Marc Alan Holmes, Word Sleuth

Outstanding Personal Computers, Horrible Copy


I hesitated for some time to go after this ad. After all, Micron is a big success story in my neck of the woods. But after reading this ad, then setting it aside for over a year, I've decided this one demands critiquing. Let's break it down sentence by sentence.

First Sentence: "The Micron PC product family includes a line of high-performance, memory-intensive personal computer systems, configured to optimize performance and to incorporate the latest features in PC technology."

Second Sentence: "A measure of competitive success of Micron PC systems is evidence in over 50 awards received from personal computer trade publications from 1993 to present, including Editors' Choice Awards from PC Magazine, Best Buy Awards from PC World magazine, and Analyst's Choice Awards from PC Week Magazine."


What's Wrong?

First, the sentence is a bit long, 27 words. Nothing like slowing interest and retention right off the bat with a long sentence.

Second, the writer touts Micron's line of ". . . high-performance, memory-intensive personal computer systems, . . ." For some reason the writer chose to hide behind nonspecific, wordy prose. In an arena as competitive as the PC market, not spelling out what you're offering is less than smart. Avoiding specifics forces the reader to assume. And when you introduce assumption into a selling argument, you're guaranteeing lower sales.

Third, I've got a problem with the writer's use of the term: ". . . memory-intensive . . ." In my experience a phrase like this is most often associated with a software program that demands a computer possess a lot of RAM (Random Access Memory). Hardly the sort of thought you'd want to convey when selling hardware. It's misplaced and confusing here.

Fourth, having to tell your intended customer that Micron's computers are: ". . . configured to optimize performance and to incorporate the latest features in PC technology." introduces doubt they truly are. Again the lack of specifics leaves the reader assuming. When a writer resorts to non specifics it's usually an indication that they don't know what they're selling. And it clearly indicates they don't know whom they're selling to. In addition, I can conceive of a computer that's been ". . . configured to optimize performance, . . ." but how does one configure a computer ". . . to incorporate the latest features in PC technology."? If Micron has figured out how to make a computer that incorporates the latest features in PC technology all by itself, put me down for one!              >>>


What's Wrong?

First, this sentence upholds the tradition the first sentence forged for long, confusing structure. I'm sorry, but a 47-word sentence is too long for a newspaper ad. For that matter, any ad. This is short attention span theater, folks. Did the writer truly expect his readers to hang in there for nearly 50 words? I think I finally figured out who wrote this ad. We haven't heard much from Leo Tolstoy since he penned War and Peace, have we?

Second, what is: "A measure of competitive success . . ."? Ok, Ok, I know you're smart enough to figure out what the writer probably meant. But why prolong and confuse the issue using such bizarre construction? Remember the old term, KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. No one, no matter how intelligent, resents easily understood writing.

Third, the word: "evidence" is either misspelled or misused. The only way this part of the sentence makes any sense is to say: "A measure of competitive success of Micron PC systems is evidenced in over 50 awards . . ." One missing letter and the whole thing falls apart.

Fourth, and this one may not be Micron's fault, but why does the word "Editors'" as in ". . . Editors' Choice Award from PC Magazine, . . ." carry the apostrophe after the letter "s" and the word "Analyst's" as in ". . . Analyst's Choice Awards from PC Week magazine." carry the apostrophe before the last "s"? Even after consulting my copy of The Chicago Manual of Style I still feel queasy. These are the sort of puzzles that chop average copywriters off at the knees. It could simply be a matter of how each magazine refers to their editors or analysts. In the possessive or singularly. So, PC Magazine runs this sort of thing past all their editors, while PC Week magazine uses only a single analyst to compile his or her Choice Awards? Picking nits? Maybe, but why make this harder to read than it already is?          >>>

Third Sentence: "And through relationships with Intel, Novell, and Microsoft, you can be assured that Micron delivers some of the most tightly integrated system solutions and the widest range of system configurations available anywhere."


What's Wrong?

First, I've got no beef with starting a sentence with the word: "And . . ." It makes what's written sound more conversational. And if you can write like you're talking to someone, then you're half way to convincing them to buy your product or service.

Second, whoo, boy, here we go again. This time a 32-word sentence. My gripe, the same as in sentences one and two.

Third, why would anyone assume that Micron's relationship with Intel, Novell, or Microsoft assures they deliver ". . . tightly integrated system solutions . . ."? Look, I know what they're getting at as well as you do, but again they've made us suspect what they're selling by employing clumsy, unclear usage.

Fourth, if the terms ". . . high-performance, memory-intensive . . ." from the first sentence are hyphenated, why not the following term in this sentence: ". . . tightly integrated . . ."? Personal choice by the writer and editor? Maybe, but if you adopt a convention, stay with it. Otherwise, it ain't no convention.

All this said, I think it's important to add I harbor no ill will toward this company. Or, for that matter, anyone who's ever worked there. Quite the contrary, I think this firm does a great job doing what they do best. But when it comes to killer ads and the resultant record-breaking sales, they'll be better off giving me a jingle next time they need ad copy written.