The Sarky Type – content with more bite

So humour in business copy is a no go, yeah?

I’ll be really sad if you’re someone who agrees with that statement. Please do stop reading if you are, you’ll only be disappointed.

I was dragged into a LinkedIn discussion over the weekend.

(I really need to get a life, one that’s filled with fun, boozy brunches and sexy men.)

I was minding my own business when I got tagged in a post (yeah, thanks Lee, no really, I now have something else to moan about).

Initially, I wasn’t all that bothered because it seemed to me like another polarising bit of content to generate engagement. 

But as I was yanked ever deeper into the mire of baseless opinion I started to realise the author believed what he had written.

Don’t use humour in your copy.

Man on LINKEDIN

Let that seep into your noggin for a moment.

A direct response copywriter (his words, not mine) working in marketing said not to use humour. Ever.

Read that again.

You might have to read it once more – I did because ironically I thought it was a joke.

Am I going mad?

(That’s a rhetorical question.)

Have the past, god knows how many years of advertising gone unnoticed to this guy?

Present-day brands like Oatly and my personal favourite, DeadHappy must have slipped under this bloke’s radar.

And his reasoning for such an absolute statement?

It might offend someone.

Well, what a great place to start any marketing strategy. Focus on the one person that might not like it. 

Ok.

I have no idea why he cares more about the people that will complain rather than the people that will enjoy the laughs.

(Hint: those enjoying the laughs are your market.)

If you’re worried about being offensive – don’t.

For some, just being you will upset them.

Taking offence can be made into a full-time job, people actually seem to enjoy it.

Another thing to remember is you won’t hit the mark with everyone in the demographic you’re marketing to. Embrace that knowledge and move on.

I’ll give this business writer his due, he was keen to learn.

I left my five pence worth on his post, a couple of days later I got a DM from him.

He explained it would be “more helpful” if I could send him book recommendations and resources to demonstrate how humour in copy works.

I began to wonder if this was grade A trolling on his part, if so, I was impressed.

But he was being serious (which in this context makes perfect sense). 

As this was yet another bloke, asking me for more unpaid labour, I had to resist telling him to fuck off, instead, I sent him a link to my blog.

(C’mon, what else was I going to do?)

You really couldn’t make this stuff up, if you did, no one would believe you.

Imagine if I pitched this as a storyline to Netflix – copywriter has never seen evidence of how humour works in copy.

They wouldn’t commission it, they’d say that’s way too much suspension of disbelief for any audience to accept.

(It’s also a terrible idea for a script, no one wants to watch that series.)

Even you’re struggling to imagine that a person, whose job is to be the voice of someone’s business, would say such twaddle. 

Stop. Trying. To. Please. Everyone.

It cannot be done.

And what happens when you attempt to be universal is you become bland, generic, boring, and the antithesis of all that’s great about good marketing.

Please do use humour in business copy.

I think we can safely say there’s enough unimaginative marketing guff out there without us adding to it.

Just like The Beach Boys sang, be true to your school, just like you would to your girl, guy.

By that I mean, do what feels right.

You know what works and what doesn’t and if you’re not sure, hire a professional marketing person.

Go balls deep into your ideal client.

And you can start by saying this: my ideal client likes humour. Maybe nail down what type of humour.

Here’s another ‘tip’: the ones that don’t like your funny content aren’t your ideal bloody client.

What if you’re a humourless individual?

Simple, don’t use humour. There’s a market for that too.

Amazingly audiences are different because people are different, there’s room for us all, funny that.

If you’re desperate to add some LOLs to your business content, click here to find out what I got for you.

Ancient philosophy and brilliant copywriting are not things you’d expect to be spliced together.

The title of this blog might hint at the fact that I struggled to kick my perfectly formed arse into gear after the festivities.

No, I haven’t at last gone mental.

I promise this will make sense and that’s why I encourage you to read on and ignore your gut feeling that I’m scraping the content barrel.

January, as you know, is the longest of months – all 65 days of it, making it the most miserable time of the year.

It’s an ironic joke that I also get to ‘enjoy’ my birthday when everyone else wishes February would hurry the fuck up.

During these dark winter days, I was pondering the black art of copywriting.

Specifically why some feel light-headed when copy is described as persuasive or compelling.

I’ll admit, persuading a customer does sound like the kind of thing a mafia goon might do to Les the barber when he won’t cough up protection money.

And I don’t think I adore these terms either but I’m trying my best not to be so bloody uptight.

(A fight I am losing – badly.)

It’s only words.

Persuasive, compelling, and convincing perfectly describe what business writers are doing, at least, what they should be doing.

As you know (well, by now you should) SEO content writing attracts traffic to your website.

