Writer got pwned > LOLs

Trying to adopt the web’s tone of voice is futile; resorting to using its language only makes for bad advertising copy

‘Tweet till you’re trending’ – it’s a bus-side for, I think, the confusing agglomeration of T-Mobile and Orange, now called Everything Everywhere. But it could just as easily be for Three or Samsung or any number of sites or apps I have no interest in using. Lines like this are ubiquitous at the moment. Five years ago half those words didn’t mean what they mean today. Ten years ago the whole thing would have looked like gibberish.

Of course, new technology necessitates new language, or at least, the retooling of old language, to describe it. Its overuse in advertising mirrors the way that our economy has changed. After decades of telling the public that they needed vacuum cleaners, cars and chocolates the advertising industry has now been tasked with selling a range of things that don’t really exist. So many of our possessions have evaporated into cyberspace that sometimes it seems like the only thing anyone really wants to buy is the internet itself, either as data plans and broadband, or the shiny fetish objects that we use to communicate with this new spirit world. Open any newspaper and the ads all look the same, and this is hardly surprising when you consider that the country’s loudest advertisers are all selling the same product – the amorphous mass of news, nonsense and porn that make up the web.

So you can understand how lines like the EE one get written. After all, how do you talk about the internet, apart from in the language of the internet? The OMGs, ROFLs, LOLs and :-)s seem like a natural shorthand for all that, well, stuff. It satisfies the desperate need of advertisers to seem like they know what the hell is going on. But, to my mind, it fails to make great, or even moderately good, advertising copy. Because it’s not just the meaning of the words that make a good line, but what structuralists called their ‘connotive’ qualities, something copywriters usually refer to as ‘tone of voice’.

In other words, a really great line like, ‘Ronseal quick drying woodstain: It does exactly what it says on the tin’ has attitude. Its unfussiness is indivisible from what it’s saying – the kind of personality who might utter those words would be funny, practical and no-nonsense: exactly the kind of person a buyer of Ronseal might aspire to be. To the copywriting equation the ‘least possible words, for the most possible impact’ the best lines also add ‘the strongest, most precise sense of personality’.

And herein lies the problem. Your OMG-based headline might be current, it might be so actually new that the creative director barely knows what it means, but it’s not ownable. Those words are without pedigree, they simply haven’t had the time to gather the connotive qualities you’re looking for. They might have tone, but it isn’t yours it’s the internet’s. And the great thing about the internet is that it doesn’t belong to anyone. Epic fail. Dude.

‘Gordon Comstock’ is a creative director


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