How cringeworthy messaging is killing customer conversions…

10th March, 2022Copywriting, Marketing

Sometime around the turn of the millennium, between the closure of BBC Hardware and the opening of Bunnings, there was a chain of hardware megastores called Hardware House. For a while they ran ads that all finished with a guy singing the jingle:

“Gee it’s grouse at Hardware House!”

I don’t know how effective those ad campaigns were, but they didn’t work on my Dad. He would cringe whenever that ad came on.

“That word”, he’d say “it’s so bogan! I used to hate whenever somebody would say something was “grouse”- I don’t know why they’d use it in an ad like that?”

Maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention back then, but I don’t recall anybody my father’s age using it either. In fact, I only heard that word used in one other instance- in an episode of ‘The Micallef Program’- uttered by a pretend game-show contestant depicted as a ditz lacking the sophistication presumed of the audience.

The lingo we use depends on when/ where we grow up. Where Dad was from, something good had been “Ace” and somebody who was an idiot was “an egg-roll”. For somebody like Tim Winton, apparently everybody is called “Sport”, regardless of how old they are. For me, I remember an age when terms like Rad, Filth and Sick were all common playground terminology used to express the highest approval of something. It was during this timeline that my class attended a school bus safety program and they showed us an educational video after we’d piled on the bus that travelled around the schools holding these programs. During the video, a bunch of kids performed this jingle called ‘The Bus Safe Rap’:

Many times as a kid, you react a certain way to something and you can’t break down exactly why it is. It might take years before you can put your finger on it. But in this instance, I knew straight away why this clip caused me to sit there, smiling painfully-

Because it felt so try-hard. I thought so watching as a 10 year old who was more easily entertained than I am now, and I would’ve thought so back in 1989, which (based on the bright fashions of the kids and the musical style) is when I’m assuming this jingle was produced.

In short?


I thought it was daggy because it was so obviously a bunch of grown-ups trying to convey a message in a way they thought would resonate with us kids- and failing to do so. Trying to act like they were on our level and they got what was ‘cool’. Instead? It was cringe.


This dissonance between talking/ acting like one of the group vs. actually being one of the group was infamously personified by Ricky Gervais as David Brent in The Office (also later by Steve Carrell playing Michael Scott in the U.S adaption). There’s a scene right at the beginning of Season 2 in the UK (original) series, where Brent gets up to formally welcome the new staff who’ve joined the Wernham Hogg branch from Swindon. To this day, it’s a scene I am unable to watch in full. The sight of a grown man committing social seppuku before a room full of people he desperately wants to impress is just too painful. It’s like The Bus Safe Rap times 10. It’s like that nightmare you have as an adolescent where you rock up to school and realise you’re naked. But he is not about to wake up and realise destroying his chance at a good first-impression was an awful dream. I challenge you to see if you can make it through this without also being overwhelmed by a vicarious feeling of embarrassment:

In more recent times, the phrase “How do you do, fellow kids” has been used as short-hand to indicate that a brand or an individual is trying too hard to fit in with a certain crowd. It became popular courtesy of this brief cutaway from the hit TV series 30 Rock, in which Steve Buscemi’s character mentions his past career in the police as part of an undercover task force that infiltrated high schools. Look how well he blends in with the youth:

The more people feel like you relate to them, the better your connection with them. The better your connection with them, the more likely they are to respond favourably to you and what you have to say…


But when it becomes obvious that you’re trying too hard?

Well, that has the opposite effect! People see you as fake or untrustworthy, and you end up driving them away instead. You want to shoot for the moon, but instead keep shooting yourself in the foot. But you can avoid this social and sales suicide, if you just remember a few simple things:

Relating with your target audience isn’t a difficult game, even if they’re people you haven’t had much interaction with until now. You don’t need to buy a skateboard or a rock band t-shirt, memorise a stand-up routine or learn to rap either. You just need to remember 3 things.

So here’s how to cut the cringe, make a connection AND become “The Real Deal” to your audience:


#1. Listen.


Who are the people you’re talking to?

What else are they buying?

What do they do in their spare time?

How do they talk?

What pop- culture references do they understand?

Before you go in and try to talk on their level, do your homework first- study the important info online, do market research- or even go straight in and ask questions that help you get crystal clear on the people you’re looking to effectively communicate with.


#2. You Don’t Know Everything.


Following #1, if you haven’t got all the answers, don’t pretend like you do. Stepping beyond your area of knowledge or pretending to fully “get” the people you’re speaking to carries the risk of back-firing- and the cost of being caught out of your depth is too great a price to pay. It’s ok to admit you don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s alright to ask questions. People are more impressed by your willingness to find out more about them than slotting yourself in and acting like you’re “one of the tribe”…


#3. Show, don’t tell


In short? Don’t try too hard and don’t act like you have something to prove. Even if you’ve taken care of Steps #1 and #2, going too far on the front-foot and trying to shoe-horn all the things you think your audience wants to hear makes it look like you’re trying too hard to sell yourself and make a good impression…

Instead of calling yourself an entrepreneur- let other people give you that title while you simply talk about your background and what you do.

Instead of big-noting your abilities, let those astute enough connect the dots for themselves.

It’s fine to share your wins and your story, but make it your own. Use your own lingo. Don’t consciously try to make yourself sound like the next (insert name here). Let them make the connection!

Because seriously- if I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen someone use words like “entrepreneur”, “lifestyle” or “hustle”- I’d never need to work another day in my life!


When it comes to being a gifted communicator, paying attention pays off. And remember to show, don’t tell.


Attracting the most valuable people requires you to have an ongoing dialogue with them. It usually involves several conversations and a deeper understanding of what they really want vs. what you’re providing and who you are before they put real money on the table. But… considering the ultimate dollar value of these relationships?

When done right- they’re well worth the extra time and the effort you invest.

Transforming your marketing message from “cringeworthy, client repelling and costly” to “relatable copy that converts” is well worth mastering. Your marketing efforts develop more of a ‘flow’, and engaging new customers becomes much easier than before.

On top of this? Your reputation( and your ROI) will thank you for it many times over!

Instead of worrying how people are going to receive your message and alienating them before they can see your true value, you can instead go forward with full confidence- and engage them from your very first sentence. So if you’d like a safety check on your existing copy (no matter what format it is) to put your mind at ease and perfect your message, let’s talk:

Get Your Copy Consultation Today