John Bonini is a leader in growth and user acquisition. He works at Litmus. He’s also an award-winning writer, and his podcast, Louder Than Words, was named by Inc. as one of the “12 marketing podcasts you should listen to every week.”

Copywriting in the Wild: New York City Edition

Copywriting in the Wild: New York City Edition

Copywriting in the Wild is a recurring series in which I take apart advertisements I see in person, firsthand, with absolutely nothing else better to do.

Truth be told, this is the advertisement that sparked the idea for this series on copy in the wild. 

My girlfriend, Kelly, had gotten us Yankee/Red Sox tickets for my birthday a month ago, and we decided to spend the whole weekend in the city. 

Following a rough loss on an otherwise beautiful day in the Bronx, we were headed back toward midtown to meet some friends for drinks and forget about the six hitless innings we just sat through.  

After spending the better part of the sweaty subway trip from Yankee Stadium to Grand Central staring at the above advertisement, I finally thought to myself, “what does this copy even mean? And..whose hand is touching my thigh?"

(For those counting, the Stadium to Grand Central is well over 100 blocks, plenty of time for some bad touches with complete strangers in a shoulder-to-shoulder commute. Needless to say, I needed something to occupy myself.)

So, back to the advertisement, here’s what we know: 

Seamless is a food delivery app that connects you with the restaurants that deliver in your area. Partnered with GrubHub, it currently operates in over 600 cities, so there’s a very good chance it’s available in yours. 

The copy in this ad is attempting to appeal to your frustration of waiting on the phone with a busy restaurant in order to place an order.

Here’s why it doesn’t work

This is an ad that suffers from trying to be too clever, as well as complete misalignment with the intended audience.

What the hell is “manspreading?”

I didn’t know what it meant, so I asked the group of fans traveling in my personal space if they had any clue. 

“No idea,” said one. 

“Maybe referring to a man putting out a spread of food?” said another. 

“Something involving crackers or guacamole or something?” said yet another. 

Three people; three interpretations. It’s too ambiguous.  

If no one understands it, how can it possibly empathize and covey any benefit with the intended audience? (Which I’d imagine, in this case, is men?)

How to fix it

First, we need to better align the copy with the real frustrations of the audience. 

Why do people order take out in the first place? Again, I asked the the group of guys next to me. 

“So I can stay in my pajamas,” said one.

“I’m lazy. I avoid doing dishes and cleaning up,” said another.

“The effort involved in going out in this city to get food isn’t worth it sometimes,” said another. 

Cab fares. Traffic. Long lines. Crowded streets. Just to go get food?

Not worth it, according to our friend. 

So why is this ad focusing on wait times? Sure, my sample size is small, but none of these guys mentioned hold times on the phone as the problem this app would be solving.

No, the real problem this app solves is avoiding the hassle of going out to get food.

So based off my tiny crowd sourcing activity, let’s take a crack at coming up with something better.

These are starting points. They're by no means final. They need to be torn apart, iterated upon, then torn apart again before they're even ready to best tested in the wild. But we’re on the right track, empathizing with the real frustrations of the audience. 

So go ahead, take a crack. How would you improve this ad? 

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