When a prospect lands on a page, the aim is to convert them with cracking copywriting – words that make it hard to resist the offering.

If people are going to buy despite your terrible copy, there wouldn’t be much point in the job of copywriting.

Even visitors, lusty with transactional intent often need further incentives to take the plunge, especially for a high-value purchase and/or service.

That brings me nicely to Greek philosophy.

(Jesus H Christ! No, we’re going back even further than him.)

The Ancient Art of Discourse.

Grammar.

Ah, the mechanics of language! Personally, I struggle with this.

Although I failed the dyslexic test miserably, I do have sympathies with those bunch of lovely people.

It took me ages to learn to read and my spelling is still terrible.

Apparently, the part of the brain that deals with memory and spelling are the same so learning words has been cocked up during my early development. Lucky me!

(What does this have to do with what I’m talking about? Absolutely nothing.)

Logic.

The process of thought and analysis and the assembly of factual information that supports a point of view.

Sounds super sexy, right? Well, actually I think it does but I understand if you’re craving the usual gratuitous sexual references. 

Rhetoric.

A word that has become heavy with contentious connotations.

And that’s probably because we associate it with political argument. Party leaders spin a narrative and persuade us with fancy talk (present-day MPs excepted, of course).

I’m talking here about the ability to inform and convince an audience. I dunno about you but that sounds like copywriting to me.

Don’t misunderstand persuasion with arm-twisting.

Author

If a customer doesn’t want a product, no amount of first-rate copy will get them to part with their hard-earned.

Conditions have to be right.

The audience has to want the product and that audience needs to be at a stage where they’re ready to buy. 

And that’s why understanding the intent of your audience is important when attracting the right people to different parts of your site.

More on that here.

We all manipulate words.

Content writers and their derivatives are doing the same and how they write a thing will be determined by where they publish a thing.

Aristotle would have made a great SEO.

I genuinely believe he had all things content marketing in mind when he was thinking about his Three Modes of Persuasion.

1. Ethos

This centres on the one who’s doing the talking.

In a content context, it’s the author of the copy. So that’s you and/or it’s your business.

Brand credibility is the focus here.

How much do clients trust your company and do they view it as having integrity?

Aristotle goes on to add the importance of expertise and knowledge which sounds very much like that ole devil called the E-A-T principle of SEO.

You know the one, expertise, authority, and trust.

Without those things, you can’t build a decent rep around your industry. 

Like the blood of Christ, Google compels you to provide quality information to your audience.

Because when you do, it favours your website and you’ll get another notch on the domain authority bedpost.

2. Pathos.

This brings back uncomfortable memories of my English Literature A-Level.

Our eccentric teacher, Mrs Horton, would disappear to the supply cupboard and come back with a full face of slap. 

I guess she didn’t have enough time in the mornings and I can relate.

We didn’t really gel, Mrs Horton and I.

In reality, I was such a non-entity in her class that I doubt she would remember me.

(And she’s now probably dead.)

I was the least studious student, partly because she made English Lit. really boring when it should have been anything but.

She was always banging on about pathos.

I seem to recall her waxing lyrical over Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads and how tragi-comic they were.

Like life, really.

(Funny/sad, that.)

What a long-winded way of saying this: appeal to emotions. It’s what Aristotle would have wanted.

You elicit a feeling with your content.

If most of the audience feel indifferent, you’re doing something seriously wrong, especially if they’re the kind of people you want buying your stuff.

Tell a story, weave a tale, throw in something anecdotal, lay down some loaded words, words that move people.

Metaphors are shit hot for making someone get exactly what you mean. I love them as much as Fred West loves a patio. 

3. Logos.

It’s logic again, innit.

Well-researched info is at the heart of getting your facts straight.

Where possible support what you’re saying. Truthful, honest content should go hand-in-hand with well-written content.

I continually demonstrate to you how brilliant I am at creating cantankerous copy. If you’re a business renegade, tired to your eye teeth of terrible B2B wordage, I implore you to click here.


Oi! Business owner, you can’t hide, I can still see you (and your clichéd phrases).

If it makes you feel better, many businesses barf up hackneyed lines all over their website. 

But why?

Old habits die hard.

That would have been a great title for that particular film franchise. A missed opportunity.

Without doing research, I can’t answer definitively.

(I’m so lazy.)

Instead, you can have my opinion based on my experience as a website builder and business writer. 

I think all these clichéd phrases are a hangover from early sites. 

The Hangover was a terrible movie.

Some find it difficult to shake off their stuffy business sensibilities. Even when they want to change things up, they still lean towards playing it safe.

Back in the 90s/00s the rules were clear: speak corporate professional jargon. Business-to-business (B2B) copy is legally obliged to be uninteresting.

