As you probably know, I thrive on belligerence. But most copywriting requires a softer touch. Sometimes you butter up your readers. Sometimes you seduce them. Sometimes you may go as far as stoking their insecurities. Rarely do you assault them.
Along comes UNICEF, the world’s most pre-eminent child-centred do-gooder, and it’s decided to crack an attitude.
We love it.
The UNICEF Sweden ad serves as a hardline wake-up call to ‘slacktivists’, that multitudinous internet species that saves the world by reaching deep into their pockets and devoting 0.002 seconds of their week to click a “Like” button for a Facebook cause.
In addition to the print campaign, a YouTube video depicts the first-person story of a young orphaned child struggling to provide for himself and his little brother. The child tells the camera, “But I think everything will be alright. Today UNICEF Sweden has 177,000 likes on Facebook. Maybe they will reach 200,000 by summer. Then we should be alright.”
Following up this jab, the video comes in with the heavy punch:
Likes don’t save lives.
Will the campaign draw attention but little action from many of the slacktivists it lambasts?
Does it rely on the same social media sharing tools it criticizes?
Will it generate more action (i.e. money) than doing nothing at all?
UNICEF wields belligerence brilliantly in this campaign. However, the occasions when you can cop an attitude in your copy are limited. So when does attitude make you a copywriting stud and when will it render you a dud?
When Belligerence Works in Copywriting:
1. When a Brand Rolls Out a Justified Guilt Trip
A respected charity, an esteemed organization like UNICEF or a brand with a pure aura (for example: Disney, Johnson & Johnson, or Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream) may be able to take the high road on an issue and guilt trip the audience. These entities can call us out for not contributing to social good or not taking care of loved ones to the best of our ability.
But Louis Vuitton guilting you for not buying your teenager daughter an expensive handbag? Nope. That would never work.
Don’t insult your audience. (Unless it’s an insult they’ll take to heart as a wake-up call.)
2. When Belligerence Is Invoked For Humor
Comedians have perfected the art of insulting their audience. And the audience laughs at the insults.
If you’re a genuine ass, you will send your customers away in outrage. If you’re an ass that gets people guffawing, your snark could be a winning sales formula.
Just like with people out in the ‘real world’, not every brand personality can wield an attitude and still be thought of approvingly. It takes a special kind of character. Whip it out if you know how to handle it. Keep it to yourself if you don’t.
3. When You Align with the Customer and Direct Your Ire Externally
Laugh with your customers, not at them.
Direct your snark at your audience’s nemesis. Make a jab at a competitor or consumer segment your audience, by and large, views with disdain.
Don’t be a cyber bully… but measured, non-spiteful belligerence can be a wonder tactic.
What Are We Missing?
Got any more situations where being belligerent can be a smart copywriting move? Share your bad thoughts with us in the comments section.