Copy Catastrophes and the Art of Copy Editing in Marketing

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Hello, fellow word nerds and marketing mavens! How do you feel about terrible copywriting? Picture this: You’ve crafted a brilliant marketing campaign, complete with dazzling graphics, snappy slogans, an offer that practically oozes value…

But there’s one problem, one gigantic black fly in your chardonnay (this is not irony, sorry Alanis); the existing copy fails to serve its intended purpose. Or worse still, it reads like it was copied and pasted directly from an ill-prompted, last-minute ChatGPT session (the free version).

While in-app spellcheck tools and a Grammarly plugin can save your skin, neither catches everything. More importantly, language is a fluid medium that changes over time. Shifts in nuance and cultural awareness can transcend the speed of computer learning, and sometimes, you must toss aside proper grammar to accomplish clever use of authentic voice and wordplay.

The human touch is a necessity in the best practices guiding the aftermath of word vomit. Yes, let’s dive headfirst into copy editing and witness firsthand how its absence can turn even the most ingenious marketing efforts into cringe-worthy catastrophes.

Infamous Typo Disasters

Ah, typos, the sneaky little devils that slip into your copy when you’re least expecting them. Take, for instance, when the University of Texas at Austin distributed a commencement program congratulating the students on graduating from the “Lyndon B. Johnson School of Pubic Affairs.”

Yes, you read that correctly, and no, these graduates did not go to a school dedicated to personal grooming habits. One simple typo and a would-be treasured souvenir from a milestone event transformed into a cheap joke, making the world question the educational institution’s attention to detail.

Lesson Learned: Copy editing isn’t only about catching typos; it’s about preserving your dignity—as well as that of your agency and, more importantly, that of your clients.

Unintentional Double Entendre Debacles

Double entendres can be a delightful way to infuse humor into your marketing copy. But what happens when you accidentally create one that’s downright vulgar? The best example of this is the “Come See Our Big (Expletive)” campaign. 

This questionable choice of words ruined an ad for a pop-up chicken restaurant in Philadelphia. The company ended up serving a side of embarrassment with its fried chicken. There is a fine line between cheeky and crass. I don’t know anyone who wants the mental image of a human organ while consuming a piece of meat.
Lesson Learned: Always have someone with a discerning eye review your copy to avoid tasteless associations and inappropriateness.

Missing Comma Calamity

Commas may seem like insignificant little squiggles, but they wield tremendous power. Consider the classic “Let’s eat, Grandma” versus “Let’s eat Grandma” example. The missing comma in the latter turned a friendly family meal into a horrifying cannibalistic experience suitable only for the likes of a screen-printed Hot Topic t-shirt. Ditching the comma is perfect if Hot Topic is your client, but less so if your client is anyone else.

Lesson Learned: Proper punctuation can differentiate between a successful campaign and massive confusion.

The Misplaced Emphasis Madness

Emphasis can make your copy sing, but misplacing it (especially in an ad) can turn it into an off-key, ear-piercing screech. A famous example comes from an advertisement for Mark Nutritionals Body Solutions Evening Weight Loss Formula—a weight loss supplement that boldly claimed in its tagline, “Lose weight while you sleep!” 

Unfortunately, the marketing materials emphasized the tagline phrase rather than the already shoddy reasoning behind it: the company instructed consumers to ingest the supplement before bed. Thus, the primary message inadvertently became, “Lose weight while you sleep!” This claim left potential customers assuming the product would help them shed pounds during their beauty rest—without the need for exercise or dietary changes. This empty-promise tagline spelled devastation for the company, as the Federal Trade Commission sought and obtained a stipulated preliminary injunction and an asset freeze.

Lesson Learned: Ensure your emphasis is spot-on to convey the right message. False advertising can leave you vulnerable to undesirable outcomes.

Edit, Edit, Edit, and Edit Some More

I cannot overstate the importance of copy editing in marketing. The copy on all your marketing efforts serves as the brand’s voice, and one slip-up can turn your carefully crafted campaign into a meme-worthy disaster. So, invest in a talented copy editor, proofread your work, and don’t be the punchline of marketing mishaps. Remember, great copywriting should capture the brand’s voice, elevate its messaging, and suit the needs of its intended audience.

Whether you’re writing copy for a website, a pamphlet, an email blast, or a social media post, you need a second (and preferably third and fourth) set of eyes on your work. Marketing requires a thick skin, and none of us are above making mistakes. This advice does not come from a high tower, it comes from the muddy trenches of marketing warfare. We’ve been there, done that, and perfected the copywriting and editing process. Call Farmboy if your copywriting needs help. Our team delivers expert copy for every industry. Real. Good. Copy.

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