Greatest Copy Shot Ever Written

by Nick Padmore

27 Reader Comments

Back to the Article
  1. If it’s short you can say it a lot.

    No surer way to get into somebody’s head than to repeat something a lot.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  2. But I did find myself a little disappointed by the final result (I think that happens a lot with strictly mathematical analyses of creative stuff). Maybe it just didn’t resonate with me because I wasn’t familiar with the campaign.

    I did notice the kind of “warm fuzzy” feeling, or at least the friendly familiarity I felt toward most of the other copy shots. I think that it was a good point that even though we like to think we’re more savvy consumers, not so influenced by advertising, it’s not always true. Our very familiarity with advertising gives us a certain respect for a well-crafted campaign. And that inevitably affects our perception of the advertiser, which is exactly what the ad is meant to do.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  3. While I agree with your assessment of the “best” of the shots provided, I’m a little confused as to why Good to the last drop was excluded as being non-declarative. While I admit that it’s missing both a subject and a verb, it seems to me that common usage implies a preceding “It is,” just as much as “Betcha” implies “I betcha.” I’m certainly no linguist, but it just seems like an unfair choice to allow Betcha can’t eat just one without Good to the last drop. Of course, the lack of subject and verb would exclude it from the next phase anyway, so the overall result would be the same.

    Overall, I actually like the way this article was done. It’s always interesting and often informative to step back, without emotional reactions, and simply be a slave to what is, rather than what we think it should be. The results are often surprising.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  4. Thanks for the analysis. I think the copy shots are still quite relevant but will be a bit replaced by “graphical copies”. At least internet users tend to decide within milliseconds if a website is good or not, so I think text does not matter so much, but the overall graphical impression does.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  5. Perhaps not, but he has no shortage of quotes!

    It’s interesting that Einstein is attributed with the brief, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”, when in fact he stated, “It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.”.

    He may not have been a good copywriter, but he benefited from the efforts of a great one. (I could not find attribution for the simpler fellow or lady.)

    Of course even the great copywriter was one-upped by the person who eventually coined, “Keep it simple, stupid!”

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  6. In my 35 years of experience as a copywriter I have learned that the magic of a great takeaway line is not mathmatical, rational or logical. It is all emotional.
    A great line taps into the preconceptions and expectations of the target. It flatters the intellignece of the target. It invites the reader into the proposition to react to it, think about it and say to his or herself “that’s right!”. It delivers the satisfaction of closing the propositional circle.

    I call it flipping the mental switch that says I agree with this writer and he or she understands me and what I want.

    Obviously, a long line can’t possible incorporate these values. People don’t emotionalize in long phrases.

    Memorabilty is another important criteria. Your reference to the Pepsodent line omits the fact that it was “sung”. When you see the words you hear the melody and that jogs your memory.

    The truly outstanding lines also slip effortlessly into the culture and the context. “It’s the Real Thing” was such a line for Coke, as was the earlier, “The pause that refreshes.

    I have personally been associated with two such lines. One was “The Wings of Man”, that tapped into human needs to perceive air transport as something grander than 300 cattle in an aluminum sardine tube. Another was a line for the old Life Magazine – in its first carnation – “Life. Consider the Alternative.” Unfortunately, the publisher did.

    Another was “…rich Corinthian leather.” What the heck that was, no one really knew. But people loved the thought of it and – although it wasn’t truly a take-away line – it passed into the vernacular easily.

    That said, such lines normally serve better as “closers” than as opener. A vague headline becomes an insightful conclusion.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  7. It is an honor to have our magazine read by the writer of “The Wings of Man.” (And, of course, “rich Corinthian leather,” which I remember fondly.)

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  8. This is a fascinating analysis. Kudos. But it’s ultimately unhelpful. That’s because what makes most of these “copy shots” great is simple clarity. They communicate something clearly and directly. There is no formula for clear thinking and crisp writing.

    And remember that these are just tag lines and slogans. You shouldn’t get the idea that all copy should be short. In fact, if your purpose is to capture attention and “sell” something, long headlines and in-depth copy almost always work better than short copy.

