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SEO Blamed for Extinguishing of Promising Young Idea

by Barry Feldman  |  
April 2, 2013

Early Tuesday morning, an up-and-coming slogan was shot down in the Silicon Valley office building of a software startup.

An intern, recently hired to handle social media marketing by the software company (whose brand must be kept secret), claims to have witnessed the entire sequence of events that transpired in the conference room, where the tragedy occurred. (The young woman requests anonymity while the investigation takes place but claims to have witnessed what happened.)

She remained at the scene of the crime when authorities arrived and recounted the details. The intern said a meeting involving the company’s marketing team and a freelance copywriter had taken place, with the copywriter participating in the meeting remotely via the popular Skype application.

The Meeting Was About Selecting a Slogan

“Everything was going well and the mood was upbeat,” the intern said. The copywriter was presenting ideas for a new slogan for the emerging brand. “The CEO and the guys on the marketing team were thrilled. There were a lot of fun and interesting ideas, and almost everyone loved them.”

According to the young woman, not everyone in the meeting had the exact same shortlist of winners, however. The CEO expressed his opinion, and everyone began to rally around the clever four-word phrase he favored.

“There was a some friction reaching consensus and a final decision,” she said. “And at that time things began to get contentious.” Despite the differences of opinions, the intern said things were progressing nicely, and there was no reason to believe a felony would soon be committed. She did admit to sensing signs of a power struggle as the executives jockeyed for position.

An Apostrophe Was at the Center of the Dispute

But the meeting took a turn for the worse when the discussion began focusing on the use of an apostrophe. According to the police report, a contract marketing director adamantly objected to the proposed apostrophe and pressed the copywriter to revise the phrase.

The copywriter was cordial and professional, said the intern, but demonstrated how a compromised version of the slogan created awkward and less meaningful language.

“He seemed very sure of himself,” said the intern. “He listened to the team’s ideas and even threw in some of his own but stood fast by his recommendation to leave the slogan alone.”

Raja Gupta, the marketing associate responsible for setting up the meeting, corroborated the story. Gupta told reporters from The Point, “The marketing director introduced an objection based on SEO. He said the slogan’s keyword would be lost on search engines because of the apostrophe. Then, as if he was literally foreshadowing what was to come, he expressed very strong belief the slogan’s possessive noun should be eliminated.

Gupta said he himself sided with the copywriter, who insisted SEO considerations and the choice of the best and most memorable slogan were completely separate issues.

SEO Shouldn’t Trump Smart Communications

When contacted after the murder, the copywriter was happy to reveal his name as well as the location of his website---understanding, of course, the backlinking implications.

“The issue really calls for some context,” explained Barry Feldman, of Feldman Creative. “A good copywriter would never deny the importance of SEO for web-based content, but—and this is a huge but—the searchability of a slogan simply doesn’t factor into the slogan selection process.” Feldman continued (much more so than we asked him to) by adding, “It’s really quite lame.

"For starters, slogans are supposed to appeal to customers, not friggin' robots. And also, it’s extremely unlikely the slogan would be search-friendly, no matter which words it contained, because it was unlikely to appear as HTML.”

Gupta told us given the chance, Feldman can really rant, but copywriters are generally very strong-willed and don’t respond well to having their expertise challenged or creativity stifled. Feldman didn’t disagree, but he did seem fairly pissed.

Sentenced to Death

Ultimately, the marketing director’s objection prompted a stalemate. The team played nice and pretended with a little “stewing on it” time, some additional ideas, and additional creative fees, a solution would be found.

However, the truth is the slogan, a victim of the omnipresent SEO, lies slain.

Experts across the online marketing landscape wrestle with search-based issues and seldom agree on any sacred set of laws. Plus, it’s no secret that Google, the dominant force in search products and services, relentlessly clouds the picture by frequently updating its software while revealing only vague explanations of its doings.

Feldman and other members of the copywriting camp are convinced SEO is the poison behind infinite crimes of creative slaughter and the catalyst of countless bad business decisions.

The father of the precious slogan, Feldman was distraught as he spoke with us. Though he fought back tears as he spoke of his loss, he mustered the strength to condemn his client, the process, and SEO in general.

