Copywriting Tips

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Patrick Quinn

Over the years, I must have written hundreds of television commercials, probably thousands. Some worked well and some others fetched a mediocre response, but just as with other branches of advertising, TV is essentially a hit-and-miss business. Yet, good or bad, inherent in every one of them was an old-fashioned commodity called sell. They contained sell because that was the object of the exercise: to sell something.

Well, I confess myself baffled – which is usually a not too difficult state of mind for me to be in, since I am getting old and I drink a little. What has me baffled is the current preponderance of television commercials that have no sell in them whatsoever. Not the merest hint of a sniff of it.

The main offenders are commercials for car manufacturers. Now, you don’t have to know the commercials in question to get the drift of what I’m saying. I simply ask you to take my word that the following examples are fair and honest representations.

The first is for a model called the Renault Megane. In the tv spot, we are given a succession of shots depicting people shaking their rear ends uncontrollably – and quite charming some of those rear ends are, too. But that’s beside the point.

The audio for the film is, I believe, a pop song, which runs along the lines of: “I see you, baby, shakin’ that ass…shakin’ that ass,” etcetera.

After a lot of behinds have been shaken, we get to the pack-shot (as it used to be called), which is the rear end of the motor car in question, plus a pop-on that reads: Shake It.

There have so far been two commercials in this campaign, both roughly along the same lines. I admit that, in one, we are told that the human derriere is considered important when designing a car and, in the both, the back end of the car does, admittedly, have a strange shape. But the question is begged. Would a succession of bottoms, plus a fairly explicit, but rather silly, jingle excite you to the point where you might go and find out more about the Renault Megane? I take leave to doubt it.

Allow me to give you another example, this time for the Vauxhall Astra. The commercial takes us through a succession of driving situations, complete with caption. Thus, a traffic jam shot tells us: Go to Hell. And a scenic shot tells us: Go to Heaven. While a shot of the Do Not Disturb sign on a hotel door tells us Go To Bed. Are you with me so far? Good.

In another scene, the female passenger removes her briefs and throws them out of the car window. There is a message written on the knickers, it says: Go Commando – whatever the hell that means. (I must say that the last time that happened to me, the young woman concerned was smilingly asking for five quid. But that’s another story.) Anyway, the commercial finishes with a pack shot of the Astra, plus the super: Go Drive.

Wow, after all these years, I have finally discovered that you can drive a car in traffic, you can drive it in the countryside and also to a hotel. Absolutely amazing. What a revelation. I reckon the Creative Director of the advertising agency responsible for this spot should be knighted immediately, as a reward for his excellent public service.

Which brings us to a spot for the Renault Scenic. According to the commercial, this car behaves like a dog. It can’t wait to get out of the garage, it excitedly dashes all over the place, chases cats, and it has a rear windscreen wiper that wags like a tail. It will even run after a thrown stick. All this is done of its own volition, without a driver.

I think the underlying message here is that if you’ve always wanted to own a dog and a car, but couldn’t afford both, then this is the car to buy. Or maybe not, as the case may be.

Finally, let me draw your attention to a car called the Kia. (I’ve no idea who makes it.) But I was thrilled to learn, via the tagline at the end of a tv spot for this vehicle that it is: The Car That Cares.

Forgive me while I roll on the floor laughing. This is beyond ludicrous. How can an inanimate object made up of bits of metal and plastic possibly care about anything? Equally ludicrous are the concepts behind the other ads mentioned above.

No question about it, car manufacturers seem to have taken leave of their collective senses running commercials that have no rhyme or reason, and absolutely no sell. Either that, or they don’t know any better.

I suspect it is the latter.

Whatever the case, I urge you when you are trying to promote something (in print, on radio or television), ignore the idiocies of the car people and give your market a reason for buying the product. Experience shows that people buy when they know exactly what it is they are buying, and what it will do for them when they do. Q.E.D.


Patrick Quinn is a copywriter, with 40 years' experience of the advertising business in London, Miami, Dublin and Edinburgh. Over the years, he has helped win for his clients just about every advertising award worth winning. His published books, include:

The Secrets of Successful Copywriting.

The Secrets of Successful Low Budget Advertising.

Word Power 1, 2 & 3.

© Markethill Publishing 2005.

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