    If there’s any secret to great copywriting, it’s in doing research to understand the product, prospect, and project you’re working on. I just wrote about that in my blog and talked about the questionnaire I use to collect information. This is what helps me write copy for my clients and where I get my best ideas.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  9. Yay! Thank you A List Apart for giving a good primer on copywriting for slogans.

    SMALL NITPICKS

    Who estimates the English lexicon as being over 1,000,000 words? The latest OED has about 600,000 headwords, which doesn’t include slang. Most slang, however, is polysemous of pre-existing words.

    There are many more classifications of rhetorical devices, but the list becomes increasingly obscure as it gets bigger. It also becomes more useful. Consider antanaclasis: “StarKist doesn’t want tunas with good taste — StarKist wants tunas that taste good!” The more obscure these get, the easier it becomes to invent fresh ideas. For a gigantic list see “Wikipedia: Figures of Speech”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Figure_of_speech

    BIG NITPICK

    Surely the greatest quantity of good ideas come not from an “ideal solution” but from a variety of methods and approaches. Trying to reduce down to “the most popular [with corporate megaclients]” or the “most effective [according to nobody in particular]” is not only silly but also detrimental to the discourse of copywriting in general. It makes clients dumber.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  10. Thanks for the comments – I thought that million word comment might be picked up! As I pointed out, the estimates are quite wild. This particular one includes scientific lexis, and can be found in “The Story of English”, by McCrum, Cran & MacNeil.

    As for the big nitpick, I fully agree that the analysis cannot be seen as definitive or in any way representative of great copywriting in general. “The Greatest Copy Shot Ever Written” is no more the greatest copy shot ever written than David Beckham is (or was!) the greatest footballer in England. What I mean by this is that I’ve chosen the “best” from a select sample.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  11. Fully agree – I’m a big fan of long copy. This analysis was about the greatest copy shot though, rather than the greatest example of copy in general.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  12. Thanks for flagging this up. Ironically enough this was done in the name of consistency! A lot of the lines lacking verbs come across in a declarative sort of way, but I’ve had to go with the central definition of sentence type as being conveyed at least in part by the verb.

    However, I appreciate your comments on the Betcha situation – this is unfair discrimination (though thankfully it was just a throwaway comment). Bit of a lapse on my part really.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  13. I have read plenty of ad copies, but one rural real estate company took me by surprise when they had placed an advertisement for selling a piece of land. “The Greatest Earth on Show”. Simple, after 10 years, I still remember how clever it is.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  14. Excellent analysis, Nick.

    I’m wondering, though. If you had also analyzed the 1.27 million or so copy shots and tag lines that did NOT catch on,(the world is littered with them) I’m guessing the stats would probably look much the same. Same length, same brand appearances, same mood, and the like. Lousy shots would parse out exactly like the classics.

    Which suggests to me, it all comes down to magic. Certain strings of words will twiddle something in the brain.  And some won’t.  And there’s no saying why. You can’t do it on purpose.  You can only recognize it when you’ve done it.

    As a writer, I’m actually more comfortable with that.  I’d hate to think it was nothing but some algorithm. 

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  15. I think that it’s because you’re a writer that you put it down to magic, and in a way I agree. But I also think that we become writers because we know (innately) what works best when it comes to words. Certain strings of words will twiddle something in the brain, and some won’t, but it’s our job as writers to make sure we come up with 10 of the former to every 1 of the latter.

    When you do something right, people won’t know you’ve done anything at all…

    That’s, in my view, the magic of the writer!

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  16. Dig the article, and even though I’m on the “art” side of things, I slogged through and read every word.

    Just wanted to comment on the “Free enterprise with every copy (The Economist).” I automatically read “free” as both modifying “enterprise” and also as a verb empowering the purchaser of a copy with freeing enterprise.

