Copywriting 101. The art of persuasion versus being pretentious.

July 26, 2008

A pet peeve of mine as a copywriter and creative director is the dogmatic tagline. This happens when a product or brand pushes its theme in the form of a rule, code or mandate without having either serious credibility or a great sense of humor.

If done right it’s not a sin. The textbook example is Nike’s world famous clarion: Just Do It. I don’t think I have to elaborate on how this wry command has changed our world, let alone sports. A good runner up might be “Think Different” from Apple. Both of these brands are telling us what to do but it’s okay; we want to be led.

The beer and spirits category is paved with examples many of them bad. Most recently I saw an ad for Milwaukee’s Best beer. The theme: “Brewed for a man’s taste.” Even if some executions are halfway funny, I still don’t buy it. Everyone who knows beer knows Milwaukee’s Best is cheap swill for teen-agers and factory workers. Nothing wrong with working in a factory or being 18, but let’s face it, the best is yet to come and it ain’t coming in a 4-dollar six pack. “Miller Time” on the other hand, had credibility with the workingman and a big, iconic beer to back it up. And only Budweiser could claim “King of Beers.”

Hard liquor often combines the preaching with another peeve of mine: showing the target the target. Man, do I abhor ads with fake people trying to look real. Add pretentious copy and I get annoyed. Add a celebrity and I’m downright put off. Puff Diddy’s latest pile of money comes from Ciroc Vodka, yet another poseur-player in the premium spirits category. Puff sneers at the camera, his Ciroc-blue shades half-cocked. The copy TELLS us Ciroc is “the art of Luxury.”


Our job as copywriters are to find compelling ways to say ‘”the art of luxury” or “cool people drink it” without actually saying it. For example, instead of telling the consumer that a beer is “brewed for a man’s taste” a far better line was “Schaefer… the one beer to have when you’re having more than one.” That’s good copy. Declarative as hell but also funny as hell. Men and wannabe-men got the message and liked it. In the 70s Schlitz ads beckoned men to “grab for the gusto.” Gusto is copy for beer brewed for a man’s taste. And so on…

Lots of ads walk the line. Was Crispin’s controversial “Man Laws” campaign for Miller dogmatic and funny or neither, just weird?

Both the Ciroc and Milwaukee’s Best campaigns are touting their strategy as theme lines. Where is the creative in that?


8 Responses to “Copywriting 101. The art of persuasion versus being pretentious.”

  1. What do you think of the new Dos Equis spots… I think they are on to something. They got funny covered (His organ donor card also lists his beard) and a psuedo-tag – or at least ending statement – of “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.” Don’t quote me on the exact line, but I am close I think. And, I judge that similar to the Schaefer line.

  2. Michael Dinelli said

    One of the best people of taught me how to master this art, was a man named Rick Duris. He was a copywriting genius.

    While he hid behind others, I think he was actually better than Gary Halbert

    He would romance (not just sell) the person in print, and describe the product WITHOUT ever asking the person to buy it. He made the reader totally want it. He beleived his job wasn’t done until he had the person salivating for the product or service.

    Depending on the scenario or situation, his call to action was almost non-existent. He would just post a link to “find out more”.

    I was amazed because it was so contrarian to what other people teach.

    Michael D.

  3. SRP said

    Dos Equis creative done out of our office in New York. It is considered some of the best creative being made by Euro RSCG, and rightfully so. The campaign rocks. “You can see his charisma from space.” Brilliant.

  4. Jserif said

    I get what you’re saying about tag lines. They shouldn’t tell us what to do. They should seduce into doing it. Easier said than done…hence the need for a good tag!

  5. David Burn said

    “Schaefer… the one beer to have when you’re having more than one.” Love that! But it would never sell today, not with the legal eagles looking over every detail. Over-consumption is a big no-no in adult beverage advertising. Fear is such a downer.

  6. Paul said

    The best tagline ever in the beer industry — Miller High Life. The Champagne of Beers.

  7. Jack Bowen said

    ‘Both campaigns are touting their strategy as theme lines. Where is the creative in that?’

    Steffan — I really missed hearing this kind of wisdom (or from people with this level of wisdom)while I sat for years on end through countless creative presentations when the work was more about what they thought I was willing to buy — than about the pearl of wisdom — or insight brought to life in the work.

    I guess I should have hired you. But alas — I am now stuck in a world without advertising.


    PS I will also check out the book — even with the shameless plugging.

  8. SRP said

    Ridiculous compliment, Jack.
    Thank you.

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