For anyone unfamiliar with the story, recently Samantha Brick, who self-titles herself as a journalist and writer, came under the wrath of the internet when she wrote a piece for the Daily Mail titled:
“Why women hate me for being beautiful.”
Since its release Samantha has faced vitriolic criticism from people who have found her self-absorbed, arrogant and generally repulsive.
But here’s the thing.
Samantha now believes the criticism of her proves that she is right. That people hate her because of her good looks.
That’s not true.
They hate her because of how she writes.
What’s more, you can learn from her mistakes to make sure when you write about your business you avoid the ridicule that now surrounds writer, award-winning producer and journalist Samantha Brick.
Zero Empathy And Understanding Of Her Audience
If you want to connect with your audience, you use the first rule of copywriting – focus on your reader.
Whether this is by outlining your reader’s fears, hopes dreams, or perhaps sharing an experience that they can empathise with.
Samantha’s audience are readers of the Daily Mail.
The Daily Mail was Britain’s first daily paper, apparently written for : “lower-middle class market resulting from mass education, combining a low retail price with plenty of competitions, prizes and promotional gimmicks”
It sells almost 2 million copies a day.
It costs 55p.
My mum reads it when she travels down to see me on the National Express sipping cans of Gordon’s Gin and Tonic.
Samantha’s opening statement:
“On a recent flight to New York I was delighted when a stewardess came over and gave me a bottle of champagne. “This is from the captain – he wants to welcome you on board and hopes you have a great flight today”
From the opening line she has lost her audience.
Samantha is deliberately trying to “impress” her audience, but she fails because:
- She chooses to introduce herself to her audience as someone who places importance on being sent champagne by the captain
- She assumes the audience will be impressed by this
She reinforces the latter point by continuing:
“You’re probably thinking ‘what a lovely surprise…”
And then goes on to insult her audience by saying:
“But while it was lovely, it wasn’t a surprise. At least not for me”
Let’s deconstruct this.
Mrs Brick is equivalently saying:
“I’m awesome so people do awesome things for me. That will surprise you because you’re not awesome and these types of thing probably never happen to you… but they happen to me all the time (did I mention that?)”
Within a handful of lines, Samantha has driven a badly worded wedge between her and the audience, and wonders why she has generated little empathy.
The next piece of the article, Samantha deliberately lists several glimpses into her life which further drives her and her audience apart:
- I’ve regularly had bottles of bubbly or wine sent to my restaurant table
- A well-dressed chap bought my train ticket
- Walking through London’s Portobello Road
- A charming gentleman paid my fare as I stepped out of a cab in Paris
- Bar tenders frequently shoo my credit card away
Can you see the picture that she is building up without realising it?
It goes something like this:
“I travel to New York, Paris and London, eating in restaurants, drinking champagne and drinking in bars so expensive you have to pay on credit card.”
Her decision to include these examples at the top of her article once again shows a personal emphasis on what she finds important, which is surprisingly at odds with what her reader’s find important.
It amazes me that as a writer she seems unaware that she is encouraging objections not because of her pretty looks, but because of the personality that comes shining through.
It is one that is:
- Focused on material things
- Focused on what people think
- Focused on her
This comes from her writing.
NOT the photos included in the article.
She also consciously makes her audience feel bad:
“I work at mine [appearance] – I don’t drink or smoke, I work out, even when I don’t feel like it, and very rarely succumb to chocolate”
In that one sentence she has probably lost every reader who indulges in any of those things. (And from a continuity point of view – if she doesn’t drink alcohol, what is she drinking that makes her tab warrant a credit card?)
Remember that if you want to build the like know and trust factor, you never make your audience feel bad about themselves.
It’s a lesson Samantha missed.
What you can learn:
- Always know who your audience is, know what motivates them, upsets them, inspires them.
- Ask yourself “am I proving credibility or am I just being a Billy brag pants?”
- Know that in writing, you do not have the benefit of tone and intonation – double check with a friend to see if your writing could be misconstrued.
With that last point – Samantha could have redeemed herself by saying this was a tongue-in-cheek piece.
Unfortunately, it’s not…
Lack of proof and generalisation
One of Samantha’s biggest mistakes considering she lists herself as journalist – is the lack of proof for her claims.
