Self-Adulatory Copy: Time for a Change

One of the curious phenomena of modern life—in an era when traditions tumble, barriers burst and innovation insinuates into every sector of thought, feeling and action—is the persistent delusion that self-adulatory marketing copy has the power to motivate consumers.

You can see such copy at work in many places, but nowhere more egregiously than on Web sites hawking luxury goods to people of “discriminating taste.”

Leaving aside the question of whether anyone with discriminating taste could be bamboozled by marketing copy, let’s have a look at the lengths to which this false gambit is taken by Seiko.com:

Perfect precision, beauty and legibility
The goal that inspired the creators of Grand Seiko half a century ago was hardly a modest one. They were determined to create nothing less than the best luxury watch in the world.

…and, as we’re inevitably supposed to conclude, “they” succeeded. Trouble is, implied in this statement is the assertion that Rolex, say, or Tag Heuer, have a different goal, and are determined to create something less than the best.

And here, in essence, is the flaw in every aspect of self-adulatory marketing copy: No matter how you spin it, you’re asking consumers to believe a lie.

“The finest craftsmanship”
Whatever the truth of the matter, this kind of assertion is meaningless to American consumers. If you’ve followed the education debate in the US over the last 10 years, you know that even luxury-product consumers have no way in Hell to know, objectively, whether Tag Heuer, Rolex or Seiko makes “the best” watch.

I mean, even given a country rife with engineering-literate citizens, what’s still missing is a consensus definition of “the best.” Here again, the sanctioned use of meaningless phrases adds more mental static to a consumer messaging pipeline already clogged to the seams with bilge.

“Our product is a work of art.”
Another category of delusional marketing strategy is characterized by an indiscriminate appropriation of metaphor and diction from arts promotion—itself a doubtful model for effective promotional copy:

The attraction of opposites
Where classicism and modernity meet, there lies the essence of the Premier collection…The Premier collection draws inspiration from the world of architecture, and its charm from the subtle interaction of the classical and the modern. By blending these different styles, Premier expresses the elusive truth that opposites can attract, and offers a harmonious synthesis of contemporary style and enduring quality.

Now, not only is the copy vague, its underlying premise is pure fiction: The intersection between classicism and modernism, properly defined, is the null set.

Yet there’s a more general reason that positioning your product as a work of art makes for bad marketing strategy. Doing so falsely assumes our country has a unified definition or perception of art. When you take into account America’s muddled attitudes about the role of art in society, you have to wonder whether claiming the status of La Gioconda for a luxury watch is really such a good idea.

Worse, like the rest of the site copy, the self-adulatory tone leaves hardly a hair’s breadth for Seiko to demonstrate its value to consumers. Only in one instance, where the GPS locator installed in a particular model is positioned as a boon to heavy business travelers, do we have any sense that Seiko has appreciable empathy for its target audience. Yet, even here, empathy is undercut by the gushing question:

Could this be the most intelligent watch ever built?

“You talking to me?”
Hence, if you’re going to communicate in American English, you might want to consider how your message will be received. In the US, promotional copy overflowing with references to Sanskrit and “Katana, the ancient art of Japanese sword making” inevitably sounds pretentious, no matter how high the price tag.

Ironically, the watches themselves appear to be the product of a great deal of ingenuity, craftsmanship. and applied science. Given that, we have enough respect for technological and manufacturing prowess in this country to allow Seiko to sell its timepieces on their own merits.

How much better if Seiko’s marketing message actually reflected the down-to-earth engineering concerns at the core of fine watch building. There’s enough to celebrate in the brand’s technical prowess, design innovation, and knack for applied science—when discussed in real terms.

In the end, the copy at Seiko.com, by being imprecise and inelegant, is the polar opposite of the brand promise it purports to make. And in seeking to prey on the fragile egos of status-hungry shoppers, the self-adulatory prose is anything but flattering to the company’s image.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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