My little post about why you shouldn’t write how-not-to articles has a parallel in the world of copywriting. The examples I’ve linked to all have something in common with bad copywriting: Don’t Tell it Like it Isn’t, as Tom Albrighton of ABC Copywriting so succinctly summed it up. The most vivid example in his article — for me at least — is the gym poster by Nuffield Health, and their dead-end slogan, “The gym. It’s changed.” You look at the poster and have no idea what they’re talking about. The entire ad epitomizes what not to do when writing, copywriting, or designing ad campaigns. This particular design reminds me of a teenager suffering from an identity crisis. “I don’t know what I am but I’m not that. I’m different. But I’m still cool.”
A piece of writing, copywriting, or an ad campaign should know what it is about and be able to sell itself to you. Let’s take a look at some better examples of copywriting.
Good vs. Evil, Right vs. Wrong, PS4 vs. Xbox One
Kids are cool and different, adults are not. This is the reason video game companies shouldn’t advertise to old people. Albrighton noted that almost half of PS3 owners were over 34, and suggested a few reasons why old people would be a good demographic to target. There’s a number of problems with this, I think, and they all revolve around age and the perception of cool, video games as being a “kids’ thing,” and adults as being uncool. There is a certain age where we all begin to lose our cool, until one day you wake up, look in the mirror, and realize that you are old and not cool. So if you run a campaign that markets to uncool old people, that console’s market might implode. Video game companies would alienate younger generations if they showed middle-aged folks behind a controller with beer and pizza. Sure, it happens a lot, but usually behind closed doors.
Kids don’t want to play a machine that old people play, because old people aren’t cool. Old people who play games don’t want other non-gaming old people to think they’re kids. And old people don’t want kids to think they’re not adults. The only way to fix this problem is to overhaul the worldwide perception that video games and Trix are just for kids. A multi-year, multi-lateral advertising campaign by all the major tech giants, video game companies, and eSports venues should be enough to convince the world that video games aren’t just for kids, they’re for everybody. But until that utopian age arrives, and people of all ages play video games together in harmony, we must live with the knowledge that only kids are cool enough to play and “get” games.
In his piece comparing iPad Air’s and PS4’s ad campaigns, Albrighton criticizes PS4’s “This is for the players” ad for being too busy, among other things.
At the time of this writing, the top comment under the YouTube video reads, “Playstation makes the best ads ever.” I loved this ad and I think it’s quite appropriate for its target audience: gamers. If anything, the ad needs more adrenaline, more action, more budget, more everything. The PS4 commercial should be compared to the Xbox One commercial or the iPad Air commercial within the context of their respective campaign strategies and audiences. PS4 shoots for younger, cooler gamers, but Microsoft’s strategy is much more ambitious.
Xbox One’s Invitation ad opens up with a twenty- or early thirty-something businessman being invited into the cockpit of a giant robot, but his smooth skin and babyface still don’t make him seem too old. This campaign is shooting for a broader demographic, positioning the Xbox One as the household appliance used for all your entertainment and communication needs.
Each ad campaign has a different approach to this virtual world of entertainment. The PS4 ad thrusts you into a vortex of gaming worlds (the type of chaos that many games throw at you), which would appeal to a young, imaginitive gamer. The Xbox commercial rather politely brings one world at a time into our mundane lives, invites “a new generation” to step into that other world, then brings that other world into the living room.
And both worlds become one…if you buy an Xbox.
Copywriting Serves the Marketing Strategy
And the marketing strategy serves the business’s overall world domination strategy. Microsoft takes on the family omni-device and PS4 takes on the hardcore gaming device. Looking at the big picture, we see that Microsoft aims for the more family-friendly-yet-still-edgy-enough approach to dominate the omni-device market while keeping its foothold in the gaming market via the household. Sony competes by being cooler and entering via the gamer brain.
Since brand or product must define itself clearly in order to appeal to a certain market, it can’t be two things at once. The PS4, by targeting the young gamers and defining itself as a gamer’s machine, can’t appeal to the uncool old people, for instance. The Xbox One has to maintain a more politically correct and calmer approach so as not to disrupt its family-okay image. Therefore, it can’t target adrenaline junkie gamers like the PS4 can.
Obviously, by defining their target market and focusing on that, they make certain sacrifices, because you can’t be everything. But they avoid the trap that befell Nuffield health, which failed to define itself at all — at least in that example. A brand differentiates itself by saying it’s not something, but doesn’t tell you what it is. From our case study of the console wars, we can see how each product shows and tells us exactly what it is, who it is for, how it defines itself for a target market, and how it uses copywriting and ads to serve its marketing purpose.
Resources for Further Study
This post owes inspiration to the above-linked posts by Tom Albrighton of ABC Copywriting. For those interested in learning more about copywriting, head over to his blog and be enlightened. Other good copywriting resources include the Ad Contrarian and Unmemorable Title.
Here is another one of PS4’s cool ads, which follows cool from then till now. In this ad we can see the age boundaries of cool being pushed slightly upwards. Perhaps by PS7 or PS8 we will see senior citizens playing from their wheelchairs, with the slogan, “Players Forever.”