“Screw it,” he said. “Screw it, screw them, and screw the algorithms they rode in on.” Harsh words to be sure, but understand, Barry had just suffered the most profound pain a copywriter could ever experience: the death of his idea.
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Barry Feldman is the author of SEO Simplified for Short Attention Spans. Barry operates Feldman Creative and provides content marketing consulting, copywriting, and creative direction services. He contributes to top marketing sites and was named one of 25 Social Media Marketing Experts You Need to Know by LinkedIn. To get a piece of his mind, visit his blog, The Point.

Twitter: @FeldmanCreative

LinkedIn: Barry Feldman

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  • by Jen Kelly Tue Apr 2, 2013 via blog

    This is hilarious! Well done for a twist with the crime report. I'd just love to know what the slogan was...

  • by Jen Kelly Tue Apr 2, 2013 via blog

    This is hilarious! Well done for wrapping the info into a crime report - very refreshing. The only thing...what was the slogan in question?

  • by warren fick Tue Apr 2, 2013 via blog

    I wish there was a Hallmark card for this occasion, Barry. Sadly, there's a lot that rhymes with "screw," but not much that rhymes with "algorithm." Keep on collecting those cheques, my friend.

  • by Christina D Tue Apr 2, 2013 via blog

    We work to keep creativity in everything we do including seo. You can't let the suits take over. They get in their own way sometimes.

  • by Barry Feldman Tue Apr 2, 2013 via blog

    Thanks. I'm not going to publish it, but shoot me an email and I'll let you in on it.

  • by Barry Feldman Tue Apr 2, 2013 via blog

    Find me here: barryjfeldman AT gmail dot com

  • by Gina Tue Apr 2, 2013 via blog

    There's a lot of truth in that there cleverness. Well played!

  • by WriterRoxanne Tue Apr 2, 2013 via blog

    I LOVE IT!! Especially the last part: [suffering] the most profound pain a copywriter could ever experience: the death of his idea.

    OMG. I go through that pain every other moment of every other day, and sometimes more frequently. These to-the-death battles that are constantly being waged between SEO and Good Copy may one day make me bald (as I'm always pulling my hair out at the roots when standing firm on the principles of creativity, language convention, and just plain 'ol writerly good sense).

    Alas, SEO concerns usually win out in the end...even moreso when the writer is not the Master of His Own Domain. :)

  • by Charmaine Tue Apr 2, 2013 via blog

    Ahhh, the crime that leaves you "at a loss for words"...thanks for the entertaining read!

  • by Matthew Simmons | Snap Marketing Wed Apr 3, 2013 via blog

    Brilliant - I really enjoyed reading this.

    The telling phrase is this one "SEO considerations and the choice of the best and most memorable slogan were completely separate issues".

    Totally agree and this is what Google is asking us to adopt - good marketing practice ie customer oriented communications and not communication solely for the SE's

  • by Andrew Healey Wed Apr 3, 2013 via blog

    Hello Barry, I'm so sorry to hear of your loss :-) But seriously, I think quite a few people are getting sick of accommodating Google. My strategy: readers first and Google second.

  • by Barry Feldman Wed Apr 3, 2013 via blog

    I appreciate the sympathy card Andrew.

  • by Doug Kessler Thu Apr 4, 2013 via blog

    An important cautionary tale.
    SEO's are great at analysis and discovery but tend to make CRAP copywriters.
    They can't get the search spiders out of their heads.

  • by Mark Nicholson Thu Apr 4, 2013 via blog

    Brilliant! I would love to know what the slogan was. Can you email it to me confidentially? ( Incidentally, I'm a big fan of apostrophes and recently set up a Free Apostrophe Surgery in response to a local council's decision to ban apostrophes from street names. See

  • by Matt Fri Apr 12, 2013 via blog

    Nice to see some creativity still mixed into the marketing world. What was the slogan though? This is like one of those addictive yet frustrating David Lynch movies.

  • by Barry Feldman Fri Apr 12, 2013 via blog

    Thanks Matt. Happy to reveal the exciting conclusion via emai.

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