Let’s talk for a minute about what makes copywriting bad.

You know, beyond the basic stuff like the poor grammar and non-existent punctuation you see on Facebook that make you seriously question how you ever befriended such people in real life.

That’s bad copywriting, sure. But to be fair, no one’s paying those poor souls to produce creative brilliance that helps businesses sell, so we can let them off the hook.

Instead, let’s talk about the bad copywriting that does come from people getting paid to produce sales-generating creative brilliance.

The pieces of copywriting that make your eyebrows & insides cringe while you think, “Oh God, why me? Why was I the one that had to stumble across this sight that’s so awful I can’t take my eyes off it?”


So what makes up this tacky side of copywriting, exactly?

Tacky writers, that’s what.

That’s the short answer.

But I realize a lot of you non-writers are forced into writing by their bosses or the reality of short-handed staffs.

And because you haven’t studied writing or ever gone through a copywriting tutorial before, you honestly don’t know how to prevent yourselves from writing tacky copy and instead produce the kind of creative brilliance that will actually garner some respect for your brand.

So, for you lovely people, we’ll go through the list of tacky copywriting no-no’s that’ll help you identify what to eliminate from your writing so you can watch your drafts improve before your eyes.

Then we’ll get to the good stuff: classy writing.

copy power


1. The Urge for Adjectives

Tacky writers over-use adjectives because they think it makes them look smart.

Non-writers forced into writing over-use adjectives because they feel like it’s what they need to do to make their meaning clear.

It doesn’t work for tacky writers because the reality is no one really cares how smart they are. (Plus, by the end of their first paragraph, no one knows what the hell they’re actually talking about.)

For non-writers, it doesn’t work because adjective-stuffing steals the thunder from the subjects and the verbs in your sentences. And those are the things that are conveying the actual meaning… adjectives are just there to enhance, but only when necessary. (Tweet this)

Further, too many adjectives can start to feel like jargon, even if it isn’t. Because despite our best intentions to make things clearer, one too many adjectives–or adverbs–will make your sentences start to feel generic, boring, and passive.

(And this is why passive writing does not work in business. Stephen King also has an amazing take on it.)


too many adjectives, copywriting that sells

This headline is nothing but adjectives. And while those adjectives are desirable, they don’t tell us anything about this software. Maybe something more along the lines of “Smooth Financial Engine. Clean Books.” Then at least the visitor knows whether they’re on the right page or not.


classy copywriting, copywriting that sells

State Farm, on the other hand, doesn’t let adjectives take over. They use only one in their headline, and it’s there to modify the strong claim their making. (Love strong claims, don’t you?)


2. Using Nostalgia to Force the Feels

We’ve all read those writers who are so touch-feely they could be the even sappier younger cousin of Nicholas Sparks.

(Please don’t hate on me, Nicholas Sparks fans. I do actually have great respect for the man, but I think we can all agree he’s the King of Sap… and that sap has no place in business writing.)

Normally, I’d be thrilled to read a story based in my hometown, and normally, most readers are thrilled to read content that answers their questions.

Sappiness in should be avoided in business for the same reasons men (and some women) vehemently avoid chick flicks. And it’s got a lot to do with the chemistry of our brains.

“Cognitively, we know that the story we are watching is (usually) fictional and the actors are paid to play on our emotions,” said Neuroeconomist Paul Zak on Psychology Today, explaining why we cry during movies. “But we still can’t help it… Oxytocin engages brain circuits that make us care about others, even complete strangers…[it] engages at the smallest suggestion that someone wants to connect with us.”

And we don’t want to care about you as a pathetic, feeling individual when you’re standing there asking us for our money. So cut the sap.


parody copywriting, copywriting that sells

There’s a lot of love and hate out there for Pepperidge Farm’s “Remember When….” style commercials. You might love them, you might hate them. But if you’re advertising to one select demographic, you better make darn good and sure the kind of nostalgia you use is relevant. Because if you go after teenage boys with this style of nostalgia… this is what you’ll get.


But this one, though. It’s good:


classy copywriting, Trader Joe's Fearless Flyer, copywriting that sells

Have you guys seen this thing? I realize it’s been around for years, but I just moved back to the US and just started getting one delivered to my mailbox. So my fascination is pure, shiny, new, and untainted. It’s perfectly nostalgic because of it’s imagery & physical feel (even though I didn’t live when these types of ads were the norm), and you even get a mini food/history lesson with each product description, which makes you feel like a smart consumer.


It’s about the sentiment you create for your audience, people. Not the sap of the misery of days gone by.


3. The Number Yellers

God, don’t you just hate this?

I think we all do, but we see it in business so freaking often that I think a lot of us just default to it because we don’t know what else to do.

I’m talking about those headlines that scream out large, dream-worthy numbers talking about growth, revenue, or some other cheap-feeling click bait a-la wannabe Silicon Valley tech startups.

I know, maybe your numbers are true. But shouting them from the rooftops everywhere makes you look like you have no life.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh, but it does make you seem a little bit like a scam artist. And the people of the internet collectively hate scam artists. (Especially those of us with enough experience in our fields to know the shit you’re claiming is nearly as easy as you’re letting on.)


online ads, tacky copywriting, copywriting that sells

Ads for stay at home jobs are some of my favorite examples of this. My favorite one is the second from the bottom. Earn $5,000 to $20,000 per month by only working 2 hours per day. Yeah, right.


