An Epundemic

An Epundemic Jan 14, 2013

“Believe In Your Smellf,” “Don’t Suffer The Coughiquences,” for whatever reason bad puns are everywhere in advertising lately. I guess you could say it’s an epundemic. It’s almost to the point where the terms “copywriting” and “pun-writing” are synonymous, as if there’s no other possible way to write.

This might seem pro-pun, but I just couldn’t help myself. Puns are addicting. That’s partly why they can be so evil.

Don’t get me wrong; puns can be fun, in an ironic sort of way. In fact, I’m somewhat of a punslinger myself around family and friends. I just don’t think every freakin’ brand out there should build an entire marketing campaign around one of the lowest forms of jokes, that’s all.

Among copywriters, puns are infamous for being the first ideas that come to mind when brainstorming. I know that all too well – lost in the darkness of my mind trying to think of a great idea, suddenly with a flash of light in the distance the sweet siren of puns calls my name, tempting me to come closer… It’s easy to give in, but you must push on. Nine times out of 10 you can do better.

Some hardcore copy critics out there believe you should never ever incorporate a pun into your advertising; I’m not that harsh. I think they can work, sometimes pretty well, as long as they accomplish your basic advertising objectives – inform, persuade or remind by saying something meaningful about the product or brand in a memorable way, to sum it up. And of course you must manage to do it all in a way that builds up the brand in a positive and intelligent way, which can be hard to do in the pun realm.

Oh boy…

If being silly is all an ad pun has going for it, it probably won’t accomplish anything more than that. That’s why I’ve been getting such a bad taste in my mouth with the omnipresence of these lazy puns in advertising, in national campaigns for that matter! “Smellf?” C’mon. Again, maybe it’s worth a laugh while having some beers with friends, a SHORT laugh at that, but not worth a national ad campaign. Some seem to be solely based on one copywriter’s bad joke, which totally just diminishes the product and the brand. We should aspire to write more like Hemmingway, not Gallagher.

What do you think? Are puns the unfailing heroes of advertising, or are they the hacky comedians of copy?

– Andrew

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Do these phrases mean anything to you? I mean, the individual words are ok. But put together, they’re ambiguous, and pretty much meaningless.

This is something I frequently notice in advertising and business communications – words that are pretty on the outside (sometimes not even that), and empty on the inside. They’re purely cosmetic. It’s just a gag played on the audience, similar to the tricks performed by this magician.

For the sake of conversation, let’s call these meaningless ad phrases “gaglines.” (Not only is the illusion that they’re saying something of value a joke, but they make me gag.)

Gaglines defeat the purpose of your advertising. They’re just pretending to say something, but really not saying anything at all.

The purpose of your advertising is most likely to fix some kind of problem; transparent gaglines don’t fix those problems. Just because you use words like “excellence” or “inspire,” doesn’t mean you’re saying something meaningful and beneficial about the brand. Ad copy needs to be real and genuine. It should focus on the message, not the words.

Every ad you put out there is an opportunity – an opportunity to be heard, to influence consumers, to boost sales for the client… Failure to say something meaningful about the brand is a missed opportunity. So take advantage of your spotlight moment. Give your words legs to walk, and say something worth listening to.

– Andrew