Now, I’m all for being conversational in copywriting. It’s more fun to read, and it’s more fun to write. But it’s also possible to cross the line between being chatty and being condescending.
This is a laundry powder sachet I recently spirited out of a motel unit. There are elements of this copy I actually quite like – it would be easy to write boring copy that sounds like every other laundry powder out there. Let’s face it, they’re pretty much the same, especially when it’s just a sachet you’ve been given. So it’s nice that they’ve made an effort to give it some personality, even when making the claims that any detergent would: “25 grams of dirt and grime munching, super concentrated, high performance, biodegradable laundry powder”. It’s got energy and I like that.
What I find more objectionable is the repeated references to mum doing the laundry. It isn’t feminist indignation that makes me feel this way. It’s the infantilising of the reader. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been doing my own laundry for a very long time. It’s not something I ever have to call my mum to ask for advice on (cooking, that’s another story). As adults, is our ability to put some dirty clothes into a machine, add laundry powder, and hit the start button really something our mums can do better than we can?
I’d overlook the first reference. But it’s the second one that rankles. Fair enough to cover your arse and to remind people to separate their colours and whites – people will complain about the stupidest things and blame your product, even if it’s their own fault. But did they really have to add in ‘just like mum taught you’?
To me, ‘taught’ implies a process of learning, something it took a while to grasp. Separating colours and whites isn’t really like that. Maybe you observed it over the years. Maybe you did your first load of laundry and ended up with pink t-shirts, and then figured it out. But it’s not like having lessons. It’s not like being taught to cook, or even how to do the ironing.
It’s one thing to be informal in your copy. But remember that you’re almost always talking to a fully-functioning adult who’s more than capable of doing their own laundry – without referring back to their mum.