“This type of advertising betrays confidence,” said Demian Farnworth. “It does harm. It stings, and leaves a bad taste in our mouths… and it’s a sure fire way to kill conversions.”


That’s right, it kills conversions. No matter how impressive you think those numbers are, no one’s listening.

“Better yet,” Demian advises, “tell the ugly truth. And then what you say after that will be easier to swallow.”


number yellers, tacky copywriting, copywriting that sells

Confession time: I may or may not have been partially responsible for this title. But I don’t like it. Everything you need to know to earn 7 figures and grow a platform to thousands of users in less than 40 minutes? This was a wonderful interview with a great entrepreneur, but “the ugly truth,” as Demian calls it would be much more trustworthy here. (And maybe even more interesting?)


number yellers tacky copywriting, copywriting that sells

Now, let me just say as a disclaimer, I am a huge fan of Brian Dean. Everything he publishes is insanely helpful and actionable, and I think that’s incredibly admirable in a world of cheap content. But this title doesn’t do the post justice. Once post and then $100K in revenue? If it were that simple, I’d be a self-made millionaire by now.

copy power


4. Trying to Out-Wit Readers With Your Cunning & Humor

This often happens when you’re trying to imitate a writer you love and then insert every single off-hand funny comment that crosses your mind while you’re writing into you post.

This isn’t actually a bad sign as a writer, but it does render bad copy. (The Art of Manliness has a super interesting post on why copywork is extremely beneficial and worthwhile.)

The thing is, before you insert any humor, you need to be totally sure that your audience appreciates the same type of humor you do before you start throwing it all over the place in your content.

And then when you try to take it a step further and use clever little hints and phrases in your hooks and headlines?

No one’s going to know what the hell you’re talking about. And the ones who do recognize it are going to see right through it and write you off as a cheesy wanna-be marketer.

Think I’m kidding?

What about every other tech startup marketer that boldly tells you their business is totally disrupting [insert whatever industry].

Kind of makes you roll your eyes at this point, doesn’t it?

The first time I heard the word “disrupt” associated with startups, I’ll admit, I was duped.

I thought “Wow, these guys must be doing something really cool!!!”

So I looked into it more because I was genuinely interested… only to find that they weren’t actually “disrupting” anything, they were simply using a big, clever word to try to get attention because they wanted people to think they were special and different.


tacky copywriting tech crunch disrupt, copywriting that sells

You’re not “disrupting the towel,” you’re putting the hair dryer into a box that you can stand on.


So if all that’s tacky… how do you write something classy?

It goes way beyond the actual form and structure you put your writing into, and has to do with the writing itself.

That’s right, even those sleazy mail letters from the 80’s can be classy if you take out all the tacky shit.


gary halbert sales letter tacky copywriting direct response, copywriting that sells

Be honest… if you got this letter in the mail (or saw it on a landing page), would you take it seriously or think it was someone trying to scam people who don’t know better into handing over their credit card info? (Funnily enough, this is the type of copywriting that used to work until scammers got a hold of the concept. The letter itself is by Gary Halbert.)


classy copywriting gary halbert direct response sales letter, copywriting that sells

In an effort to not totally hate on Gary, here’s another one he wrote. It’s far more curiosity-invoking and educational that the one above, and with the right layout, I’m sure it’d work online today.


Sales letters, ads, explainer video scripts, even sales-focused landing pages can be so super freaking classy that visitors don’t know what to do with themselves. (In a good way. Actually, they know what to do, and that’s click through on your call to action button.)

Some examples?


I love this video from Panorama9. It’s attention-grabbing and funny, but not in a way that feels slimy or like they’re trying too hard to sell you on their software. Plus, it does a great job at breaking down complicated concepts into easily digestible language… making it easier for the IT guy to convince his boss that this software is worth the price. 


über classy copywriting landing page home page, copywriting that sells

Uber’s tagline for the first slider on their home page is grabbing, simple, and exactly what someone who’s interested in a service like Uber would be looking for. Notice how they don’t scream “Get cheap rides anywhere fast!!!!!” and instead keep things super classy… probably increasing their signups.


classy copywriting great copywriting advertising, copywriting that sells

This ad from All-Bran only needs four words to be classy. Is it toilet humor? Yes. And maybe you don’t think toilet humor is classy, but the thing that would be super tacky here would be a banner ad on how All-Bran can help you regulate your bowel movements with all the fiber it has inside it’s snack bars. Agreed?


Let’s Tackle Classy Copywriting Together: I’m Offering a Free Online Copywriting Tutorial Course

My next three posts are going to be copywriting tutorials solely focused around helping you as an untrained copywriter identify tactical things that you can do to throw your tacky writing habits in the trash and come out with something that’s so classy, it’d even be worth of Audrey Hepburn’s attention.

I wish I could just spill all the advice out here, but no one would read a blog post that’s so freaking long.

To make sure you don’t miss out (and to stop tripping over your own two feet, metaphorically speaking), insert your name & email below.

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