Copywriting Pet Peeve Numero Uno

There are a lot of things that annoy me.

  • People who chew so loudly I can hear them on the other side of the restaurant.
  • Arrogance in any style or form.
  • Air conditioning blasting through the vents so hard that it makes you put a sweater on when it’s 110 degrees outside.
  • People saying “but it’s a dry heat” and thinking that it makes that big of a difference – 115 degrees is 115 degrees!
  • Ignorance about what’s happening in the world (would it kill you to watch the news every now and then?).
  • People who drive below the speed limit thinking that they’re making the world a better, safer place. They’re not!
  • Door-to-door salesmen. Sorry, I know you have a job to do but you set my dog off on a wild barking spree every time you ring my doorbell!

When it comes to copywriting, I’m no different. I hate seeing the word “we” splattered all over websites. And I hate boring, dry, lifeless sales copy (as if that’s going to get anyone excited to buy from you? Please!)

But there’s one new copywriting trend that’s gaining popularity among some writers and it’s irritating the hell out of me… Now, more and more copywriters are trying to mimic other successful copywriters and it’s just not working!

Stop Trying So Damn Hard!

There are a handful of copywriter pioneers who made it cute to use provocative language, cuss, and paint lewd pictures as a way of driving sales. Then there are the people who copied them…

It doesn’t work for everyone, and it SHOULDN’T work for everyone!

Just like you can see right through that creepy, voyeuristic look some used-car salesmen give you when you put your big toe on their lot, you can see through fake, disingenuous sales copy.

I get it. I will be the first to admit that when I hit a block in my writing, I look at what others are doing online for inspiration. But when I find that inspiration, I close all the windows, open a word document or good old-fashioned notebook (because yes, I’m that old-school – can you really beat putting pen to paper sometimes?) and write.

I write from my heart. I write without distraction. And I write thinking only of the person who will eventually lay eyes on the text I’m putting out there.

Psych 101

Not to toot my own horn but… I have an uncanny ability to read other people. I used to want to be a psychologist before I realized that if I wanted to make the kind of money I want to make, I’d have to spend the majority of my life in school and then the rest of my life paying back debts. I love business, so copywriting seemed like the natural fit.

Now, I use this bizarre passion for getting to know and understanding other people to help. I help buyers find the businesses they want to work with. I help small business owners make more money by looking as amazing as the product they sell. And I help myself earn a flexible living that affords me the ability to buy a good bottle of wine now and then.

What I don’t do is try to be someone I’m not.

And you shouldn’t either!

Because as soon as you start trying to be someone your not, or start using words you wouldn’t normally use in your conversation with your best friend, the world will know… and they will cringe…. and then they will sprint away from your business faster than you can say, “but wait, there’s more!”

So stop it. Just stop it.

Be who you are. Own the values you stand for (or don’t stand for). Embrace your uniqueness and then find the sides of you that will make your buyers fall head over heels in love with you so much so that you will earn the kind of loyalty you so desire.

Because really… what’s better than showing off your true colors, letting the world see you in all your glory and then making them adore you as you delight them with your wit, grace, humor and brains.

What’s your number one copywriting pet peeve? Let me hear it in the comments.


About the author: Kimberly Crossland


Kimberly Crossland has an unnatural obsession with marketing and wordsmithing. She spends her days creating content that inspires people click, share, and buy. Get more copywriting and content marketing tips by signing up for her email list at

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This article was first published by Kimberly Crossland

21 replies
  1. Steve Barwick
    Steve Barwick says:

    I know this article is about the physical act of writing copy, but my #1 pet copywriting peeve is seeing so many copywriters claim in their self-promotional advertising to be “A-list” copywriters. They either claim they’re “A-list” copywriters, or they claim to have a close personal relationship with some over-the-top famous copywriter, as if talent somehow rubs off from the famous guy and penetrate’s one’s body through osmosis.

    Listen, fellow copywriters, the ONLY thing I care about (and the only thing your clients care about, too) is whether or not you can produce sales copy that actually works, which means, makes money. I’ve hired a half dozen or so of these self-anointed “A-list” copywriters over the past few years, and frankly, most of them can’t write a compelling headline and lead paragraph, much less a full sales package.

    It’s gotten to the point that I will no longer commit to hiring anyone calling himself an “A-list” copywriter, unless they’ll first write me a headline and lead paragraph on spec, so I can see if they have more than a rudimentary knowledge of their craft.

    With virtually everybody in this field claiming to be “A-list” copywriters, the term itself has now become diluted to the point of meaninglessness.

