No-one cares about you

Tom Albrighton

ABC Copywriting


Recently, I’ve noticed a colourful new campaign being used by First, the bus operator, who run some services in my area. The copy features a set of lines, each focusing on a different aspect of First’s service. For example, one highlights the ease of travelling by bus compared with driving a car:

We believe getting to work shouldn’t be hard work

I think this is a great line, but it could have been better if they hadn’t bothered with ‘we believe’.

Consider how the line works without ‘we believe’:

Getting to work shouldn’t be hard work

In this form, the line simply presents a truth that anyone can relate to. Reading this, we immediately agree. ‘That’s right,’ we think. ‘I work hard enough as it is – I shouldn’t have to arrive feeling worn out and jittery from the journey.’ The rest of the ad can then build on this consensus between message and reader, positioning the bus as the easy way to get to work. If that is done successfully, the reader is put in a position where continuing to drive, rather than take the bus, would be inconsistent with the position they took when they read the headline.

Now, let’s reinstate ‘we believe’ and see the effect:

We believe getting to work shouldn’t be hard work

You wouldn’t think adding those two little words would make much difference, but it does. It repositions the line from being a truism to an opinion, held by some hazily defined entity. ‘Who are you?’ thinks the reader. ‘A person? A group? A company?’ The use of ‘we’ immediately raises the question of who is speaking, and to whom, and why. The effect is to move the meaning away from the reader, and make it more about First than it is about them.

The use of ‘believe’, which takes something universal and practical and makes it personal and moral. This generates a pious, self-righteous tone, making a simple business proposition sound ethical and worthy. That might be OK if we were talking about some sort of environmental issue (and indeed, First have another line about that – ‘We believe in leaving a smaller footprint’). But when we’re dealing with a simple pitch to the reader’s self-interest, the values of the speaker just get in the way.

In general, I don’t think there’s much need for ‘we’ in headlines. There’s always a way to recast the sentiment in a customer-facing, customer-focused way – and if there isn’t, it’s questionable whether you need to be saying it at all.

  • Screen shot 2011-11-13 at 17.10.28


19th June 2012


I believe you’re right.
Dammit. You’re right!

22nd June 2012


It fails the ‘who cares’ test. Who cares what they believe?

24th June 2012

Deborah Install

That’s so true – what a shame for a good line when it could’ve been so much better!

10th July 2012

Brand evangelism is dead | Freelance Copywriter – Alastaire Allday

[…] thing that’s guaranteed to turn people off? Tom Albrighton has it right when he suggests that talking about yourself — rather than focusing on the customer — simply doesn’t wo…. Unfortunately, that’s something a lot of ad people don’t […]

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