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:
- here’s the problem the course is addressing,
- here’s who’ll come teach it and why you’ll want to hear what they have to say, and
- 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.
- Are you too genteel to provide customers with a head-to-head comparison of your product — to bluntly highlight the competitor’s deficiencies?
- Are you too inclusive to say who your product isn’t for with the kind of clarity that risks offense?
- Or is staying positive and playing nice more important than ensuring the prospect makes the right choice and you make the sale?
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.