    I understand the “leap frog” theory, i..e, why wait until you earn your wings, when you can simply pin a pair of wings on your chest and proclaim yourself to be a pilot. But I assure you, if you’re going to have a business card printed with the claim that you’re an “A-list” anything on it, you’d better have more than just a rudimentary understanding of the craft you’re claiming to be a master of, or you’re never going to have steady, long-term paying clients.

    A true “A-list” copywriter doesn’t have to say so. Generally speaking, they’re preceded by their reputation.

    I know…I know…I know…that the big copywriting gurus who teach courses for beginners always say you have to thump your own chest in order to be heard over the din. That’s fine. It’s true that if you don’t have the reputation needed to be heard over the din, you have to create it. But you create it by writing successful sales copy that gets noticed, not by printing the phrase “A-list copywriter” under your name on a business card, or putting it on your letterhead or website banner.

    Members of the military consider it to be a case of “stolen valor” when people who have never served their country dress up in uniforms and pin lots of medals on their chest pretending to be “decorated veterans.” Equally despicable, in my book, are wannabe copywriters who pin the “A-list” medal on their own chests before they’ve proven their copywriting prowess in the actual marketplace.

    end rant…

  2. Webwordslinger
    Webwordslinger says:


    Maybe you should follow your own suggestions.

    Your tone is aggressive and angry. It starts with a list of things that piss you off. (I’m already suspicious.)

    Your suggestions don’t help clients, or copywriters. Sorry, but if you write a piece on how NOT to be obnoxious, you ARE obnoxious.

    Sub-heads: “Stop trying so damn hard”. “So stop it! Just stop it!” STOP YELLING AT YOUR READER – ME!

    Sheesh. Switch to de-caf.


    • Connie McCabe
      Connie McCabe says:

      Oh, people. Including Kimberly. Why is everyone so stressed and angry? It’s just copywriting. Take a deep breath, be happy it’s Friday, and enjoy your weekend.

    • Kimberly
      Kimberly says:

      You’re right, I guess I did come across as angry. But… it was a post about a pet peeve, so there was definitely a little more of a frustrated (or aggressive and angry, which definitely means that I am obnoxious… thanks WebWordSlinger!) tone to things since that was what was promised in the headline. Not the norm for me, and if we ever met face-to-face, I’m sure you’d feel the same.

      Just a note, the H2 headings on this site automatically capitalize things. I actually didn’t mean for things to come across as yelling. Just sayin’ :)

      Stay positive Connie!

  3. Marte Cliff
    Marte Cliff says:

    My number one peeve has to be people who pass themselves off as copywriters – or marketing experts – and sell real estate prospecting letters to agents that will not, cannot work. You know the ones – they all start with “I,” or even worse “I want,” or perhaps “I would like…”

    It makes me crazy that people who don’t really understand marketing are taken in by these fakes and pay good money – and expensive postage – to send letters that go straight to the round file.

  4. Michael Johnson
    Michael Johnson says:

    Because as soon as you start trying to be someone your not, or start …

    You might want to edit that, Kimberly ;-) Not a good ad for a copywriter.

    • Kimberly
      Kimberly says:

      Oops! You caught me. I’m human! I’d go back and edit it, but since this isn’t my site (and since I didn’t repost this on my site when I switched to a new design) I can’t. Next time I’ll hire you to be my editor. Cheers, Michael. :)

  5. Cara
    Cara says:

    Nice article. All true! Thanks for sharing.
    (PS – you may want to give your boilerplate a quick once-over. There’s a word missing between “people” and “click”) :)

