must have approved it. And it brings up another question, if the language of communication is not your native tongue, should you be allowed to approve advertising copy?


  2. Typically, I would advocate that the copy should convey benefits, not features. To begin with. A car is the second most expensive thing most of us every buy. So, it needs to be a lot of information that you need to consume before you make a purchase decision. Long copy works (Ogilvy: The loudest thing you hear at 60 Mp/h is the clock…).

    Ah well, the ad is also just a seasonal item, so we can hope the next execution will be better. Maybe it will come with winter tyres.


  3. Great article–the example you used were fantastic. I think too many businesses either think they know what they’re doing or trust a copywriter too much. I hope a lot of marketing departments read your post!


  4. Very well written post–I think the examples you’ve used are great. Do you think marketing departments are unfocused and not analytical enough of their own work, or do you think they depend on copywriters too heavily? Either way, I hope more people read your post!


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