Copywriting tip – Don’t disappoint with your writing

A quick glance at Twitter sometime after 10pm on Thursday would have shown a lot of interest by people who had just finished watching BBC1’s shiny, new drama series “Mayday”. Over the course of five nights, viewers were treated to a story of child murder, small town lives and the general freakery of the human race. Sentiment on Twitter was almost overwhelming – how do I get those 5 hours of my life back?

The cast of Mayday - ably demonstrating bad copywriting

Perhaps PC Alan should have arrested some of the Mayday scriptwriters for theft – stealing 5 hours from their audience (Image © BBC 2013)

Mayday was beautifully shot and spent plenty of screen time establishing its characters, so it should have been another triumph for the BBC. Yet it all went wrong. Why? And more importantly, what does this have to do with copywriting?

Wasting your audience’s time

Mayday took a long time to tell what was actually a simple story. An episode of “Murder She Wrote” could have covered the same storyline in 1 hour (including adverts) without being any more annoying. However the 5-night format of Mayday meant that the scriptwriters had an additional 4 hours to throw in unrelated details in an attempt to keep the viewer guessing. My discussions with others about Mayday suggests that we were only watching through to the end because we had already invested 2, 3 or 4 hours into the programme already.

For the online copywriter (or website owner) you cannot afford to think like this. Website visitors spend mere seconds on your pages before they decide to read on or move on. You cannot rely on them reading a whole page just because they bothered to read your first paragraph. Don’t disappoint with your writing.

Schizophrenic presentation

Many of the characters in Mayday were portrayed in a certain way for four episodes, helping to establish an identity. However in the interests of “tension” these same people then did and said things which were clearly designed to rush the story to its conclusion. This schizophrenic characterisation was unconvincing and ruined any credibility created by the first four episodes.

Changing your corporate identity in your copy without clearly explaining why could cause people to doubt your company. If you used to follow a particular ethic or company line, but then change it suddenly and without warning, what are your customers to think? It is unlikely to be positive. Create a clearly defined corporate identity and stick to it.

Bait and switch

The first four hours of Mayday clearly established that viewers were watching a crime drama. The finale however introduced elements of the supernatural to conclude the story, changing the genre and subverting the series as a whole. Not only did this confuse many viewers, it was also wholly disappointing. We had been promised one thing but at the end were actually presented with another.

Known as “bait and switch” some copywriters rely on this technique to capture a reader’s attention before going on to a completely unrelated product or service. Readers always feel cheated when your copy promises one thing (such as a free widget) but then delivers something completely different (your free widget costs £99 to post for instance). You wouldn’t knowingly defraud your customers, so why do it to your website readers? It just leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

No closure

Like the unwelcome genre change, Mayday also failed to close any of its storylines in a satisfactory way. Plot lines were left hanging and the “wrong” outcome to the series was also reached. Viewers of these programmes “know” what to expect and Mayday failed to deliver what was expected of it – an ending.

Your website readers will probably have expectations of your pages and text – it is the professional copywriter’s job to meet them. People also expect closure, a satisfactory ending. Failing to conclude cleanly will fail to convert visitors into customers.

Hopefully these observations will help your own website text please your readers, rather than annoy them. If you would like to know more about how professional copywriting services from Tech Write can create compelling, entertaining and fulfilling text for your readers, please drop me a line.

Written by Ben Lloyd


Ben Lloyd has worked in the IT industry since 1996, covering a number of roles from helpdesk support to network management and everything in between. Tech Write is built on this experience, offering outstanding technical copywriting services to agencies and clients across the world.

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