Time for a reality check

By July 25, 2016 Comment No Comments

If your copy achieves only one thing, make sure it rings true, says Tim

Sarah and I are searching for a new car. This is a perpetual activity in our household, which is partly my fault. 20-odd years as a motoring journalist leave their mark. And that means I can’t drive past a garage without craning my neck to see what’s on the forecourt.

Before digital technology became so mainstreamed into our lives, this habit was just about manageable. I would only come home excited by the prospect of some super deal if I happened to have a chance to stop and mooch around a forecourt that had something tasty on display. Sarah then had ample opportunity to talk sense into me: “No, Tim, a 30-year-old Land Rover isn’t a suitable vehicle in which to drive 30,000 miles a year. You found it hard enough when you had that lifted Suzuki Vitara with the massive 33-inch tyres.” Or some such.

Trouble is that now I can find great automotive deals just by spending a few minutes in the company of my iPhone. Because the Auto Trader app really is a work of genius. It’s easy to use, great visually, and puts you in touch with thousands of motor traders (and private sellers) throughout the country.

So, I can see what’s available within, say, 60 miles of the front door, any time of the day or night. And if I’m searching for something specific – my latest fascination is with Mark 3 Golf GTIs (much underrated in my view, and just about to bottom out value-wise) – I can narrow the search terms and widen the search area to drill down to exactly what I’m after.

All of this makes for a restless automotive soul. But like so many people who live in a land of fantasy, I find the fun is the pondering rather than the actuation of my dreams. All the time I don’t buy a new car, I can imagine what it would be like to have any number of vehicles in my life – a classic Saab 900, perhaps, or a minter of a Toyota Land Cruiser. It’s much more fun than actually buying a vehicle, which immediately narrows my options to what I can afford.

But, every five years or so, there comes a moment when I do have to buy something. It’s usually when my existing transport develops a terminal fault, or nears an MOT that I just know it will fail.

That’s pretty much where we are now. And the corollary is that my Auto Trader searches have suddenly taken on a dose of hard reality. Gone are the searches for Porsche 944s or MGB GTs. In their place are searches for Ford Mondeos, VW Passats and (I’m sorry it’s come to this) Citroen C4s.

And thus, finally, do I reach my point. Because I have just one criticism of the Auto Trader app, and it’s this: when you find a car you like and want to share it with someone via email, text or social media, it automates some copy to frame the hyperlink. That copy reads: “I’ve just found my dream car…”.

Now, when the car in question is one of the above-mentioned vehicles of my fantasies – a Saab, Land Rover or Porsche – that’s all well and good. But consider this situation, which was laid out before me this morning:

“Sarah, I’ve just found my dream car… A 2009-reg Ford Mondeo Titanium.”

Not even a Titanium X, you’ll note, which would at least give me leather trim. Just a boring old mid-spec Mondeo: cheap to run, certainly, great to drive over long distances, absolutely, and offering loads of space for dogs and pushchairs, without doubt.

But my dream car? I think not, Auto Trader.

So here’s the thing. If you’re writing copy, try to ensure it rings true. We all know what Auto Trader is getting at with this clever function, and why it phrases the copy in the way it does. It communicates excitement, glee, as if buying a car is like living your dreams.

But for most of us, the chances of actually buying our dream car are at best slim, and at worst non-existent. Which makes the experience of sharing a link to something sensible and cost-effective prefaced with a reference to “dream cars” painfully ironic.

In short, I’m saying this: make your copy engaging, witty and razor-sharp. Have confidence that it creates a sense of atmosphere and motivates action. But also make sure it tells the right story. If Auto Trader had a form of words that said: “I’ve just found a fantastic deal…” that may be rather better for the majority of its users.

Or even, which would work very well for me just now: “It’s not a Land Rover Discovery Sport, Sarah, but at least it will only cost 20 quid a year to tax.”