Last week’s post received 10 very interesting comments. I have been trying unsuccessfully to find the time to reply to them all week. So I am using this week’s post for the replies.
Janet Band said:
Michael, I much prefer the edited copy. I want travel copy to be evocative, not overbearing. Labored imagery and cliché detracts. I want the copy to take me 98% of the way–I want to find that last 2% through my journeys. “Search for” is preferable to “come face to face with” as it implies an active getaway. “Crown jewel” trite and overworked. Arenal: still don’t really like the boulders pouring from its mouth. While I don’t love it, I prefer the first version as the last phrase in the edited version seems like an afterthought. Also, an overworked image. Thanks for letting us into the process. I admire what you have done with CRE and am happy for this insiders’ view.
How much to put in the copy is a very interesting question. Take something as common as lunch. Suppose that we have included in the trip having a crew go out ahead of the guests set up an elaborate carefully prepared picnic lunch. What do we put in the copy?
“Lunch en route,” or, “Gourmet picnic lunch waiting for you en route?”
“Gourmet picnic lunch waiting for you en route,” helps sell the trip and justify the price.
“Lunch en route,” creates a surprise and keeps people focused on the morning’s experience rather than anticipating lunch.
Also “gourmet” or any other adjective to indicate how great the lunch is going to be is vague and means different things to different people. If I feel that the lunch is an important selling point, wouldn’t my best bet be to give the menu or a photo.
Mike Grainger said:
My reactions are very similar to those in the previous comment. I would think that presenting travel as a something you do as opposed to something that you passively receive would be appealing to many people. While it is difficult to know whether honesty will get you more customers than hype, it should have the advantage of keeping expectations realistic and allowing people to make a more informed choice. It is too easy to fall into some form of scorekeeping when travelling; if I don’t see all three species of monkeys, my trip is a failure or I have been cheated in some way. We need to be open to and appreciate the little things, the less dramatic experiences and impressions, to get the most out of our travel experience.
Mike’s last sentence particularly resonates with me. In a previous post, “Vacation Goals Tolerance, Biking Fall Colors and a Life-Time Memory in The Hudson Valley,” I mentioned dinner at a kitchen window table at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. My expectations were seeing great meals prepared and then eating one. Today I have no recollection of what I ate, but I still have a vivid memory of the master chefs terrorizing the students.
Shannon Borrego said:
Very interesting, Michael! I, too, prefer your copy to the original. The wording of the original seemed awkward to me. Yours was “tighter” somehow or maybe it was just grammatically correct. I agree with Janet that something doesn’t feel right about the boulders pouring from the mouth of the volcano. It brings to mind projectile vomiting rather than an exciting display of nature. That said, I think that when one is contemplating a trip somewhere, the sales copy that is most appealing includes a bit of seductive wording. Is that manipulative? Probably. However, as a potential client for a particular destination I do like to imagine the setting of the location, complete with evocative imagery which allows me to daydream a little bit. I don’t think promises should be made that are likely to result in disappointment, but a few over-the-top adjectives sprinkled here and there don’t bother me.
For me question is whether the adjective adds something valuable. Here are a couple of examples:
My sense is that most people have a clear image in their heads that is conjured up when they read, ”tropical rain forest,” adjectives, in my view, detract rather than add impact.
On the other hand this not the case with, turtle nesting. So if I only have room for an adjective I might break my own rule about telling you how you are going to feel and write, “Fascinating.” This because I have talked to so many people who have told me that they were surprised and fascinated by what they experienced.
Cheryl Shnider said:
I’m with you as well. My issue is honesty. The clichés are less irksome to me. I dislike misleading wording with a passion. If the wording says I’m going to see monkeys or lava flow, I expect to. Thanks for asking for our opinions.
On the contrary the opportunity to get your responses is very valuable to me.
Kathie Sutherland said:
Your post is much more honest and honorable, designed to give a tourist a true picture of what to expect. Their post is marketing, designed to entice a person into buying the product. Unfortunately, for someone who is making a decision about whether or not to go on a trip, their “sell” job may be more effective. For those of us who have had experiences with your trips, we can appreciate that you promise little and deliver a lot.
Our goal in our marketing is not to sell trips to everybody, but to sell trips to the “right” guests. By the right guests I mean guests for whom the experiences we provide create high levels of satisfaction and delight. Our hope is that these guests will in turn recommend us to like minded friends. That way we do not have to concerned with selling to guests who would be convinced by hype. Seems to be working so far.
