What is “Cocaine Monologue” Copywriting?

by Brett Borders on June 7, 2011

Ad agency copywriting is often so unorthodox that it’s ineffective. While agencies manage to pump out some pretty decent TV commercials that catch my attention using quirky and irrational premises, the same techniques doesn’t work nearly as well in the written word.

product label copywriting is often psychotic

The current ad agency fashion is copywriting that is so self-aggrandizing and sarcastic, it borders on psychotic.

The current trend I’ve spotted in print ad agency copywriting is what I call cocaine monologue copy – a sarcastic, exceedingly casual personal “rant” injected with strong personal opinions and observations. It’s copy where the writer gets drunk off their own “clever” brillance by making puns, while disregarding the reader’s own desires and interests.

Here’s an example of this style of copywrtiting… verbatim, from the product label of my zero-calorie orange Vitamin Water sports drink:

if you ask us, its no coincidence that ‘morning’ and ‘mourning’ are only one letter apart. ok sure, there are a few good things about mornings (we’re looking at you, pancakes). otherwise, forget it. not only does a 15 minute snooze pass in what feels like a blink, but let’s be honest, the sound of birds chirping is a bit over-rated. so to help give your morning some nutrition, we added 120% of your daily value of vitamin c per serving plus some other key nutrients we think’ll brighten up your day. but don’t worry, not rip-open-curtians-with-no-warning kind of brighter.

vitamins + water = all you need

nutrient enhanced water beverage

What’s Wrong With This Copy?

In my opinion:

  1. It has improper, all-lower-case capitalization. If you want to be casual in copywriting you should do it with your words and your tone. The sturdy linguistic conventions of capitalization and punctuation aren’t good things to mess with. It doesn’t look casual, it looks like a communication signal that is amatuer and shouldn’t be trusted – right from the start.
  2. It starts off focused on the writer, not the reader. By leading with “if you ask us” – it sounds like the copy is about to launch into a rant or a personal diatribe – which it sure does. Don’t scare readers off by “telegraphing” you’re about to launch into your personal opinions. Readers are they’re interested in “what’s in it for me” – so focus on that.
  3. It tries too hard to be ‘clever.’ It makes a pun between ‘morning’ and ‘mourning’ and suggests that mornings are grim and dreadful. While the analogy helps set the stage for how the product can cure these blues – the cleverness doesn’t help sell anything. (It mostly just helps pump up the writer’s ego.)
  4. It sarcastically assumes the reader has the exact same taste the writer does. The copy boldly asserts that pancakes are one of the few good things about mornings, otherwise “forget it.” Well.. I don’t personally care for breakfast pancakes – the combination of refined white flour, butter and sugary syrup is a recipe for a stomach ache and a sluggish + unproductive morning. And if someone were to say “We’re looking at you, pancakes” I think I’d have a hard time not laughing at them. By assuming that I like the same things they do – when in fact I have distinctly different taste – I feel turned off. It diminishes trust and credibility in the copy. That defeats the purpose of the copy being there in the first place.
  5. It ignores the lifestyle of the target audience. The lament about “how quickly the 15 minute snooze button goes by” might sound brilliant to the other 9-to-5 employees at the ad agency they all hate working at. But I don’t relate. I’m a freelancer with no alarm clock. And much more importantly, I’ll bet some of the target market for Vitamin Water are athletes who like to wake up early and train before work. My advice: focus on the people who are likely to purchase sports drinks and appeal to them. “Bottle” your own prejudices.
  6. Features and benefits are discussed last. It’s good to know that the drink contains 120% of my daily allowance of Vitamin C. But I wish they’d put how it can help me and brighten my day up towards the top, rather than buried it under their sarcastic personal opinions. I also wish they’d name the the “other key nutrients” it contains, rather than casually alluding to them. I want to believe that drinking this tasty Vitamin Water is good for me… enough so that it justifies the asking price and me buying it again and again. Convincing me of this is the product label copywriter’s job, and they didn’t convince me here.
  7. The headline and tagline are on the bottom. The headline (“nutrient enhanced water beverage”) is great, except for the capitalization. The tagline (“water + vitamins = all you need”) is the most compelling equation and concept in the whole rant… so they should put it at the top. This is the standard, expected convention for headlines that has existed long before the invention of the printing press. Breaking it isn’t cutting edge or trendy, it’s ass-backwards.
  8. What Do You Think?

