Attitude is everything in copywriting

by Tom Albrighton 14 September 2009 Copywriting reviews, Tone of voice

As I write this post, I’m munching on some dry roasted peanuts. (Yes, somebody does like them.) The product is an own-brand (private label) offering from a major UK supermarket. On the back is the following copy:

Our fundamental belief is that few things in life are more important than the food you buy. Good quality is essential.

One immediate comment is that the second sentence is flabby, redundant and pretty obvious too. If it needs saying at all, it can be rolled into the first sentence (‘…than the quality of the food you buy’). But what I’d really like to focus on is the attitude or stance of the text, and what it can tell us about copywriting.

I do like healthy food as well, honest

I do like healthy food as well, honest

Be relevant

Does the average dry-roasted-peanut consumer care that much about quality? I personally doubt it. We’d better give the benefit of the doubt: this text probably appears on every product line. But even if I was reading it on the back of some broccoli, or baby food, do I really care that much about the beliefs of a supermarket? Therefore:

  • Write about customer benefits or don’t write at all. Otherwise you’ll just dilute the relevant messages you do have to offer.

Be believable

Who’s talking here? Who does ‘our’ refer to? The company? A company is a legal or financial construct without ‘fundamental beliefs’. Perhaps ‘our’ refers to the people who work there. Are they all together on this point? Do the checkout ladies, the drivers and the shelf-stackers all buy in? When beliefs are so fluid and so personal, can they really be shared?

The truth is that no-one really believes this kind of egotistical, self-centred ‘value statement’, or learns anything from it, or remembers it (apart from grumpy copywriters). It does almost nothing for the reader – and, as a result, for the company too. The key take-away is:

  • Don’t stretch credibility. Read it out loud and see how it comes across.

Be respectful

Although ostensibly about ‘our’ beliefs, the copy is just as just about ‘you’, and the importance you attach to your food. There’s an insidiously preachy undertone. ‘Come on now, you can’t really want to eat those Wotsits. Try this couscous instead, it’s divine!’

Too proud to use actual evidence to support its position, it comes across as snooty and patronising, washing over the reader and missing a precious chance to connect with them. My advice is:

  • People aren’t stupid. Don’t talk down to them.


The key to having the right copywriting attitude is simple: picture your average reader, put yourself in their position and imagine what they’d want to read. It may be very different from what you want to tell them.

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