Less is more – short copy that sells
Mar 10, 2020
A short headline is not the mark of a lazy copywriter. In fact, there’s a lot of skill in grabbing – and keeping – a consumer’s attention in just a few words, and it’s a technique both writers and brands have found success with over the years. But the best examples are those that time it just right – pairing a powerful headline with a topical campaign to really get people talking.
At the end of February, British supermarket giant, Tesco, debuted a brand new print campaign to introduce their range of plasters in diverse skin tones. “About bloody time” is the bold line chosen to accompany images of the products on a model’s skin, with half of the plaster covering the word ‘bloody’ and the rest blending perfectly into their body. The whole campaign was created in response to a tweet which has since gone viral, in which someone stated their emotional response to finally being able “know what it feels like to have a Band-Aid in [my] own skin tone”. Tesco enlisted the help of their BAME employees to develop the new designs, and the campaign has been wildly praised for being “bold and visually impactful” and “hard to ignore”.
The tagline was the perfect choice to convey both the feeling that these products have been a long time coming, and the playful, proud British nature of the Tesco brand – thanks in most part to the use of the semi-serious swear word ‘bloody’. And this was all achieved in just three words – proving that less really can be more when it comes to getting an important message across
Tesco isn’t the first brand to respond to an issue that’s gathered force on social media with a copy-led campaign, because back in 2018, KFC created one of the most memorable ads of the decade following their unfortunate chicken shortage. The three letters ‘FCK’ said it all – and as a result of it being a witty, edgy, and very audience-appropriate response, the restaurant turned what could have been a case of brand suicide into a very positively received campaign.
Along with being of-the-moment, these two campaigns are alike in their subtle use of humour – a technique cough drop brand, Ricola, also adopted in a recent series of ads. The campaign reveals just how easily the delivery of a message can be drastically altered by a pesky cough – an idea simply conveyed by the interruption of the word ‘cough’ in the middle of sentences. “She’s (cough) just a friend” and “We’re (cough) having a baby” are among the phrases chosen, all supported by the line ‘make sure good news sounds like good news’. This clever use of copy reveals a fun side to a brand operating in an industry that’s perhaps not known for being fun – and has helped the campaign continue to gain recognition as one of the most creative uses of copywriting in advertising.
Using short copy to make an impact is by no means a new idea. Supposedly originating in the 1920s, author Earnest Hemingway’s six word story “For sale, Baby shoes, Never worn” has remained in the literary hall of fame as one of the most powerful short stories ever written. It gives only a glimpse of a story, but in that glimpse delivers so much more – letting the reader fill in the tragic blanks. It’s since inspired a whole movement of flash fiction enthusiasts, and the creative results highlight that you only need a few words to tell a story to be remembered.