“Unparallel Construction” is the bane of commercial copy.
Sentences, and sometimes whole paragraphs of copy, lose their direction and fail to communicate their core message if they are composed with unparallel components.
Here is a current example.
As I was driving this morning I heard the following radio commercial:
First sound clip — a pizza shop, taking orders over the phone. The customer keeps adding ingredients to his order… “pepperoni, extra cheese, anchovies, onions, mushrooms, …”
A lively sound clip with good actors. Pleasant to listen to.
Second clip – we switch to the anchor, who explains to us that there are TWO types of people in the world: those who order pizzas loaded up with multiple toppings like the customer we’ve just heard, and… those who would not put a slice of pizza into their mouths no matter what.
So far so good. We clearly understand the initial set up. TWO types of people – the pizza lovers versus pizza haters.
Okay. We are already wondering if this is some sort of pizza commercial…
But then comes the Grand Disconnect, thanks to the obviously faulty and unparallel construction of the whole copy.
We are next told that, SIMILARLY (?), there are also TWO types of HEARTBURN! And such-and-such brand of over-the-counter anti-acid medication takes care even the worst of them!
Hello?! “Two types”?
WHAT two types of heartburn? Since the whole analogy is based on the conceptual parallel established with the previous dichotomy (pizza lover vs. pizza haters) the intended parallelism breaks down.
Yes, people who order their pizzas with massive toppings may and do get a heartburn. We know that.
But why should the other group have heartburn as well if they are not eating pizza at all? It just doesn’t make any sense.
Those two dichotomies are not parallel at all since the former cannot cause the latter.
That’s why this commercial confuses the listeners rather than make an easy and obvious point.
All throughout the commercial I found myself wondering why people who avoid pizza at all cost do get a heartburn JUST LIKE (?) the hard-core pizza lovers.
The first set-up intro of the commercial is totally wasted.
Instead, the commercial could again start with that great opening sound clip of a worker taking a pizza order with mega toppings, but then would immediately switch to the PROBLEM created by that order: a massive heartburn.
SOLUTION? Our wonderful anti-acid medication of course. Okay, it’s a bit boring. There is no great punch line there, I admit. But at least it makes sense and does not confuse the listener.
By setting up this Rubic Cube of unparallel dichotomies, the commercial really bites more than it can chew and listeners are the ones who get a heartburn while listening to it and trying to decipher the enigma thrown at them.
It’s great for exercising your brain while driving on the road. But probably it’s not very good for selling a whole lot of anti-acid pills.