7 Bad Copywriting Examples

As a copywriter, I’ve seen firsthand the power of words. They can be the difference between a wildly successful campaign and a total flop.

Good copywriting can drive sales, build brand loyalty, and even create a movement. Bad copywriting, on the other hand, can sink sales faster than the Titanic.

So what makes copy bad? Let’s look at some examples of common mistakes that result in ineffective copywriting (Please note: this article is about bad direct response copywriting. If you want examples of bad SEO copywriting, check out this post).

1. Copy That Tries To Please Everyone

Kurt Vonnegut was a famous author, but many of his lessons can be applied to copywriting too. One of my favourites is the quote, “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”

This is absolutely true when it comes to effective copywriting. When copy is written for everyone, it tends to be generic and fails to resonate. On the other hand, copy that is tailored to a specific target market is more likely to speak directly to the audience and address their unique needs and desires.

For example, imagine a marketing agency that decides to help business owners grow their business. The headline for their landing page might be:

“Want to grow your business? Our marketing services will guide you every step of the way.”

While the copy isn’t terrible, it could be improved by focusing on a specific target market. Let’s say, for example, the agency instead decides to focus on ecommerce entrepreneurs. The headline might now read:

“Worried about ad costs skyrocketing and copycats stealing your market share? Our marketing agency will double your ROAS guaranteed and blow away your competition.”

2. Copy That’s Vague Or Generic

Vague copywriting is ineffective because it fails to connect with the reader or address their specific needs and desires. When copy is too broad or generic, it can come across as impersonal and uninterested in the reader’s individual situation.

On the other hand, specific copywriting that addresses the reader’s unique pain points and desires can be much more effective. It shows the reader that you understand their needs and can provide a solution that meets them.

What do I mean when I say “generic copywriting?”

Imagine a company that sells skincare products. Vague and generic copywriting might include statements such as:

“Our products are the highest quality on the market. They will make your skin look and feel so much better.”

This copy doesn’t provide any specific information about what the products do or how they work, and it doesn’t address the reader’s unique skin concerns.

In contrast, specific copywriting might include statements like:

“Our products are designed to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, improve skin texture, and reduce redness and inflammation.”

This copy is more effective because it speaks directly to the reader’s specific skin concerns and provides information about how the products can help.

3. Copy That’s Difficult To Understand

Famous copywriter Jay Abraham is often quoted as saying, “Sometimes the best copy to sell a horse is, Horse for Sale.” In other words, it’s more important to be clear about what your offer is and what your product or service does than it is to sound like Shakespeare.

After all, in the USA, most adults read at a 7th to 8th grade level. And in Australia, 43.7% read at a 10th grade level or lower. So if your copy is unclear or difficult to read, you will instantly lose a LOT of people.

To go back to the horse example, imagine if the copy said, “Equine specimen of high-quality pedigree available for purchase” instead of “horse for sale.”

A few people might know what you’re talking about… but even they would probably think you’re pretentious. I doubt you’d get anywhere near as many enquiries as you would with clear, simple copy.

Horse behind a fence stables with a "for sale" sign in the ground - an example of good, clear copywriting.

4. Copy That Focuses On “We” Instead Of “You”

Ever had a conversation with someone who only talks about themselves? It’s enough to put you to sleep. The same is true when copy only talks about what a business does, and never focuses on the reader.

Put simply, self-centred copywriting is bad copywriting. That’s not to say you can’t talk about the expertise of the business, or what it does – but you should always relate it back to the reader.

Good copywriting takes the time to understand the target market’s pain points, desires, and motivations, and speaks directly to them in a way that resonates with their needs and interests.

For example, let’s say a company is trying to sell a new fitness program. Ineffective copy would talk ONLY about the program. For example:

“Our fitness program is the best on the market. We’ve spent years developing it and it’s been tested by some of the top athletes in the world.”

This copy focuses entirely on the company and its achievements, without acknowledging the needs or motivations of the target market. As a result, it’s unlikely to generate much interest or excitement among potential customers.

But what if we re-frame that with some copy speaking directly to the target market? Something like…

“Are you tired of feeling sluggish and out of shape? Do you want to have more energy and feel confident in your own skin? Our fitness program is the best on the market. We’ve spent years developing it and it’s been tested by some of the top athletes in the world. You’ll have more energy, look and feel a decade younger, and finally achieve the body you’ve always wanted.”

