Buy this, you fool

by Tom Albrighton 10 January 2019 Blog, Copywriting, Persuasion

These two recent ads both try ‘negging’ the reader for their characters and habits – but with different results.

First up, the new UK Army campaign aimed at recruiting young people.

UK Army recruitment ads

Six ads read:
Me me me millennials: the Army needs YOU and your self-belief
Class clowns: the Army needs YOU and your spirit
Binge gamers: the Army needs YOU and your drive
Phone zombies: the Army needs YOU and your focus
Snow flakes: the Army needs YOU and your compassion
Selfie addicts: the Army needs YOU and your confidence

The campaign hopes to reclaims insults aimed at ‘millennials’ (I know, just let it go), repositioning them as talents. ‘Where others see weakness,’ it says, ‘we see strength.’

In a way, it’s a variation of classic armed-forces campaigns such as ‘Be All You Can Be’, encouraging potential recruits to maximise their potential.

US Army 'Be All You Can Be' TV spot

US Army ‘Be All You Can Be’ TV spot

Some have slammed the ads as patronising, trivialising or tone-deaf. Certainly, there’s a risk that the language used will simply offend, rather than provoking thought. And arguably, the fact that the ads appeal to a dadwriter like me may not be a good sign. But I still like the unexpected humour, the semantic twist and the call back to a classic (the 1914 ‘Lord Kitchener Wants You’ poster, below).

The other ad exhorts the reader to close Candy Crush and switch to Audible.

Audible orang-utan ad

Audible ad reads:
Before Audible, my idea of a thriller was the last level of Candy Crush.

Now, there’s a link between two apps that might ‘thrill’. But despite the ad insisting that ‘the difference is Audible’, this is really an argument for reading in general, rather than Audible – or even audiobooks more generally. And while the contrast feels strong at first, people might ask why they can’t enjoy both. (In theory, you could even listen to an audiobook at the same time as playing Candy Crush.)

The orang-utan is strange – offensive, some say, presumably seeing an implicit racial slur. Does it mean that non-readers are somehow less evolved? If so, why are we seeing the primate listening rather than gaming?

Personally, I think the Cadbury-gorilla novelty that’s gained by using this image is outweighed by the human empathy lost. I’m just not sure people will identify with the chimp, or even want to.

Overall, I think the Army ads offer a clearer path from dissing the reader to making them choose the specific product on offer.

Read more on turning weakness into strength in chapter 9 of Copywriting Made Simple.

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