This is what makes her article read like a schoolgirl’s rant to her best friend who’s going to agree with her whatever she says as long as she can borrow her sparkly top for the weekend.
Samantha fails to realise that, as Brian Clark over at Copyblogger likes to say:
“What other people say about you is more important than what you say about yourself.”
Again – a copywriting rule that could have helped Samantha, even if it just meant spending a little extra time doing research for her piece of “journalism.”
Lack of proof distances you from the reader, and damages the “like, know trust” factor experts need.
When it is easy to create content online, you need to spend extra time showing that the claims you make about yourself can be substantiated.
Here are some of Samantha’s reasons that purportedly prove beyond all doubt that she is hated because of her pretty looks:
- I’m not smug and I’m no flirt
- Women hate me for no other reason than my lovely looks
- Not one girlfriend has ever asked me to be her bridesmaid
- Women find nothing more annoying than someone else being the most attractive in the room
- A neighbour passed by in her car. I waved – she blatantly blanked me
- It’s hard when everyone resents you for your looks
- Women don’t want to hang out with someone more attractive than they are
- Older women are the most hostile to beautiful women
There is a large amount of generalised claims which reflects lazy journalism and no doubt insults the reader further.
It says to them:
“I’m a journalist, I write for the Mail, you’re my lowly reader and I don’t have to do any research for you – I can just write any old drivel I like.”
Again, I wouldn’t be surprised if Samantha was blissfully unaware that these sweeping generalisations damaged her credibility and the trust her audience had.
The one piece of research she did? She quoted the author of a book who has “models” for clients”.
I’d have been far more impressed with her interviewing Louise Mensch on the subject – an attractive Member of Parliament who recently launched her exclusive magazine column with an article titled “Let’s hear it for the girls” giving a high five to women who have smashed through the glass ceiling. (Samantha Brick was not on that list).
That is a lady who is intelligent and writes with substance and research.
In comparison, the proof for Samantha’s claim is based solely on 7 very short, examples – all relating to her.
By the 3rd story that once again features Samantha as the lead protagonist, the audience is tired of another badly written story, filled with holes that is supposed to evoke sympathy for her.
Take the example of the neighbour who blatantly “blanked her” in her car. This is justified by hearsay (from a friend of Samantha’s) that her neighbour is jealous of her because she is “shorter, heavier and older.”
This isn’t strong enough proof.
Instead, readers are thinking:
“Maybe the woman didn’t see her, perhaps she was thinking about something else, maybe she just received some bad news and didn’t feel like waving, maybe she didn’t want to wave…”
And of course, at this stage some people are thinking:
“Maybe she didn’t wave because she just doesn’t like the woman – I certainly don’t.”
As you know – too many unanswered questions does not make persuasive or compelling reading.
How could she have improved this?
She could have written with more substance.
Psychological studies to show that people react differently to those who are perceived as beautiful would have been useful.
Or she could have conducted a series of interviews with people on their impressions of “beautiful people.”
She could have even encouraged some of her friends to go on the record with their tales of and impressions of her apparent beauty.
Again, Samantha had the platform to reach people, and she insulted her audience with lazy writing.
Without proof, there is nothing of use or substance in this article, other than one woman’s self-portrait.
And considering that all we know about Samantha from this is that she eats out, works out, and worked in TV, there’s just not a lot there to keep the audience interested.
What can you learn?
- Back up your claims with proof (if you want to be taken seriously as an expert)
- Know that other people’s opinions of you, your business and your service will carry more weight than what you have to say about yourself.
- Handle objections by knowing what questions your audience might be asking when they read your content or sales copy
I don’t care how Samantha looks – but I do encourage you to read the article and see how she separated herself from her audience by the way she wrote – not necessarily by the subject matter.
What are your thoughts?
Are there particular phrases that got your back up and made you dislike her? Do you think she’s been treated unfairly?
Let me know in the comments below!
Simon Middleton says
Brilliant article Amy. Great insight and incisive analysis. And funny into the bargain. Gerry @ Job Hunting has completely missed the point.