  6. Brent Pulford
    Brent Pulford says:

    I was looking forward to reading this piece because I too am something of a curmudgeonly writer. But for me it didn’t pay off, didn’t add up to an edifying conclusion. Nevertheless I congratulate you for seeking to improve the quality of communication in general. We very much need people like yourself, people who are trying to stop the mangling of our language. So I encourage you to keep advocating for better communication.
    Here are two things I took issue with in your essay.
    1. I am entirely unaware of pioneering writers who adopted a style that included cussing and lewd imagery. Of course when I think of pioneering copywriters I’m thinking of David Ogilvy, Bill Bernbach and Leo Burnett. Not a one of them ever cussed in their copy or gratuitously used lewd imagery. In fact they are considered pioneers for the very fact they raised the tone of advertising from screeching hyperbole to clever, product and consumer-benefit focused headlines.
    2. “Because as soon as you start trying to be someone your not, or start using words you wouldn’t normally use in your conversation with your best friend, the world will know… and they will cringe…. and then they will sprint away from your business faster than you can say… “.
    When I was a junior copywriter I had the best creative director I could have had. He told me he didn’t have a lot of time to train me but would find an hour once a week to sit down with me to answer any questions I might have about writing or advertising in general. He said there were guiding principles that should be known and intimately understood if I, or any young person, hoped to make a career in advertising.
    One of those was the ability to adopt different voices depending on what the product or brand was. In other words, if I’m writing an ad for Coke, I would adopt a youthful, fun loving voice. That’s a generality that doesn’t take into account the very specific voice of that particular brand. (I actually worked on Pepsi.)
    If, a year later, I’m working on a Financial Services account, clearly I won’t be using the lighthearted, youthful language of a soft drink. I would adopt a more serious tone, acknowledging that money, whether you have it or you don’t, is, maybe after health, the most important thing in our lives. The services offered by banks, for example, are so varied that, one day you’re selling simple savings accounts, on another it’s hedge funds, equities, things that can be sold long or short; complicated investment products and services. There’s no faking your way through those ads. You have to take the time to understand what those investment products are so when you’re writing ads for them you’re ably speaking the investor’s language.
    Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t write the way I talk. Yet I do write as if I’m talking to one person. But throughout any day we adjust our language, voice and approach to people based entirely on what we perceive is appropriate to the circumstance.
    The ad writer’s real job is to have a keen ear for colloquialisms, dialects – are you talking to people in the deep south or Manhattan? – interesting turns of phrase, idiosyncrasies, idioms and so on.
    The greatest achievement of any copywriter is to go unnoticed. If your writing sounds exactly like it was written for the identified consumer, then you have achieved authenticity.
    ASIDE: After reading your essay then my reply, I would like to hear your opinion on the relationship between the writer and the client. How that helps you get a clearer picture of what they hope to achieve, or how it confuses you because they, like so many others, don’t communicate well either. Cheers.

    • Kimberly
      Kimberly says:

      Thanks Brent! In response to your comments (which for some reason just appeared to me now, yikes!):

      1. You’re right. I don’t know of any of the pinoeering copywriters cussed but many of the “big shot” copywriters today do. Erika Napoletano and Ash Ambriage are a few that come to mind. When I wrote this, I had just read about 3 other blog posts from copywriters who tried to adopt that same tone of voice and it just didn’t feel natural, which leads me into point #2…

      2. Writing in different voices is one thing. Taking on a whole other persona is another. Writing to a specific persona is the smart way to do copywriting.

    • Kirsty
      Kirsty says:

      My sentiments exactly, Michael. Despite the self-awareness displayed in paragraph three regarding ‘horn tooting,’ the rest of the article seems to descend into just that… Very self-congratulatory.

  7. Paul Baker
    Paul Baker says:

    I have to agree w/ Michael on this—all I saw was a great deal of throat clearing…and some rambling about wanting to be a psych major. How about a few screen shots about all this shock language that bothers you so much.

    And I’d say one of MY pet peeves is bad stock photography—so maybe re-think that photo of the guy rubbing his forehead. Also, he does not look irritated, let alone peeved…he looks tired and a little distracted.

  8. Jake
    Jake says:

    My pet peeves are long-winded writers, click bait headlines, and terribly designed websites. This “author” is/writes/has all of the above. No credibility whatsoever.

  9. Richard Mann
    Richard Mann says:

    I’ll play Devil’s Advocate to those I think may be slightly over-critical of Kimberly’s piece. Bear in mind…
    1. She was writing an opinion piece – not sales copy. You can agree or not on her opinion(s), but she’s not trying to get you to click or buy anything. What’s wrong with venting amongst your colleagues?
    2. While she replied to comments that bordered on personal (a pet peeve of mine), I felt she was gracious and dignified to those few who I felt were hitting ‘below the belt.’
    3 .Her points were valid and poignantly expressed…..not to mention effective. Did she stir up emotion? I think so. Did she articulate clearly? You bet. Create interest? She got mine.
    4. Was action taken? Yes, by the good people who voiced their own opinion. Expression is action.

    So whether you agree with the content or not, she got some blood flowing, minds thinking, and without a doubt, helped others by offering food for thought on an approach that may not be effective for them.

    For this, I give her credit – especially in the classy way she responded.

  10. Anna Dewis
    Anna Dewis says:

    I’d have liked to have seen examples of the type of copy you’re talking about Kimberley. But what I don’t get is why would a copywriter be copying another writer’s style when the only style they should be adopting is the brand they’re writing for? Brand tone of voice has to be relevant and consistent. For example, if your brand has an irreverent, tongue in cheek personality then that’s the tone of voice you should be adopting in your copy. And, of course you should be taking into account your target audience in terms of content.

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