Have you ever seen an ad or headline so bad that it makes you wonder — Yikes. How did no one spot THAT? Here are 8 cringeworthy copy fails that will have you think twice before pushing publish!
As a copywriter, I’m sure you’ve made your fair share of typos, grammar mistakes and misplaced punctuation when you’re burning the midnight oil during a launch or rushing to meet a campaign deadline.
If you’re lucky, your worst case scenario is just a run-on sentence or a missing word here and there. If you’re not so lucky, it’s a media backlash that ends up as a meme on the TIFU sub-reddit…
Gone are the days when the protocols to publish something involved meticulous rounds of approval and proofreading before it went to the printers.
Today, anything from anyone can go live before millions of viewers at just the click of a button.
Which is why as creators, we have to take the extra measure to review and proof our work before hitting send, publish, post, or share! Because once you do, it’s out there – forever.
So this week, I’m highlighting 8 examples of epic copywriting fails that you definitely want to avoid. Because let’s face it, sometimes the best way to grow is to learn what not to do.
But if you also want to learn what you should do to generate compelling, persuasive and failproof copy — you’re in the right place. Hit subscribe over on my YouTube Channel… Because I release a new copywriting tutorial every single week.
Now, here are 8 times copywriting went oh-so-very-wrong. Let these mistakes be a cautionary tale to remind you that as copywriter and marketer, you need to check yourself before you wreck yourself.
Fail #1: When A Joke Goes Wrong
Our first fail is brought to you by our friends at AirBnb. I’m talking about this tone-deaf ad that was plastered all over San Francisco.
It reads: Dear Public Library System, We hope you use some of the $12 million in hotel taxes to keep the library open later.
Well firstly, the ad references something so obscure that the majority of people are likely to read that and think, “what are you talking about?”
After I did some research I discovered that when AirBnb was asked to fork out millions in hotel taxes, they put up this ad to suggest how the government should be spending that money.
Secondly, they made the mistake of throwing shade at the San Francisco public library system… Which really had nothing to do with the hotel taxes in the first place, so that’s weird.
But they also neglected the fact that San Francisco’s public libraries were already struggling to pay their staff and get financial support.
So, as much as we all love a bit of tongue-in-cheek sarcasm, if your copy trivialises a serious struggle in misdirected rage, it’s no longer a marketing faux pas — it’s just in bad taste.
After a heated backlash and a public apology, even AirBnb CEO Brian Chesky himself admitted that “It made us look like jerks.”
Fail #2: When You Alienate Your Audience
If you’re going to run an ad campaign, make sure you don’t accidentally offend, or worse — marginalise a group from your audience just to prove a point.
For instance, when Minnesota health plan provider, Blue Cross Blue Shield, decided to encourage people to exercise more by ditching the elevator and taking the stairs, they completely forgot about people who rely on elevators to get around.
Their cringeworthy ad read, “Today is the day we take the stairs. Let’s start making healthier decisions today.” I’m sure the guy in a wheelchair is thinking, great. Thanks Ass****.
A large number of people who use elevators, use them not because they can but because they have to. So, the lesson here? Let’s start making better copy decisions today! Always know who you’re talking to so you don’t alienate any part of your audience!
Fail #3: When You Try Too Hard To Be Clever
So here’s an interesting fact: Studies have shown that the average adult reads at a 7-8th grade level, which is why most mainstream novels are written for the average Junior High Student. Well the same goes for your copy. It needs to be simple to be effective, no matter your niche! But clearly this online publication didn’t get the memo…
The pop-up call-to-action on their site read: “It’s never too late to start over. If you weren’t happy with yesterday, try something better today. Don’t stay stuck. Do better.” LOL. WHAT?
In a painful attempt to sound clever this call-to-action created nothing but confusion. Do I agree, do I not agree? Why does it even matter? What do you want from me?!
Fail #4: When You’ve Been Living Under A Rock
Here’s another display of tongue-in-cheek copy gone terribly terribly wrong…
This Christmas catalogue ad by Bloomingdale’s features a man looking intently at an oblivious woman, who apparently is his best friend, with the caption “Spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking.”
Well, that went downhill from cheek to creep fast! How did no one on the ad team catch THAT before it went to print?
Not that a joke like this is ever cool, but especially in today’s #MeToo era – Bloomingdale’s how did you think this was ok? Have you been living under a rock or are you just completely insensitive? I bet you didn’t have a single woman on your ad team, Because if you did, this would have been thrown in the trash and never would have seen the light of day.
Fail #5: When You’re Too Controversial
They say that any publicity is good publicity. Well… That might not always be true. Don’t get me wrong — I like a good, rebellious ad that disrupts the norm. But the line between “Wow!” and “Whoa…” is sometimes very fine.
Berlin-based Funeral Home, Bergemann Sohn decided to promote their service by placing a large ad on the wall of an underground station, on the other side of the train tracks, with the words — “Come A Little Closer”.
Ummm… Yes, you have my attention. But do you have my business? I’m not so sure. This ad trivializes death and belittles suicide, which is no joke. While I can see the humor in it, this ad makes me feel a bit uneasy. What do you guys think? Funny or faux pax? Comment below and let me know.
Fail #6: When You Make A Reference That No One Gets
If you’re a copywriter or marketer who spends a lot of time indulging in pop culture content in your spare time… It can be hard to resist slipping in a little timely inside joke into your copy.
However — references without context will likely backfire and make your reader go “Huh?”. Like this pop-up call-to-action from Mashable. It reads; You can pronouce “gif” however you’d like. Get the best of digital culture with the Click Click Click newsletter.
First, they randomly use the whole “gif” pronunciation debate as their main headline, then they promote their obscurely-named Click Click Click newsletter, neither with much context. I’m seriously confused. What does “gif” or “gif” have to do with anything? But I am curious to know – how do you pronounce it?
Fail #7: When You “Me, Me, Me” All Over The Place
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again — your prospects will always ask the question “What’s in it for me?”.
YOU is one of the most powerful words used in copywriting. So it’s easy to see where Rareloop went so wrong. Their homepage copy reads “We’re Digital Artisans. An expert team passionate about crafting bespoke websites and apps.”
Their prospects are likely yawning and leaving the page before they even get to the CTA button that says “Get to Know Us” LAME.
Whether you’re selling a product or a service, your sales copy should focus more on what you can do for your customer. Not on trying to sell how great you are.
Fail #8: When a pun goes wrong. So wrong
I’ll be the first to admit, I love a good pun and humor is a great way to drive engagement…
But not at the expense of your brand identity and ad message.
Like McDonalds implying their backdoor is open for business at 6am.
Or RayBans reminder of where to wear their sunglasses…
Or Sheets Energy Strips sharing one way to use their product….
While funny yes, these pundamental copy flaws could have had some detrimental consequences on the brand after the fact. See what I did there?
So, copywriters, keep your dirty jokes and puns to yourself! Jeez.
Watch This Instead
Ok there you have it — 8 copywriting mistakes you should never ever repeat.
Thanks a lot for reading, leave me a comment below if you liked this post! Next, if you want to see killer examples of 10 brands that are getting their slogans and headlines right – you can check it out right here
And be sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel to catch my video next week. Till then, I’m Alex Ciao for now!
The last two I legitimately lol’ed at. I feel like there’s definitely an intended audience for the Berlin funeral services one, too. There’s no accounting for taste.
Lol! Couldn’t agree more Sami!
The McDonald’s one is unintentional. It’s in Australia and there is a town call Yass in New South Wales. It’s not trying to make a joke about their backdoor being open. Just bad design.
Good to know! Still one that could have been avoided haha