The Bad Copy Police Write a Ticket

December 14th, 2007 by Bob Bly

If I were the Bad Copy Police, I’d have to write a ticket to the local BMW dealer whose radio commercial I heard today.

The spot, announcing a sale on preowned BMWs, said the dealership was “making an offer even a Dickensian miser couldn’t resist.”

Huh? A “Dickensian miser”?

You and I know the copywriter is referring to Ebeneazor Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.

But many listeners will hear the phrase “Dickensian miser” and think: “What does THAT mean?”

And the point will be lost.

My rewrite: “making an offer even Ebeneazor Scrooge couldn’t resist.”

Even better: have a character identify himself as Scrooge and say he is rushing down to the dealer because even he can’t resist the offer.

Why on Earth would the copywriter use such a bloated, pretentious, intellectual phrase in a car commercial?

Would you?

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22 responses about “The Bad Copy Police Write a Ticket”

  1. Riel Langlois, comic book writer said:

    I think it was just a bad idea all around.

    Maybe the writer’s motivation was to use “Dickensian miser” to make people stop and think. (“What the heck is a ‘Dickensian miser’?”) This would be an appeal to the literates in the audience. (Make the listener feel smart for a few seconds, and maybe he’ll buy the product.)

    I bet the writer was directed to use the Scrooge idea and tried to get around this hackneyed pitch by using a different phrase.

    Then again, I could just be a humbug.

  2. Ted Demopoulos, Blogging for Business said:

    ‘Dickensian miser’ may make some people stop and think, but it’s going to over the head of most people.

    Or rather, in one ear, then circumnavigating the cranial cavity with ease, out the other.

    I’m glad that’s not copy — the copy police would be after me too!

  3. Hans De Keulenaer said:

    If I were BMW and my objective were branding my product, this is probably a case for deploying the SWOT team of the Bad Copy Policy.

    But if my objective is selling cars, I wouldn’t care if the phrase goes over the heads of most people, as long as it touches a chord with prospective BMW buyers.

    I’d be interested though to see the market research that corroborates that (and stands up to scrutiny outside a Boardroom).

  4. Ken said:

    I imagine the writer would use that term because it sounds clever, which in their mind will make their ad clever, which in turn makes them clever.

    Or maybe they feel that prospective BMW owners are better educated than the general public and would therefore relate to the ad.

    Maybe in the writer’s mind it weeds out those who aren’t suited to own a BMW?

    I don’t believe I would use it, though. Clever for the sake of being clever isn’t very clever at all, if you ask me.

  5. Ted Demopoulos, Blogging for Business said:

    Maybe, just maybe, they tested and it worked, or they are testing.

    Naaah, almost no one actually tests in the real world . . . Most people just talk about it from what I see.

  6. Kevin said:

    In the best of times, (or the worst of times), such clever attempts to use a twist on words for dramatic effect may be accompanied by great expectations, but God bless us, everyone, does anyone even read the classics anymore to understand what “Dickensian” even means?
    :-)

  7. Michael said:

    Actually, I had no idea what one was until you explained it. Dicksian miser means nothing to me. I think the writer presumed that people would get the Dicksian miser reference, but I don’t he realized that no one would what that was because it hasn’t been used before to refer to Scrooge.

  8. Jim Logan said:

    It sounds like something Dennis Miller would say.

    I wonder if the author thought it would relate to BMW buyers? I wonder if it does :-)

  9. Jesse Hines, Vigorous Writing said:

    The phrase, “making an offer even a Dickensian miser couldn’t resist,” IS pretty absurd and obtuse.

    Your rewrite, “making an offer even Ebeneazor Scrooge couldn’t resist,” is exactly what good copy should be–clear and understandable to a broad audience.

  10. Stacey Mathis, Copywriter for the Parent Market said:

    “Dickensian miser.” The folks most likely to be inspired and driven to spend after hearing “Dickensian miser” aren’t part of the BMW customer profile, not in numbers that justify “Dickensian miser.”

  11. Philip McLean said:

    If I’m writing a radio ad, I don’t want anyone to stop and think. If they do, by the time they start listening again, my ad will be finished.

  12. Ted Grigg said:

    Thank you Philip!!!

    You don’t want the reader to stop and think, you want him to focus on the good deal and run to the dealer showroom.

    Any copy that seeks to be clever or make the person meditate may be noble, but it gets in the way of selling.

    Better to appear as a clumsy salesman people understand and buy from than a genius people admire and forget to buy from.

  13. LS said:

    Hmmm, I don’t think it’s complicated or hard to understand. I think that most people would understand what it meant. It definitely sets it apart from other car ads that shout about their CRAZY prices. The ones who wouldn’t understand it, lets face it, probably wouldn’t be going to a BMW dealer.

  14. Fern said:

    I was in the car with my husband when this commercial came on. I asked him what he thought about using ‘Dickensian miser.’ He said that since the dealership was in Westchester NY (a very upscale area), that the dealership’s target audience would get the reference. I just think it sounds weird.

    To commenter #13 — sadly, many low incomers invest all their money into leasing high-end cars.

  15. Anne said:

    I believe the name is spelled “Ebenezer.”

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  17. Hayes said:

    Probably a copyright issue, rather than a copywriting issue, I’d imagine.

    Seeing as none of us can work out a single good reason why the writer had to resort to this ridiculous phrase, maybe it’s because he or she HAD to.

    I’m being generous here but I also know what it can be like with clients and lawyers.

    Ideally, you’d scrap the idea if you can’t do it justice.

    But perhaps it was a legal thing that ruined the writer’s fun at the last minute.

    I don’t think you can argue ‘Dickensian miser’ would be better understood than ‘Ebenezer’ or ‘Scrooge’.

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