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Avoid These 5 Common Copywriting Traps

January 30th, 2013


Mouse Trap

Copywriter Sleeping Resist The Temptation Of Lazy Copywriting!
We’ve all been there: tired, uninspired, and more than ready to just get the damn thing done and written. In a moment like this, it takes serious willpower to resist the urge to be a lazy copywriter, thus falling into copywriting traps. Sadly, even the most experienced pros are guilty of giving in and sending off C- work. Whether it’s writing a headline, coming up with a quick concept or tackling the seemingly impossible task of finishing off body copy, these are the five most common traps copywriters need to avoid:

#1 The “Today/Tomorrow” Play
This is probably the most overused technique of them all. You’ve definitely read or heard these lines before:
“Solutions made for today, and tomorrow.”Today Tomorrow Ad
“We’re ready for today … and tomorrow.”
“A better tomorrow starts today.”
“We’re working hard today, for a better tomorrow.”

Understandably there are some instances and industries where a trite expression like this appears to work perfectly. Like for financial institutions and green initiatives. But because phrases like these are so overused, most people will tune out the message. Like the example shown here, will anyone really walk away and feel the impact of what that ad is trying to communicate?

Dig deeper and find a more effective way to say same thing. Instead of a platitude, provide substance with a real benefit or compelling message: “Why Our New Machinery Will Make 2013 Your Most Profitable Year Ever. ” / “We’re Working Hard To Make 2013 Your Most Profitable Year Ever.”  Give the audience something to ponder or an impressive accomplishment to remember.


Mr. T#2 The Inside Joke
Just as amongst our friends we have our own people, situations and sayings that make us laugh that nobody else understands, the same can happen within a creative team. Remember, the object of copywriting isn’t to make your colleagues, client or creative director laugh – it’s to connect with and persuade your audience. Attempting to force in a funny word, concept or phrase for the sake of an interoffice chuckle is a disservice to your client and their customers. Even if you could explain to everyone the foundation of the joke, the humor would still feel forced.

A couple examples:
A-TeamBuffalo Trace posted two updates in a row on their Facebook page featuring the A-Team and Mr. T. What does the A-Team have to do with their bourbon or current promotions? Nothing. It only makes the brand look a little too loose and struggling for something to say. It was probably funny amongst the social media team, but not effective or meaningful for the brand’s audience.

Burger King AdHere’s a Burger King ad that’s definitely the result of a couple creatives thinking they were super hilarious by sneaking some hot-steamy p*rn into their ad. This ad didn’t run in America, but it’s still a good example of when inside jokes and telling each other “LOL – you’re funny!” goes wrong.


Remember, what’s funny on an email chain and around the water cooler (if those still exist) is probably not as funny to the rest of us.


Size Matters Ad#3 The “Size Matters” Headline
It’s one of the most tired jokes of the century. “Does size matter? You bet your ass it does!” You name an industry, and there’s probably an ad campaign right now that’s using the line. Whether it’s about finances, engineering parts or a store’s expansion, I find it hard to believe that people are still finding it clever. It’s been used so many times, most people ignore the real message: that your client has something big and new to offer or great news to share. My suspicion is that your audience will roll their eyes and ignore everything else you have to say.

Size Matters AdSolution:
Stop writing phallic jokes and write something another headline that will truly “matter” to your reader. Instead of “Size Matters” say: “Why An Extra 100 Square Foot Facility Could Mean 50% Savings For You.”



Got Mlik Curley#4 Copying A Classic Copy Concept
Who can forget the “Got Milk” campaign? Apparently it resonated so well with a wide audience, almost every business, and even churches, are reusing the concept. It’s a simple formula: Got insert product/service here?. Got Chevy? Got Burgers? Got Two & A Half Men? The possibilities are endless. Endless too are the number of people who will roll their eyes at your copy. Side note: I’ve always wondered if the “Got Milk” campaign and “Goody Got It” were connected in some strange way?

Got Pizza?Got God?Got Tacos?

It’s fine to use great lines of the past for inspiration. But don’t use them verbatim. If you’re really stuck, twist the idea of a classic line around to become something original. For example: “Without my milk, I am a lost soul.


Bad QR Code#5 Hoping People Will Visit the Website or Scan the QR Code
If what you’re writing pushes the user online to learn more or to use a QR Code, don’t pass the buck on providing content and context. It’s hard enough to get someone to read your ad, and even harder to entice them to visit your site or scan a QR Code. So give your reader the total scoop and every reason to take that next step. Just think about the last time you actually followed up on an ad or scanned a code?toilet qr code If you did, why did you do it?

Knowing that your reader is more than likely going to ignore you, at least give them a takeaway message they can’t ignore. Avoid that weak and mysterious teaser and write something informative and compelling.


No matter the experience level, all of us are guilty and vulnerable to falling into one of these copywriting traps. Now that I’ve written this out, hopefully this will serve as a strong reminder for myself to practice what I preach.

What are your thoughts? Are there other common copywriting traps that deserve a mention?


One Comment

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  1. Amanda #
    September 8, 2013

    I love your site. Really helpful!

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