‘For sale’ ads have been around as long as there’s been written communication–and stuff for sale.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to write an ad–but now we have a disturbing trend in today’s car hobby.

We write copy that strays so far off the beaten path you’ll need a compass and a map to figure out what they’re selling.

Jerry Sutherland

This trend seems to be pushback against the semi-literate copy you saw for many years in ads. For example, “1967 Dodge Sattalite—run when parked. Smokes some. 318 autamatic, vinal roof, theirs some rust. No lowball offers, I no what I got”.   

That kind of ad copy never went away. Potential buyers (then and now) had to interpret what the seller was trying to say—then decide how much you wanted to buy a car from a guy who was so careless with the rules of good written communication. Guys like that who are too lazy to get their wife to check their copy are the same type of guys who are too lazy to check the oil in their Dodge Sattalite. 

Lately, I’ve seen a trend that’s equally dangerous. Sellers get some guy to write ads that run at a graduate English degree level to sell their old car—it’s a path full of minefields because the car is lost in a bunch of colorful words and phrases.

Some of the most influential online classic car retail sites are going down this dark road and I find it jarring. Here’s an example of how they would try to sell a car like a ’56 Ford Crown Victoria. “Presented for the most discriminating connoisseur of fine automobiles. This 1956 Ford Crown Victoria was the pinnacle of 1950s style and grace.”

“The sweeping side trim uplifts to the fender spears in an elegant, but tasteful sweep that accentuates the innovative mid-20th Century style of this classic Ford. The stainless trim reaches upward over the roofline and wraps around the edges of the roof in the perfect confluence of function and form”.

“Under the hood you’ll find an impeccable 312 cubic inch Thunderbird Special V-8 engine nestled comfortably in the engine compartment.  This classic engine is combined with a three-speed Ford-O-matic—the zenith of mid-century automatic transmissions”.

Bear in mind these poetry readings disguised as car ads will run four to five times longer than what you see in the example–that’s about ten times longer than the ad copy should run.

Here’s the real story behind the Crown Vic in the ad. “It was a body-off restoration done 10 years ago and the engine and transmission were rebuilt at the same time”. How tough was that to say?

In other words, the important description of the car is located in between the lines of poetry disguised as a “car for sale” ad. All the other words in the fancy ad for the ’56 Vicky are sawdust—the kind of guy who would pop on this car based on those words deserves a Bondo bucket for buying into it.

The point is simple—there’s a big difference between a good car ad and hillbilly ad copy or ad copy that looks like Shakespeare wrote it. The difference is a sale.

Jerry Sutherland

By: Jerry Sutherland

Jerry Sutherland is a veteran automotive writer with a primary focus on the collector car hobby. His work has been published in many outlets and publications, including the National Post, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Regina Leader-Post,  Vancouver Sun and The Truth About Cars. He is also a regular contributor to Auto Roundup Publications.

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