r-lee-ermey1You’re too f-ing polite, is what it boils down to.

I know because my copy drafts sometimes suffer from the same problem.

As a reaction against the hard-sell, yellow-highlighter copy abhorred by most Web 2.0 types, we sometimes adopt an “it’s either demonstrable in no-big-deal language, or it’s not worth selling” attitude.

And that’s fine if you’ve got a freemium pricing model and are selling people on something obviously super-cool like Screenr. In that case, just demonstrating the product in the video is enough.

But what happens when demonstration isn’t so easy?  Does your aversion to hype keep you from writing effective “this is important, darn it” copy?

What happens when the product is life changing or exactly what the prospect needs and you have to motivate the prospect with the image of a future state of happiness? Or through the mental image of where they’re currently heading if they don’t take action?  Could the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future have persuaded with a genteel approach, or did confronting Scrooge require more drama than that?

The Difference Between Hype and Genuinely Passionate Copy

So am I advocating hype?  No.  The difference between the sort of chest-thumping copy that you should avoid and the too-important-to-be-polite (TITBP) copy radiates from the emotions behind it.  What passion powers the copy and what’s the emotional stance toward the reader?

  • Powered by pride and a we-we focus, chest-thumbing copy presumes to win the girl prospect over through sheer self-confidence and smooth lines.
  • Powered by love/concern/anger-at-the-stupidity-of others/raw passion, the too-important-to-be-polite copy is on a mission to burst into the restaurant and say the scary truth no matter what, even if it means losing the girl prospect (or at least the wrong prospect).

In other words, too-important-to-be-polite copy overcomes the author’s fear of making a scene. To quote Charles Baxter in The Art of Subtext:

“If good manners comprise the code of behavior that renders our behavior acceptable and thus almost invisible in  polite society, bad manners make us visible, for good or ill. We become a spectacle. Bad manners put us on a stage, and a stage, as every writer knows, is what is required for dramatic force.

…we create a scene when we forcibly illustrate our need to be visible to others, often in the service of a wish or demand we wish to impose. Creating a scene is thus the staging of a desire.”

If the desire you are staging is simple greed, then your bad behavior will not only be impolite, but genuinely unpleasant, in the worst of the yellow-highlighter tradition.

But if the desire you stage is to reach your real audience and to improve their life with your product or service, or to keep them from making a stupid mistake – well, the right audience will respond to your passion by pulling out their credit cards.

A Perfect Example of Making A Scene

This week’s Monday Morning Memo is a perfect example of TITBP copy.  The memo retains the outline of a low-key presentation:

  1. here’s the problem the course is addressing,
  2. here’s who’ll come teach it and why you’ll want to hear what they have to say, and
  3. here’s why you’ll want to register early

But quite apart from the low-key tone of the rest of the Memo, the highlighted paragraphs are passionately and forcefully worded. The author clearly believes it’s in your best interest to attend and he’s not afraid to create a scene in order to convey that – even if the “scene” is hypothetical and staged only in your mind’s eye:

If you’re a marketing professional who believes you’re far too savvy to be fooled by data, we beg you NOT to bring a client with you to this class. Our goal is to lift your understanding to a higher level. This will happen. You will learn astounding new things. Valuable new things. Revolutionary new things. We don’t want to create a situation where you feel a need to defend your old ideas. If you bring a client, it’s going to be awkward when some of your old beliefs are disproven.

Roy’s also not afraid to plainly state the scarcity of rooms available, either.  Again, it’s in the reader’s best interest to act now rather than later, so he says so, with conviction.

This, of course, applies to more than just passion. It applies to drawing hard lines as well.

So, here’s the question: when the situation demands it, are you willing to make a scene with your copy? Are you recognizing when the situation demands it?

P.S. If you’re looking for a great, technique-by-technique way to put more passion and urgency into your copy, check out Dave Navarro’s translation of yellow-highlighter copy into respectful-but-urgent messaging.


  1. Shawn Christenson on 06.16.2010

    Great post man – I am indeed willing to make a scene. As for recognizing when it demands it – I dunno.

    Do you view ‘copy’ different from writing a blog post? Is it in everything you write or are you pointing primarily at the stuff that is used to ‘fill pages’ on websites and in emails.
    .-= Shawn Christenson´s last blog ..Become a Social Media Consultant – A 12 Step Guide =-.

  2. Mike Reeves-McMillan on 06.16.2010

    Thanks, Jeff, I always enjoy your insights. And this is one that’s been coming at me from a few directions lately.

    Especially since my next product is a course on emotions. And if you can’t be passionate about a course on emotions, what can you be passionate about?
    .-= Mike Reeves-McMillan´s last blog ..Why cake is never just cake =-.

  3. Jeff on 06.16.2010


    I think both Web copy and blog posts are places where passionate copy is appropriate. Not every blog post and not every Website might demand it, but if you have a message that could save the reader from a lot of pain if it’s headed, than you need some passion and conviction with your messaging.


    A course on emotions? C’mon, dude, you gotta give us more than that. Where can we read a bit more about this product?

    – Jeff

  4. Mike Reeves-McMillan on 06.16.2010

    Well, Jeff, since you ask…

    the Emotional Circuit-Breaker Toolkit is for those times when your emotional responses seem to be on a hamster wheel, going round and round but never getting anywhere except back where they started. It’s stuffed with simple techniques that work in everyday life to calm you down and get you back on track. And it connects the dots between emotions, positive relationships, success in life’s challenges and good health.

    I’m creating it because in my practice as a hypnotherapist I’ve noticed that so many of the issues people come to me with are either caused or made worse by stress and by the way that people manage, or don’t manage, their anger, fear, guilt and sadness.
    .-= Mike Reeves-McMillan´s last blog ..How to Find Your Way in Less than 20 Years =-.

  5. Jeff on 06.16.2010

    Yup, I did ask ; )

    Thanks for the link, Mike. Looks like a great info product – love the title, by the way. Thanks for sharing the link.

    – Jeff

  6. Surprise Your Way to an Optimized Conversion Rate | Conversion Rate Optimization & Marketing Blog | FutureNow, Inc on 06.21.2010

    […] the Legal Department).  It’s boring!  We tune it out.  Test surprising your prospects with gutsy copy that is filled with passion.  Write product descriptions that appeal to all the senses and help […]

  7. Matt on 07.15.2010

    Powerful post, I can see what you’re talking about but I don’t think I’ve ever managed to achieve that passion, and while I might be willing to make a scene I don’t think I’ve achieved much more than the chest bumping I’m the best in any of my copy. You wouldn’t happen to have any exercises to practice with…I know lame right? But I am interested.
    .-= Matt´s last blog ..Blog on hiatus =-.

  8. Jeff on 07.15.2010


    Take a product or service you are weirdly obsessed with. The kind you can’t help raving about to your friends or, really, to anyone who will listen. Maybe it’s a particular brand of pen, or a book, or a favorite dish at a restaurant.

    Then write imaginary ad copy or Web copy for that product. And give yourself permission to let your mania show through. Fly that freak flag high, not necessarily with melodrama, but with the intensity of your observations and the importance you place on the details of things. Get particular and specific. I’m not sure if it was GQ or Esquire, but they used to have 2 columns called “The Endorsement” and “The Indefensible Position” and those were good places to see passionate copy that managed to convey that passion without going overboard on hype.

    – Jeff
    .-= Jeff´s last blog ..Are You Mistaking Bribery for Loyalty =-.