This is probably why organisations have been spewing this shit across their web pages for years. They assumed it was what their clients wanted. Trouble is, not many bothered to ask their clients what they wanted.

This stuff lingers on.

Marry that with ‘industry best practice’ and you’ve got yourself some of the worst content imaginable.

As business owners, we’ve found ourselves in an odd situation. We’ve unwittingly created a terrible template for business copy

Business-to-consumer (B2C) swerves the problem.

B2C websites are for public consumption. 

They get to relax the tone, drop in a little conversational writing and no one faints at the audacity. 

Side note: before you turn your nose up at conversational writing, it’s important for SEO. Thanks to applications like Alexa and Siri, voice search makes up 20% of the pie on mobile devices. Think about that before you write your copy like a Pathé News announcer.

Talking directly to the customer and speaking to them as a human is pretty standard when you’re selling a soft drink or gravy granules.

And yet we (for reasons unknown to me) treat other businesses like they were another species of human – a ‘professional’ human (a personality vacuum in a suit).

It’s so dumb.

Examples of B2B clichéd phrases.

“We’re delighted to announce…”

This should be reserved for couples who insist on posting about the birth of their spawn on social media. 

You know the ones, they see themselves as celebrities who think all their Facebook ‘friends’ give a shit about what they’ve managed to genetically produce.

Yeah, that guy you met in Ibiza 12 years ago is desperate to know about your life milestones. 

No one in business is delighted to announce anything. And I’ll fight anyone who says they are.

(Well, I’ll pay someone to fight on my behalf. I don’t like to mess up my hair.)

“We’re the market leaders.”

Oh, well hold up! Take me to your CTA! No, take all my money immediately! Every goddam business says they’re the market leader – industries are full of ‘em.

“We are passionate about customer service.”

If you have to say you are, you’re probably not.

When B&M pop the word ‘luxury’ on their liqueur chocolates you know they lie. I can confirm that the chocolate is of poor quality and the booze inside, lighter fluid.

“We pride ourselves on…”

This phrase is usually followed up with something about customer-focused whatever. It really is another skin tag on the arsehole of business webcopy.

“We’re an innovative and agile company.”

I don’t even know what that means and that’s the trouble with all these phrases. 

Any meaning they once had has disappeared. These lines are as regurgitated as a fly’s meal.

I landed (landed, fly, brilliant) on a website the other day (I was being nosy) and found this on the homepage:

“We are the people who provide advanced, cloud-led digital transformation solutions

IT companies LOVE solutions, no?

But “transformation solutions” has me stumped. It’s so vague. It’s something I imagine Matthew Kelly might have said on Stars in Their Eyes – “What a transformation solution!”

And mission statements.

These really are a cesspool of business bullshit. 

I guarantee you won’t get half a sentence in without seeing the word ‘empowering’. Potential clients ‘love’ that stuff, an entire page dedicated to your “core values”.

Please, god, make it stop. 

Businesses say they’re different.

But they’re not really.

Trying a new approach means taking a risk so they end up staying exactly where they are. Which is in a safe uninteresting place overrun with clichéd phrases.

Go and look at your competitors’ websites.

I guarantee you won’t be impressed.

One of the reasons for this is plenty still don’t hire professional writers. If you do, you’re already doing something innovative. 

Organisations that are different.

Let’s take a look at a really dull sector: life insurance.

Most within that industry will euphemise the subject of death. They tread around it and avoid mentioning it, using terms like “When the unforeseen does occur”.

All their copy and content will have an air of solemn reverence – it’s never been done any other way.

Then a business called DeadHappy rocks up and all hell breaks loose. 

It wastes no time smashing through taboos.

It chucks headings on its homepage like “Die responsibly”. They have an insurance plan titled, “Make a death wish”.

Now, for the twin-set and pearls brigade, that’s a shade too far.

But that’s ok because they can pop along to SunLife and grab an over 50s plan. It’s safe to say, those people aren’t DeadHappy’s audience. 

They are cornering (and probably dominating) the younger market (which no one bothered to cater to before). Those crazy kids want insurance that’s quick to arrange without the threat of a prize draw or a free ballpoint pen. 

(They probably attract some old folks that don’t fit the stereotype.)

When I create copy I’m imagining the ideal customer as a person.

And not a faceless concept.

Sounds bloody obvious (and I’m always saying it) but only a handful of B2B peeps really do it (and do it well).

Approaching branding and in turn, copy like DeadHappy would be radical in a B2B setting. But it always comes back to the same thing for me: personality types.

Don’t just focus on the businesses within your target industry – think about the personalities within that area you’d like to attract.

Food for thought.

If, like me, you’re a bit of a business maverick, craving something other than clichéd copy, click here and hire me.