    What are your own feelings on this Vitamin Water copy? Did it resonate with you or not? Does it have an effectiveness or charm that I was oblivious to?

    Am I ironically guilty of any of the sins that I called out, here in my own blog prose?

    Let me know what you’re thinking in the comments below!

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    Brett Borders, the author of this article, is a professional copywriter who specializes in increasing website sales and signup rates. I'm available now to write for your website and optimize it for maximum sales and profits. Please contact me now for a free consultation.

  • http://www.ryanhealy.com/ Ryan Healy

    I’m with you, Brett. The copy is terrible.

    The catch phrase “Water + Vitamins = All You Need” is ridiculous, in my opinion. Perhaps “an easier way to get your vitamins,” but certainly not “all you need.”

    But I’m suspicious of all sugary beverages, especially no-cal/low-cal beverages since they’re loaded with neurotoxins (like aspartame, sucralose, and acesulfame K), which lead to nasty things like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

  • http://socialmediarockstar.com Brett Borders

    I thought the “Water + vitamins = all you need” was the only phrase that painted a compelling image in my mind. It may not be true, but it was the only point that helped brand the Vitamin Water product as “essential” or good for me.

    I also share a suspicion of sugary bottled beverages – but I assumed that stuff like sucralose and aspartame was the “lesser of the two evils” when compared to sugar. I want unsweetened green tea, like the Japanese drink.

  • http://www.ryanhealy.com/ Ryan Healy

    I’ve researched artificial sweeteners quite a bit (I used to write a health blog) and my conclusion is that they’re far worse than sugar.

    I like Celestial Seasonings Green Tea. I brew it and add raw unfiltered honey as a sweetener. Tastes great — and the raw honey has some health benefits.

    My wife likes agave nectar, which is an all natural sweetener that comes from the agave plant. Stevia is also good.

  • http://socialmediarockstar.com Brett Borders

    I drink green tea and xylitol (birch sugar)…I’m no expert, but it seems to be the most legit natural sweetener I’ve tried and found… both health and taste wise. Do you know anything wrong with xylitol?

  • Steve

    This is at odds with the traditional methodology of “you” copy full of benefits to the reader. It seems more like the self absorbed writer is trying hard to show how clever s/he is… But the bottom line is:  Does it outpull other copywriting styles in head to head tests?   If so, well that’s what the target market is responding to. And it’s the right way to sell.   (However I suspect this type of style is used more in image advertising where there is no measurable call to action. So those trying to show how clever their writing is, can get away with showing themselves off without the effectiveness of the ad being challenged.)    

  • http://socialmediarockstar.com Brett Borders

    Steve,

    I don’t know if there’s any good way to test the copy on a product label. I assume the writer thinks the copy should be clever “wallpaper” to entertain… I think it should sell people on the benefits of drinking Vitamin Water and give them justification for repeat purposes.

  • Teresa

    This copy smacks of Facebook style all the way. Appears like a deliberate attempt to appear as a Facebook review (hence the 1st person), complete with the typos and grammar issues that are hallmarks of FB postings.  They may just be writing to their target audience. Without knowing their FB page, I would guess it’s got a strong youth following and they’re capitalizing on this.  Traditional, definitely not. Effective for their target, perhaps.

  • http://socialmediarockstar.com Brett Borders

    Teresa,

    Wow.. I’d have never imagined that as being a Facebook review. It seems clearly promotional, yet deliberately casual, to me. 

    Maybe there is someone that it speaks to… I just didn’t resonate with it. It invoked a feeling of: “Hey! I don’t agree with this message!!!” – which is the opposite effect that good copywriting should achieve.  At least in my own concept of business / product label copywriting. 

  • Simon Haestoe

    “By leading with “if you ask us””<—-yeah, it's completely stupid. Whole ad really reeks of a try-hard want-to-be-cool attitude; it's fake. I don't even care if a person can't spell (actually, I don't care AT ALL), if the person actually cares to better my days. I wouldn't pay the slightest attention, to typos, if the text was written from the heart.