Honesty IS the best policy.

Honesty in copywriting? Is this bloke nuts?

honesty in copywriting

It’s Black Friday, so my inbox has been bombarded. Obviously I don’t mind retailers attempting to market themselves – as a copywriter, I’d be a bit of a hypocrite if I did. And some of them do it well (stand up Sunspel, First Direct and Mrs & Mrs Smith). But the deceptive marketing from some retailers makes me wish they hadn’t bothered.

Down with porkies.

See, I think copywriting should be honest. All the time. I’m not being naïve, or holier-than-thou – I’m being practical. The approach of “but we don’t want customers to know that” usually means you’re starting off on shaky ground, and it’ll only get worse. When you tell a porky pie, you have to tell even more to cover it (especially if the media gets a whiff of it). And your writing ends up so full of ‘maybe’s ‘could’s and ‘if’s that it reeks of deception and persuades nobody.

For instance, I was across the street from a shoe shop today, and the big sticker in the window said ‘50% off’. When I got closer, in very small letters next to the ‘50’ were the words ‘up to’. Putting myself in the shoes (sorry) of the cynical shopper – because that’s what you need to do – the sign just made me think there’d be one pair of 50% reduced shoes in the shop, and the rest would be token reductions. So my initial interest was quashed by a feeling of being conned, and I passed the shop by.

Wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Another undesirable tactic is to use a completely inappropriate tone of voice in an attempt to mask a truth about a brand or its approach. A good example is the practice of ‘greenwashing’  – making a product appear to be natural, organic or generally nice to dolphins, in a bid to woo the conscientious customer. That’s done by using colours people associate with such products, such as greens, browns and natural tones. And it tends to use friendly language too. So without saying a product is organic, for instance, it can be implied. But take a look at the ingredients, and sure enough, there’s goat’s blood, squirrel fur, razor blades and wing of endangered bat. Naughty.

Naughty is harder to do.

The point is, if you find the truth about your brand, you can build on that – it’s a solid foundation because it’s easier to sell. Yes, it means more thinking at the beginning, but it pays off later. But if you start off deceiving people, you’ll always be on the defensive, and chances are you’re making things too complicated. So no matter what you sell, spend a bit more time thinking about how to position yourself simply and honestly upfront, and you can save yourself a lot of hassle when you’re marketing yourself later on.