The Cliché and The Copywriter

Trawling LinkedIn as is my wont, I came across this website which was thoughtfully shared with the world by Reuben Webb:

Oh how I sniggered. What fool uses this kind of advertising dross! I wondered. Then I saw one that I’d toyed with using. And then another. Thank goodness I looked through the ones I’d done before they got anywhere near a client, otherwise I think I would have exploded in a puff of shame.

The thing about visual clichés is that they’re so pervasive. You almost don’t realize you’re churning them out. Using a beehive to indicate industriousness is hard to avoid because that simile is now ingrained in the western world’s creative psyche (I blame Virgil. Don’t believe me? Read up on your Aeneid Book 1 and the description of the building of Carthage).

They’re just so easy: if you’re having a tough day and you can’t seem to come up with any decent imagery or snappy headlines, the siren call of the cliché is hard to resist. No one’s going to scratch their head and say ‘Er, why is that there?’ People recognize them and can understand what the advert is driving at without even having to think. But that alone should be reason enough to avoid them like the… um, plague.

Doug has a theory that bad adverts occur when someone starts with an image and then builds the copy around it. There’s something in this, but at least two of the clichés I’ve been guilty of using (at the first draft stage before I discarded them) actually haven’t been inspired by a picture at all. The cliché is just in my head already, placed there by social conditioning. Of course, there are days when a cliché doesn’t pop up at all, and fortunately these are more prevalent than the other sort of days. But you never know when one might sneak up and bite you on the bum.

My method for avoiding clichés is to not look at pictures at all until later. I start by brainstorming all the headlines and copy I can. Then I go away, make a cup of tea, walk around a bit, chat to some colleagues or whoever, yawn, stretch, and then go back and look at my ideas again. And again, and again, until it’s right (all the Velocity people are perfectionists, we can’t help it). If you do this you can catch any howlers before passing them to the client. We work hard to make sure puns, clichés, commonplaces and anything remotely hackneyed is strangled at birth. Cruel, but our work is better for it.

We never do this.

Photo credit: Ben Becker
Photo credit: Ben Becker


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