Jennifer Fletcher said:
No, Michael, you’re not too picky at all : the first version immediately aroused my suspicions & gave off a distinct scent of insincerity. The language is florid & suspect, like those menus in certain restaurants that talk of dishes “succulently prepared just for you in an out-of-this-world sauce & nestling on a bed of perfectly steamed aromatic rice…..”. Makes you want to run a mile! Your version is in good taste .What you’re offering doesn’t need overstatement. Your company, your lodges & Costa Rica stand on their own merit . By the way, we did come face to face with a white -faced monkey that was on the roof of the boat when we went on a tour of a mango swamp. He was not at all pleased when my husband tapped the roof from underneath .The monkey postured menacingly & glared at us murderously. It was impressive primate behavior. We immediately backed down.
The White Face monkey on the roof of your boat is an example what happens when tour operators create false expectations and guides do what they have to fulfill those expectations. White Face monkeys would not act like that if the guides were not feeding them. It’s dangerous for the guests and bad for the monkeys. One place where it a particular problem is the boat tour at Manuel Antonio. Is that where you were?
Diane Scarritt said:
I certainly understand the reasons for your editing, but must say that I do not select trips based on the sales copy. I am used to the flowery descriptions, usually literal translations from Spanish, and take it all with a grain of salt. I have come face to face with all of Costa Rica’s monkeys, and had a troop of squirrel monkeys traveling across my open air lodging at Tiskita Lodge every afternoon. I have had minimal success Arenal (lots of rumbling and steam, mainly) in spite of multiple trips there. Seeing natural phenomena is so much a matter of seasonal timing and good luck. Corcovado and Monteverde are magic places I will never tire of visiting.
Interesting. How do you decide what to choose when you are not familiar with the destination?
I totally agree – writing promo copy is all about capturing the reader’s attention. Lively, intriguing, authentic descriptions are effective. Breathless hype is not. I used to tell publicists I worked with to cut out half the adjectives in their press releases and see the difference – more concise, muscular copy. Especially when the product is an experience or an idea, you are introducing the reader to it by initiating a conversation. Not telling them everything they will think or feel. Wish I had your rules written out when I was training my associates!
Emily Le Moing said:
I’m a writer and editor who has made several wonderful trips with Costa Rica Expeditions, and I just wanted to say that I completely agree with your edits of the copy on Arenal. The people who’d want to travel with CRE to Arenal would be more likely to be turned off by hype than attracted to Arenal because of it, and it’s certainly a good idea to avoid making promises that the volcano isn’t necessarily going to keep.
This reply is to both Patty and Emily. Actually it is not so much of a reply as an attempt to get free feedback from the professional writers and editors. One of the things that continually strikes me is how easy it is for hype to sneak into our copy. Then there are the grey areas….
Here is part of the copy that we use for our Private Turtle Nesting Expedition:
Many years ago, she broke out of her egg, climbed up through the warm sand, and stumbled down to the ocean shore – through a gauntlet of predators. Perseverance was the first chapter of her life. She is the one in 10,000 who survived. She roamed for all those years through thousands of miles of ocean. Now she’s big, protected by her big shell and a long life of adventures that made her strong and safe. You too have been roaming the ocean of your life adventures.
At this moment, you and she will meet and perhaps look into each others’ eyes. Those who have had the privilege say they see a unique expression of safety, serenity, and wisdom. Others look in those wise old eyes and feel blessed. No one ever forgets the experience. Amazingly, through her ability to sense the earth’s magnetic field, she has returned to the very beach where she was born 30 years ago. She’ll emerge from the ocean, dig her nest, lay her eggs, and return to the infinite ocean. The cycle of life has begun anew. And you will be there. For her species, it’s been going on for 11 million years. 100s of thousands of generations of her relatives all had to survive to bring her to this place. You will be there at the perfect time, at the perfect place, on that isolated beach, to meet her and grasp something about eternity.
Is it too hypey, too over the top? The background is that over 90% of the participants will see nesting turtles.
This is not just for Patty and Emily. Please let me have your thoughts.
Catherine Donnell said:
“Perspective: Use it or lose it” The thing that drives me batty about travel copy is typographical errors, I worked for ten years for a famous high end company that consistently misspelled place names and never seemed to care…..my feeling is that if you don’t care about the details of the copy you are not going to care about the details of the trip. Which is why I have to bust you, dear Michael, on your use of “perspective” instead of “prospective” above; I am pretty sure you meant “prospective clients”. You are spot on with the gist however, except for the fact that I, being a woman, think of volcanoes (erupting without warning, spewing fire, dangerous) as women! I have officially subscribed to this website twice but have yet to receive an email notification–should I take this personally? I see the post on Facebook or Twitter. Big besos, Catherine.