Earlier this week I received a plastic-wrapped 'newspaper' in the post, a 32-page promotional mailshot bigging up the delights of Canary Wharf. I didn't ask for it, they targeted my address and spent money on postage, so keen are they to bring paying punters back to the estate. The newspaper is called Discover Canary Wharf and focuses on retail, hospitality, recreational and property-owning pleasures. Its target audience is affluent, style-conscious, experience-loving consumers. And the strapline is All The Space You Need To Meet, Relax And Reconnect.
This is a poor strapline. Canary Wharf isn't somewhere you'd come for 'space', being mostly offices and malls and tightly packed buildings. Meeting and reconnecting are no longer advised, or won't be indoors from tomorrow once London's risk level is raised to High. But the biggest issue is that lazy phrase All You Need, which copywriters often employ to make something sound much better than it really is.
The 32 pages are awash with lazy copywriting. This, for example, is the third paragraph of the introduction on page 3.
"From a theatrical, flaming-throwing cocktail bar to a cutting edge esports cafe, a host of international eateries to an ice-cream parlour from one of the world's most famous gelato makers, Canary Wharf has never been such an exciting place to live and visit."
Set aside the fact that "flaming-throwing" is not a thing, and that the activities may sound like your personal version of hell, and scream instead at that final phrase. It's October 2020, many businesses are closed or acting under stringent restrictions and a sizeable proportion of the estate's working population is staying at home. The idea that "Canary Wharf has never been such an exciting place to live and visit" is self-evident drivel, for example in comparison to February 2020 or (hopefully) October 2023. Lazy copywriting all too often thrives on thoughtless exaggeration.
So I've been through all 32 pages in search of examples of lazy copywriting. Here are two dozen unjustifiable claims that leapt out.
» "Read on to discover the best places to socialise and shop, to exercise and explore, to live and unwind." (no, it's entirely subjective)
» "What to expect from the must-visit new openings in Canary Wharf" (nowhere is a "must-visit")
» "Obicà offers the freshest traditional Italian dishes" (fresh, but not freshest)
» "For dinner with a view, French restaurant Plateau cannot be beaten" (it bloody can)
» "Those dreaming of sunshine should visit Venice Beach by way of Ahi Poké, a Californian-inspired poké brand" (they needn't bother)
» "A charming outdoor terrace is the perfect spot to watch the world go by, cocktail in hand" (it really isn't)
» "Wanyoo is a place where everyone can enjoy themselves" (I beg to differ)
» "For those who've missed watching the latest films on release, the Everyman in Crossrail Place will be a must-visit this autumn" (oh mate, I have news for you)
» "Blondie and David Bowie, the great icons of the past century..." (two of them, perhaps)
» "Calvin Klein Underwear - the ultimate uniform for lazy duvet days" (I don't believe it is)
» "These are the menswear brands and services to know about this season" (they are perhaps some of them)
» "For those who spent lockdown in loungewear, Reiss's new collection will be a hit (unproven and incorrect)
» "If you've missed out on a holiday this year, seek out your favourite international cuisine at Canary Wharf" (total non-sequitur)
» "If you don't know your your EMOMs from your aMRAPs, it's time to sign up to one of 300 weekly courses at Third Space" (I don't, and it isn't)
» "Experience the ultimate clean swimming experience in Canary Wharf's 23 metre pool" (I bet there are ultimater)
» "Tennis, basketball, running, boxing, rugby - name a sport and JD Sports will cater to it" (polo? hang gliding? rallycross? Eton fives?)
» "The skin might be the largest organ in the body but it's often the last to get the attention it deserves" (skin invariably precedes spleen)
» "Canary Wharf is the new leader in wellbeing therapies" (it very much isn't)
» "There's never been a more important time to look after ourselves, whether that's with general check-ups, sports consultations or cosmetic retouches" (a wholly dubious claim)
» "Canary Wharf has all you need to make your house a home" (not even John Lewis is that good)
» "No modern home is complete without the latest technology" (at least one modern home is)
» "Canary Wharf's new neighbourhood, Wood Wharf, is home to a vibrant community" (not yet it isn't, it's a building site)
» "The new neighbourhood offers unbeatable views" (hundreds of locations beat it)
» "Exceptional architectural feats offering the best in waterside living" (Venice does it better)
» "For art-lovers, this must be on your list of places to visit in London" (no, you're allowed to skip it)
Let me focus more closely on the paragraph about Harbour Quay Gardens, the new riverside park at Wood Wharf. It's less than half finished, backs onto a building site and the view from its benches looks like this.
Here's what Discover Canary Wharf has to say.
"A day by the seaside in a far off destination might be a distant memory for some of us, but you can relive the fantasy a little closer to home at this waterside spot. The boardwalks are the perfect place to stroll while enjoying views of the surrounding docklands; wind your way along the path, or take a breather on one of the many waterside benches."
Treat this as a masterclass in how to construct zingy promotional content out of nothing. First use the "if you liked X you'll love Y" construction, comparing something great with whatever lesser version you've got. Then claim something you have is perfect, even if it isn't, and round off with a sentence so bland it could refer to anywhere. That's how easy it is to write overblown hype, even if you've never been to the place you're writing about.
I should point out that most of the remainder of the newspaper's content is fine, avoiding false claims by presenting factual comment without additional qualifiers.
» "There are plenty of places to grab a drink in Canary Wharf"
» "For special occasions consider booking the private dining room"
» "Own a home in one of London's most exciting new neighbourhoods"
» "Choose from a menu of hydrating, multi-vitamin and immunity-boosting drips"
» "Guests at The Grandstand Bar are known to spill out onto Canada Square Park"
» "Awakn is a luxury wellness facility offering strength, cardiovascular, boxing and functional classes"
» "Like jukeboxes, Polaroids and vinyl, the last few years have seen shuffleboards get the hipster treatment"
When the English language is so rich and varied, there really is no need to copywrite lazily.
All The Some Space You Need Could Use To Meet, Relax And Reconnect