Insulting, Self-Deprecating, Mistargeted: The Joy of Rule-Breaking Copy

If this is wrong, I don't want to be right...

I’m one of those sad people. I read the back of cereal boxes, the blurb on DVD cases and the labels on beer bottles. And they all tend to follow the same boring copywriting rules. Catchy opening to grab the attention, create a need in the customer, expand on the benefits and end on a big, strong call to action. So far, so normal.

And then I cracked open a beer I hadn’t tried before. And it told me to put the beer down and buy something else. It broke the copywriting rules. And it made a real impression. So it got me thinking. How many great pieces of advertising copy break the rules we hold so dear?

Insulting, Self-Deprecating, Mistargeted: The Joy of Rule-Breaking Copy

Off the top of my head, I thought of three great examples. One that insults the reader, one that’s so self-deprecating that it turns positives into negatives, and one that ignores the most crucial rule of all and goes after the wrong audience.

Insulting Copy – BrewDog Punk IPA

If you’ve got good eyesight, you can read the whole label above. But the best part of the Punk IPA label is the call to action. Calls to action are sacred. They’re designed solely to convince the client to shrug off any lingering objections and make a purchase. Not do this:

Just go back to drinking your mass marketed, bland cheaply made watered down lager, and close the door behind you.

A more timid business could have completely missed the subtext, and fixated on the fact that customers are being told not to buy their product. And they’d have missed out on a great piece of copy that matches up perfectly with the brand image BrewDog are trying to cultivate.

Self-Deprecating – Calpol

You’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.
Can’t argue with that. If your copy is accentuating the negatives, your clients aren’t going to be happy, because people aren’t going to want to buy. Except in this case:

Sorry. Our product will lead to your house being destroyed, the peace being shattered, and a huge increase in your laundry bills. The strong inference that this product will ruin your afternoon should be a huge no-no. But it works.

Mistargeted – Old Spice

You have access to a computer, so you’ve seen this advert hundreds of times. But listen to the opening line of his script.

Hello ladies.”

Old Spice’s target audience isn’t women. So why deliberately mistarget a campaign at a demographic that doesn’t use your product? Because when it’s this good, it’ll go viral. And then you’ll make serious money.

And now I’m on a horse.

So, what’s your favourite piece of rule-breaking copy?

Please note – despite the main picture and content, this post isn’t sponsored by those amazing people at Brewdog. But if they want to send me a few bottles of that wonderful Punk IPA (pictured), I won’t say no!

Calpol and Old Spice though – not really my thing…

Too subtle?

6 Comments comments for "Insulting, Self-Deprecating, Mistargeted: The Joy of Rule-Breaking Copy"

  1. Clare Lynch says:

    I, too, admire BrewDog for their copy as much as their beer: see

    • Andrew says:

      Glad we agree! Interesting you bring up Innocent in your post – BrewDog’s image is almost a “dark” version of Innocent, with the slightly cloying charm replaced by good old sarcasm.

  2. Eoin says:

    I think about this every time I see that Calpol ad. It’s a great example of how this tactic can even work for products that are not ‘edgy’.

    I don’t understand why more brands don’t do it. Like you said, you came up with these examples off the top of your head; just goes to show how it powerful it is.

    • Andrew says:

      It must be a fear to deviate from those pre-established “rules”. I’ve seen it myself with clients I’ve worked for. They just don’t want to shed the comfort blanket of “it worked well before, and for everyone else”.

  3. Mike Cormack says:

    That’s a great trio of examples. Funny how being distinctive is always emphasised, then some box themselves in to needless constraints. That’s their lack of imagination, right there.

  4. Kevin Mills says:

    ‘…uses only the finest fresh natural ingredients’ could perhaps have done with a bit more work.

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