How to deal with copywriting for competing clients

How many ways are there to say "this cream will do wonders for you complexion"?
Let me count the ways…
Or better yet, let's not.

Since becoming self-employed, some six years ago, I was approached several times by skincare, toiletries and cosmetics companies to translate their blurb, do copywriting, edit their texts, and so on.

Initially, it was fun. I liked doing the research: going to the drugstore, studying the labels on jars and bottles; reading pretty brochures, and getting samples of lovely scented concoctions.

Actually writing copy was more difficult, psychologically at least. As much as I like my own favorite toiletries, I disapprove in principle of the huge industry that sells illusions to women. You know – all those "promises in a jar" – don't remember which beauty mogul coined that excellent phrase. Though I rather enjoyed the PR & Advertising course I took in my late twenties, I did not last long as a freelance copywriter. With youthful idealism, I felt I was wasting my time and talent on an unworthy goal: What, waste time and creative effort on persuading people to buy Lotion A rather than Lotion B?! How trivial!
Yet here I was, decades later, doing precisely that. Shame on me.

One such project was a mite more "convincing" than others. The company head, with a degree in chemistry, sounded very sincere when he explained that his products were based on organically grown plants in sustainable environments, and that for this and other reasons they were ecologically sound, and any person could use them with a clear conscience.  I wrote a deeply-caring text. That was before the full-fledged organic craze, years before every other toiletry product claimed to be organic and therefore automatically good and healthy.

Rivers of lotion later, I found myself dealing with three different manufacturers of skincare products. Possibly because it's been established that I've done this sort of work before. Now, suddenly, I am lost for words. Yes, I have a little list. It's called "skincare words.doc" and it currently has sixty-odd entries. But it's of little help. Because all creams and lotions claim to do the same things. They all hydrate, calm, soothe, give you a radiant, glowing complexion, bla bla bla, and so on and so forth. I suppose the trick is to give them alluring new names, inventing words and adjectives along the way. Some companies give their products incredibly long names. Others – like Clinique – go in for puns, like Take The Day Off. I rather like that approach; inject a bit of humor into the green jar or bottle.

Oops, I've strayed from my topic, which was how to deal with different copy for clients with similar products.

Briefly, it's a question of finding a slightly different focus; of addressing a slightly different target audience, if possible; and creating a different image.
Just recently, I translated marketing texts for two competing senior residence chains. The copywriters for the two chains chose a completely different tack:
Copywriter A emphasized the services provided, the experience of the staff, the size of the rooms and the view from the window, if any.
Copywriter B emphasized the social aspect: a place where you'll make new friends, turn a new leaf, find new love and be happy.
But what if the same copywriter were hired by the two competing chains? Could he have done justice to both?...
I guess it depends on the "brief" – on the instructions and guidelines given to the copywriter by the client.

Okay, I finished venting about this topic. No one is forcing me to undertake such jobs. I'll do my best for the current project, then give it a rest.


Denise Levin said...

Fascinating reading, Nina! Thanks for sharing!

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