    Thanks for the thorough study.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  17. Interesting article. My favourite is Tesco’s home delivery service:

    You shop, we drop.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  18. Nick, I’m terribly disappointed in you for missing the wonderful metaphor in the Morton’s slogan. When it rains it pours has two meanings: 1) the one that has entered the popular lexicon as when something happens a little, it happens a lot (ie flavor is not just enhanced but WAY enhanced by our salt); and 2) the one that refers to the way that Morton salt (unlike other salts on the market) did not clump when it got humid. Therefore, when it rains, our salt literally pours. It’s literal and a metaphor at the same time.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  19. Hands in the air – guilty as charged! The Morton Salt line was so full of rhetoric (repetition, parallelism, polysemy) that I must have just overlooked the great big purple elephant.  In all honesty I’m quite happy about this, as ‘When it rains, it pours’ is one of my favourite lines. Now we can call it a joint winner!

    As regards the Economist line – missed this interpretation entirely, but it’s definitely the right one. I retract my statement about it not containing a verb.

    Thanks guys.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  20. I think Mr. Waites has it as the winner does nothing for me really. I think like all good print it’s about the emotion it evokes and not the science of it. This copy didn’t really stir any emotion in me probably due to the fact that I’ve never heard this statement before.  While others stir memories from my childhood and produce forgotten feelings and ties to those brands.

    It’s understandable that you needed some leg to stand on besides saying I really like this copy shot or my whole family loves this copy shot.  It would be interesting to have a follow up to the article with a poll to see which shot would win the readers poll. 

    It would also be nice to see what role age and geography plays in the study as some of these copy shots have never been heard of by some of your audience.

    Good read though, thanks!

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  21. Lot’s to think about (not a bad copy shot, huh?).

    However, why is it that I’ve never heard of your “Greatest Copy Shot Ever Written”? I’ve heard of every other example you gave, but not “If it’s on, it’s in”.

    As such, there appears to be something missing from your rating methodology. Maybe you should consider a saturation factor—like how many people have actually heard the copy? After all, that’s what copy is all about, right?

    Cheers,

    tedd

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  22. The Radio Times is an English publication, of course, so this line probably won’t be known by anyone from the U.S.

    (I’d like to just mention here that the fact that I’m also English doesn’t mean I fixed the results in any way!)

    This analysis does’nt pretend to be anything other than linguistic in nature. It’s not a demographic analysis, or a geographical analysis, or a social analysis. It uses the words themselves as a means of discovering the ‘best’ copy line, and purposefully blanks out everything else.

    There are, of course, other criteria which would contribute to making copy good or bad. Relevance to the product/brand advertised, perhaps, or how many times (if at all) the ad ran, or was recalled. However, I’m not sure I agree that the number of people who come across a copy shot can be seen to say anything about how good that shot is (though it might be a symptom of multiple recalls, of course).

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  23. Other comments regarding emotional appeals or the magic of copy triggered another element for me: most of the time, these copy shots are simply fun to say. Read them out loud. Think of how frequently they pop up in conversation or as the punch line or as a random exclamation. It’s a good reminder that while we writers may be aiming to have the perfect words on a screen, page, box, billboard, etc. it still matters how it sounds when spoken, too.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  24. (Just wanted to apologise for the mysterious stray apostrophe in my last comment. It’s in, dare I repeat it, ‘does’nt’. Argh.)

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  25. I also loved the “You’ll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent”, as well as “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should”, but I never seem to find anyone old enough to remember them.  You certainly don’t look old enough.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  26. “If it’s short you can say it a lot.”

    Twitter, anybody?

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.
  27. William Waites made an earlier comment:

    “Memorabilty is another important criteria. Your reference to the Pepsodent line omits the fact that it was “sung”. When you see the words you hear the melody and that jogs your memory.”

    In that line of thinking, two unforgettable copy shots from the 80’s come from the Chia-pet and Clapper commercials. For both of these, the melody and rhythm of the copy is critical.

    “Clap on. Clap Off. Clap on, clap off, the clapper”.
    AND
    “Cha-cha-cha-chia!”.

    I imagine anybody who watched TV in the 80’s starting to grin as they play these “tunes” (if they can even be called that) in their head.

    Copy & paste the code below to embed this comment.