Thank you Simon – I appreciate your expert input on this! Lovely to have you here and thank you for your comment! 🙂
Gerry @ Job Hunting says
With the amount of attention she generated, I can’t help but think she is a very good writer indeed! If she’d idendified with her audience I doubt she would have got any attention!
Amy, so glad you wrote this post. The vitriol Samantha has been subjected to is pretty disgusting, but having said that, you’ve absolutely hit the nail on the head. It’s her WRITING that’s way off. Knowing your target audience is critical. Always. No exception. Unfortunately, her inability to realize that she was alienating almost every single reader meant that she conveyed herself as someone living in an egotistical (deluded) bubble – far removed from the real world.
Hi Nikki – thanks for your comment! I’m not comfortable with the hate campaign against her, but she had a real chance to present a valid point, and then got caught up in herself rather than the issue.
After reading your post here, I came across this other posting by Ashley Judd. This one’s not about Samantha Black, but about Judd herself and talks about the same issue… women being judged and ridiculed for their looks.
I think Ashley Judd expresses herself and comes up with much better arguments and writing than Black does.
What do you think?
I agree that it deals with a similar subject with more weight, grace and clarity, and I’ll bet more people were willing to read this and think about the issues. She also focuses on one particular incident and gives it a lot more depth which is why it doesn’t have that frenetic “rant” that Samantha’s does.
This is a great example – thanks for sharing. I wish someone would show this to Samantha Brick.
I had no idea who this Samantha Black lady was before that horrible article went around last week.
I don’t know what world she lives in, but there is no way that any body is hating on her for being too beautiful. Who does she think she is? After reading her original article and then Google-ing her to find out who she is, I can only conclude that she’s ugly on the outside and on the inside.
Hey Laurent – you share the sentiments of a lot of people and I think it’s Samantha’s writing which means a possible valid point has been buried under hysteria.
Thank you for this Amy – I am about to write my contributing chapter to a book. So the reminder of keeping your audience in mind has been VERY timely. Thank you.
So pleased it helped Lynden – and congrats on the book chapter! 🙂
You touched on a touchy issue for me! I had just today scrawled a note to myself: “how to be valuable, not just braggy?”
Now, I didn’t have a phrase as lovely as “Billy brag pants,” but still you got me thinking. Thanks for the helpful analysis!
It’s a fine line, obviously we want to promote what “we’re” doing, and to show we’re good at it. Reminding yourslef of customer testimonials, and good results which have helped other people is a nice starting point to ease into it. Samantha didn’t have many of those! 🙂
Makes you wonder who decided to print this drivel…
Reminds me of those circumstances where you really find a woman annoying, and she catches you or other people talking about her, and then (just to make your blood boil) she says you’re saying that stuff because you’re jealous. No…it’s because you’re an annoying person…jeez.
Only an anti-woman editor would agree to print the “she’s just jealous” type of journalism.
I did find the online comments towards Samantha extremely inappropriate though. People hate cocky women. I don’t like her, but I’m not gonna contribute to the backlash for her acting “out of her place”.
I’ll admit – I only skimmed through the comments, and some were just plain nasty because they don’t feel she should give herself the title of being “pretty.”
I’m all for self-confidence, it’s the unsubstantiated claims she makes about other women that I think really gets up people’s noses.
Sonia Simone says
Great to see someone getting valuable lessons out of this silly, annoying woman. 🙂
Her article’s in my “don’t swipe” file…
Jan Hemmingsen says
Great post. I had no idea who the woman was until reading this and afterwards I am not sure I want to know.
To me the greatest mistake was centering the piece on herself. The problem may be a real one and had she picked out a couple of other women and interviewed them about it then it might actually have mattered.
With more than 5000 comments as I am writing this she certainly got peoples attention, but I doubt it will change anything except the number of people who do not think highly of her.
Given her description of herself and your description of the paper one can wonder what she is doing there in the first place. Maybe her looks are as plain as the paper she works for, but nobody dared telling her until now.
Still at least we learned something. Hopefully she did too.
Thanks for your comment – I would have loved to hear from other people in this story, but a lack of different perspectives makes it too easy to dismiss as “delusional” rantings like a lot of the critics do.
She got a huge amount of attention, but I’m not sure how it affects her credibility long term…