Tag Archives: copy

Those allegations. Do you deny, dispute, refute, rebut or contest them?

From (allegedly) kiddie-fiddling cardinals to (so they say) overly-lascivious Lib Dem leaders,  allegations of inappropriate behaviour are everywhere these days.

Leaving aside whether the use of that word ‘inappropriate’ is appropriate in these cases (is it really being too judgmental to take the view that abusing children is ‘wrong’ rather than merely ‘inappropriate’?), the allegations are generally followed by a denial of any wrongdoing.

However, a common-or-garden denial is somehow seen as insufficient. So the accused party will instead say he refutes the charges, presumably because it sounds like a more robust kind of denial. Sometimes they’re reported to be ‘contesting’ the accusations, or alternatively they might ‘dispute that version of events’. A ‘rebuttal’ of child-sex allegations is heard less often, perhaps because the word sits rather awkwardly with that particular offence. As does ‘sits rather awkwardly’. But shush.

The question is, if you’re a copywriter who’s been accused of something untoward, just what type of denial should you hit back with? Here’s your handy at-a-glance, cut-out-and-keep guide:

“You’ve been in the pub!”
A straightforward denial should be enough to counter this outrageous slur, provided you don’t allow your accuser to get close enough to smell your breath, or mangle your words to the extent that your very denial becomes an outrageous slur.

“Your copy is off brief!”
This is one you can refute, because to refute something is generally held to mean disproving it through evidence.  So you simply hold the creative brief up in triumph and say “See? You specifically asked for the copy to focus on the kill-rate of the MP7 Sub-Machine Gun, and for the tone to be light and whimsical!”

“You’ve lifted this copy!”
You can either deny or dispute this accusation, although disputing it suggests it contains at least a kernel of truth that warrants  argument and debate. Better to deny it outright, at least until your accuser comes back with the proof. Then you’re on your own.

“Your copy didn’t generate a response”
You can rebut this criticism simply by providing a sheaf of the responses your ad did get, taking care not to mention that 90% of them were complaints about tone, veracity or plagiarism (see above).  Rebut, then, is similar to refute, although back in the 90s New Labour was famous for its effective ‘rapid rebuttal unit’ (strapline: ‘Yeah but, no but, REBUT!’) rather than a ‘rapid refutation unit’. That would have been silly.

“You totally lost it with the client when he rejected all your perfectly reasonable ideas, telling him he had the imagination of a small stick before pouring coffee over his head.”
Up to you. If it didn’t happen, deny it. If you can produce a happy, smiling client, refute it. If it was tea not coffee, dispute ‘that particular version of events’. But if the accusation is that it was your art director who carried out the assault rather than you, you should take legal advice and contest it.

All clear?

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Filed under Stuff

Stumbling over copy

I’m showing my copy to the account director. I watch closely as she reads the text. I like to think that I can tell exactly whereabouts she is on the page simply by observing her reactions.

That little nod means she’s reached the part in the opening paragraph that resolves the slight sense of intrigue contained within the headline. Smaller, almost imperceptible nods mean she’s mentally ticking off the product’s key selling points. And that half smile must be in recognition of the little gag I put towards the end, which neatly refers back to the headline. I begin to smile myself.

But what’s this? She doesn’t hand the copy back. Instead, she narrows her eyes and picks it up off the desk. She holds the sheet of A4 a few inches further away from her, as if she’s suddenly having trouble focusing on the words. She frowns and her lips start forming an O.

“All OK?” I say brightly, conveying, I hope, an air of finality.

“Yes,” she replies. I’m just having trouble with this word.” She mentions the word.

“Really? I quite like that word. I thought it made a nice change from the usual.”

“Maybe that’s it. It wasn’t what I was expecting. I stumbled over it.”

There it is. The stumble word. We can’t have people stumbling. In copy, everything’s got to be smooth and level and free of any linguistic obstacles. Gently undulating is acceptable, but molehills, potholes, sudden twists or turns; these are verboten.

The nice flat plains in the south of Australia's Northern Territories are interrupted by this unsightly stumbling block, Uluru.

Were you expecting ‘forbidden’, there? That’s what I had in mind, then I changed it to verboten at the last minute. It sounded stronger, more absolute. But did you…stumble? Did you stare at the word with a look of bafflement, shake your head and go back to Twitter?

I think copywriting that sometimes uses the unexpected or the unfamiliar – even, in the right circumstances, the unheard of – can enhance the experience of reading it.

That’s doesn’t mean being wilfully obscure or peppering your copy with impenetrable jargon. It just means occasionally straying from the everyday, the overly familiar and definitely the clichéd.

I thought about this the other day when I came across this poster for Fitness First, ostensibly encouraging people to join their gyms. Health clubs tend to pour most of their ad budgets into January for obvious reasons, though it would be interesting to see if this campaign makes a blind bit of difference to FF’s membership:

 

Try not to look at it for too long.

Now this poster isn’t in any way a shining example of the adman’s craft. I think that possibly every element of it could be improved. But the thing that stood out for me, as I casually took it in while padlocking my bike by the train station, were the words ‘our members are fitter than yesterday.’

Fitter than yesterday. I”ve never heard that expression. A search on Google (UK) yields just three examples, none of which uses the phrase as a figure of speech. So whoever approved the copy for this poster – and it must have gone through SOME sort of approval process – wasn’t unduly concerned about it containing a phrase that might have made people ‘stumble’.

I thought it sounded quite cool. It contained a truth. It required a teensy bit of thought. The words made me think, ever so briefly, about fitness, age, decay and mortality. Had I not heard the sound of my train approaching, and had the rest of the ad not been such a complete fucking disaster, I might have made a mental note to book an appointment at the nearest gym.

Sometimes, it’s good to stumble.

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Filed under Ill-informed advertising observations