Not perfect, but it’s a lot better! The copy now acknowledges the pain points of the reader and offers a solution that helps to achieve their needs and desires. It’s much more likely to generate interest and engagement, and ultimately lead to more sales and happy customers.

Side note: the obvious exception to this rule is when writing an ‘About Us’ page. That’s because an About Us page is there to explain who you are and build trust in your expertise… so it’s perfectly fine to talk about your accomplishments and why people should listen to you.

5. Copy That’s Tone Deaf

In certain contexts, using controversial or provocative language, or making jokes in your copywriting, can be an effective way to grab people’s attention and generate buzz. But it’s important not to miss the mark or you could end up alienating your audience and facing a lot of backlash.

One prime example of tone deaf copywriting is the billboard Reebok used back in 2012. The copy said:

“Cheat on Your Girlfriend, Not on Your Workout.”

It’s safe to assume this copy was written by a man and not a female copywriter. The ad was widely criticised for being sexist, as it implied that women were disposable objects to be used at the whim of men. This messaging was offensive and damaging, and it alienated a significant portion of the population, including women and men who reject the notion of infidelity and the objectification of women.

Reebok quickly pulled the ad and issued an apology, but the damage was done. In today’s world, consumers expect brands to be socially responsible and respectful of diversity and inclusion. Failing to meet these expectations can result in significant backlash and damage to a company’s reputation.

Arms of protestors holding up signs complaining about Reebok's billboard

6. Copy That’s Too ‘Salesy’

While the ultimate goal of copywriting is often to drive sales, copy that’s too pushy or salesy can be a major turn-off for readers. Effective copywriting strikes a balance between persuasion and authenticity, building trust with the reader rather than simply trying to make a quick sale.

For example, imagine you’re browsing a website for a new pair of shoes. You come across a product page with copy that reads:

“These are the best shoes on the market! You absolutely need them in your life! Buy them now – you won’t regret it.”

This kind of copy can come across as insincere and overly aggressive, and may even make you feel pressured to buy the product.

On the other hand, consider a product page with copy that reads:

“Our shoes are designed with your comfort in mind. Each pair has been carefully crafted to provide you with enough support and cushioning for all-day wear. We’re confident you’ll love them as much as we do.”

This copy is more informative and highlights the benefits of the product without being too pushy. It’s also more likely to build trust with the reader and encourage them to make a purchase.

7. Copy That’s Too Focused On Features Instead Of Benefits

While it’s important to include information about a product or service’s features, effective copywriting focuses on the benefits those features provide to the reader. Rather than simply listing features, good copywriting explains how those features will make the reader’s life better or solve a specific problem they’re facing.

As an example, imagine you’re writing copy to sell an ergonomic chair. Which do you think is more effective?

Copy that says, “Our chair has a sturdy aluminium base, adjustable armrests, memory foam, and a breathable mesh back.”

Or copy that says, “Say goodbye to sore backs and necks with our ergonomic chair! Our sturdy aluminium base provides reliable support while the adjustable armrests give you the flexibility to find the perfect position. The breathable mesh back keeps you cool and comfortable even during long work sessions. Enjoy a chair that adapts to your needs and enhances your productivity.”

The second one isn’t mind-blowing, by any means… but it’s a lot better than the first. That’s because it focuses on the benefits or the product or service, rather than simply listing out the features.

OK, That’s Enough Bad Copywriting For One Day…

After reading these 7 examples, you’ve gotten the message: bad copywriting can leave potential customers confused, disinterested, or even offended.

In this digital age, where attention spans are shorter than ever, the importance of effective copy cannot be overstated. It’s not just about being clever or witty – it’s about communicating a message clearly and persuasively. If you want to see some fantastic copywriting, you can take a look at these real-world examples from the food and drink industry.

Steering clear of the mistakes I’ve outlined in this article is one of the top reasons to use a professional copywriter. Delegating to the experts who use proven copywriting frameworks will go a long way to avoiding bad, boring copy. If you’re looking for an outstanding pro copywriter to work with, I’d recommend these guys.