Freelance life, Maslen on Marketing

Stale copy…or jaded palate

At a copywriting workshop I ran recently, someone asked me how he could spice up copy for a product that came out, unchanged, year after year. “It’s boring,” he said.

“Boring for whom?” I asked.


If you have ever been tempted to refresh creative for one of your products because it was ‘getting tired’, ask yourself this question. Is the creative getting tired, or are you getting tired of it? In other words, what are the results telling you?

If the piece (ad, mailpack, whatever) is still achieving acceptable response rates – above your trigger for review – then you don’t have a problem. Your customers obviously don’t find it boring. Or at least, if they do, their ennui isn’t affecting their buying behaviour.

What else could you freshen up?

Truth is, marketing people tend to have low boredom thresholds. That’s partly why they’re in marketing as a career. So to have to produce this year’s mailer for a product that has remained essentially unchanged since last year can be a little unchallenging.

New packshot? Yes, but it still looks the same. New colourway for the brochure? Big deal! New copy? What is there to say?

Maybe you don’t have to worry about the creative. How about applying that restless energy to list-research? Or to coming up with an irresistible offer? Or to holding a series of customer roadshows to find out what they actually think about your product (and its publicity materials)?

If you do decide that the creative is flagging—GENUINELY flagging—then you need to go back to basics. Looking at last year’s copy and trying to pep it up a bit simply won’t work. Given that it was probably a hacked-about version of the preceding year’s effort, you’re going nowhere fast.

Five ideas to stimulate your thinking:

  1. Get your hands on the product and actually use it. Pick it up and try it out. What does it do? Why does it do it better than anything else?
  2. Talk to people who bought it last year. Why did they buy it? How do they use it? What single thing would make them buy it again, even if every other feature were removed?
  3. Talk to the people who produce it. What do they think is good about it? Better than last year? Better than ever?
  4. Imagine you are facing a potential customer. What would you say to them about it? What would you show them? Why?
  5. Find a piece of copy you have received recently that you actually liked. Why did you like it? What was different about it? What made you stop and take notice?

This month’s message

Before you commit time and money to renewing the creative for a product, ‘because it’s tired’, consider whether the copy is worn out or just your enthusiasm. If it’s the former, do something about it using the guidelines above. If not, apply yourself to other aspects of the marketing campaign and look elsewhere for your kicks.

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