Laura brings us this month’s post.
Promotional copy is one of those things that you just don’t think about. You’re not supposed to—the copy itself should fade into the background as you find yourself drawn to the product being promoted.
When you spend forty hours a week writing promotional copy, though, as I do, you start to sit up and take notice. Who was that bold copywriter, I sometimes wonder, who had the guts to claim that a product is “the best ever”? Who thought anyone would be convinced by talking about “an unparalleled historical adventure through a paradigm shifting manuscript”? It’s an ancient manuscript. It’s not that interesting. It’s just not. (I really love reading copy for terrible books, by the way. Check out A Gronking to Remember next time you want to be horrified that some books really exist.)
And so today I present my copywriting holy grail:
SkyMall. A 170 page long catalog full of the most absurd products you can imagine, each complete with taglines and copy to sell them.
One of my favorite pages from the Holiday 2014 edition is the page full of garden ornaments. “Yeti commands a unique presence in your garden.” “‘Ahu Akivi Moai’ is an interesting conversation piece.” “Bigfoot isn’t a hoax, he’s hiding in your backyard.”
I can just imagine that poor copywriter being handed a picture of a lurking Yeti lawn ornament. What words in any language could convey any reason for someone to want one? (Side note: it’s life size and costs $2250. That’s a tough sales pitch if I’ve ever seen one.) “It’s, um. Well, it’s unique, I guess . . .”
Another tagline: “Break out the scotch and let the plans for world domination begin.” I’m not even going to tell you what the product is. I’ll only say that it’s my new life goal to somehow find a way to work this phrase into my copy (for an academic religious publishing company, by the way.)
Or here’s a particularly promising one: “Discover the simple solution to slouching and stress.” Who knew those things were connected? Or that all my stress (and slouching) could be solved with one weird brace thing? You promise so much, oh bold copywriter of SkyMall.
In the “What on Earth” section of the catalog (yes, someone thought it would be an excellent promotional idea to take the baffled thoughts of everyone perusing SkyMall whilst ignoring the flight attendant and use them as a header on the page) is Bob’s Affirmation Box. “Bob’s legions of fans, although devoted, are not available for 24/7 worship. Fortunately, this treasure chest of cheer is here to step in and save the day. Every time the lid is opened, a perky voice pipes up: ‘Lookin’ good, Bob,’ ‘You sure are sexy, Bob,’ ‘Way to go, Bob,’ and ‘You’re the man, Bob.”
I like to imagine this whole catalog was written sarcastically. Then when it came time for the copywriter to review the first proof she sighed and said, “Whatever. It’s fine.”
Quite possibly none of you share my delight in terrible copy. But I know what tricks I use to make each and every one of our books sound appealing to as wide an audience as possible. I think I do it pretty well and manage to conceal any antipathy or sarcasm by the time anyone else sees my copy. (The first drafts are occasionally another story entirely.)
When the products are as terrible as those in Skymall, even the best copywriter can’t always conceal her sarcasm. I’m deeply entertained to see tricks I recognize at work—and, even better, they’re tricks I recognize that made it into the final draft.
Copywriting is an awesome job, but it’s also hard. I imagine my copy for SkyMall would be just as pathetic. I’m lucky enough to mostly write about products I really believe are excellent and useful.
Alas, SkyMall is filing for bankruptcy. So while you can, friends: pick up a copy next time you fly and revel in the efforts someone somewhere went through to try to make you think any of these products could somehow benefit you in any way.
Laura (Bardolph) Hubers (’10) is wife to Matt, mother to Samuel, and copywriter at Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. She counts the day the Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series as one of the happiest of her life.
Matt Hubers (’12) lives with his wife, Laura, and young son, Samuel. He likes to spend his time playing board games, coaching high school forensics, and frolicking with alpacas. His dream is to write picture books.