There’s an advert on UK TV which makes a certain cruise company’s holidays look highly appealing. The advert shows a family crossing a beautiful snowy landscape, then jumping from cliffs surrounded by tropical foliage into a jade-coloured jungle pool. It looks like a great adventure.
I’m sceptical these are the sort of individual experiences you’re likely to have on a cruise holiday. But it doesn’t matter, the people who created the advert have done an excellent job. It is damn good marketing.
The words which accompany the advert’s adventurous scenes are also evocative. That’s top-notch copywriting. The writers have been allowed to let their imaginations fly, and it works a treat.
A lot of copywriting leaves me cold. I can usually spot a mile off when something has been penned from a desk and the author has no first-hand knowledge of the subject they’re writing about. There’s a lack of depth of knowledge and the sort of detail you can share when you’ve done/tried something yourself.
Two magazines I read this week illustrated the difference between what I call ‘magnolia’ copywriting, and authoritative writing which informs and entertains.
As part of my birthday present, Andy bought me a subscription to Food and Travel magazine. As it’s about two things that are passions of ours, it’s a magazine I should devour with pleasure, yet I was disappointed with the first issue. It looks fabulous, the photos are stunning, but the writing on the travel related pieces conforms either to the sort of tired blueprints you see repeatedly – the travel writing version of painting by numbers – or lists of soulless copywriting which lack any sense of specialist knowledge. In a magazine about food and travel, I expect to encounter writers who really know their stuff. A big giveaway is that many of its travel articles don’t have a writer’s name attached, a sure sign they’re likely to have been penned by a staffer. They’re copywritten. The articles might pass general muster, but to me they might as well have neon signs flashing “I haven’t actually experienced this myself” and I gloss over their glossy pages. Overall, the house style just doesn’t work for me when it comes to the travel elements of the magazine. The food parts work far better. But I was hoping for an informed and entertaining read which combined both.
The second magazine is Waitrose’s monthly Food magazine. It’s a freebie when you’ve a Waitrose card, and it’s in a different league when it comes to the writing. Where Food and Travel feels as though it’s hanging onto a style which should be consigned to the past, Waitrose’s Food comes across as modern, chatty in a chummy sort of way, and knowledgeable.
Instead of research-driven blahness, you get “Every time I cut into a blush orange, I feel a thrill of excitement: each one is magically a slightly different hue” and “Jerusalem artichokes yield the most deliciously silky-smooth soup imaginable – perfect for wintry lunches with cheese on toast.”
I immediately want to try these things.
At one point about how to read a recipe, the author advises readers not to beat themselves up if what they end up with doesn’t look like the recipe’s photo, as it’s been styled by a team of professionals. I love that sort of honesty, it’s refreshing.
Both magazines are in the business of selling. Only one of them does it in a way which feels like a trustworthy pal giving me recommendations.
Sadly, from a writing and reading point of view, too many publications/companies remain stuck in the past when it comes to their house styles; sticking with tired old formats that might have worked 20 years ago, but which leave today’s readers yawning.
Well, this one at least.