Is Copy Dying? (1)

[August 19, 2009]

A couple of weeks ago, an advertising creative I respect asked me: “Is Copy dying?” At the time, I responded with platitudes about cyclic trends but, days later, the question was still bugging me. Did he have a point, after all?

Now, I love a good think. So to satisfy my curiosity, I looked at branded Web sites in three major product categories: Cars, Beverages and Fashion. That seemed like a logical way to measure the current state of Copy—standing, as we are, smack in the middle of a digital revolution.

I started with cars. I assumed that car companies, having spent billions cultivating brand awareness, ought to have a carefully worked out messaging strategy for reaching consumers online. In light of that, I went first to Volkswagen, whose advertising from the 60s has achieved legendary status, at least in some circles.

What I found on the home page was a pale echo of VW’s recent broadcast campaign, “Autobahn for All.” While the tagline’s presence helps integrate VW’s online and offline advertising, it does so mechanically. This robs the Web site of its ability to connect to consumers. Here’s why:

Stripped of its original context, “Autobahn for All” is just about meaningless. Even if we believe that people watched the original TV spots with the sound on, these gently humorous ads are unlikely to stay in a consumer’s mind, once the TV is off.

So on its own, the line “Autobahn for All” does very little to connect consumers to the inherent value of the VW brand. If the prevailing theory is correct, and VW has only seconds to make that connection, it’s hard to see this as an effective digital messaging strategy.

I next visited Ford, expecting to find a distinctive, American voice. On the “vehicles” page, I found the Ford logo parked next to the tagline “Drive One.”

Even if I assume the phrase is meant to be short for “Drive One and You’ll See,” I have to ask: Is there any car company that couldn’t use this exact same tagline?

We could even apply this generic approach to products in different categories. Imagine “Dunkin’ Donuts: Eat One,” for example, or “Steve Madden: Wear a Pair.” Does “Drive One” say anything more about Ford except that its cars are drivable?

Considering the current crisis in the auto industry, I was surprised to find such lackluster messaging from two major brands.

You need only visit Toyota online, to see a pattern taking shape. Here again, the site merely echoes one aspect of Toyota’s offline messaging strategy. My next stop in this informal survey was the beverage category. I’ll share what I discovered in my next post.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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