LearnWriting copy for real people

Ryan Carson
writes on May 30, 2008

I was walking back to the office after grabbing a Dulce de Leche frapp from Starbucks and I spotted this poster in the window of the Orange store (a mobile phone company here in the UK):

I love it because the copy reads as if a real person is talking to you. It’s human, normal and friendly (with a touch of wittiness).

Being ‘professional’ is overrated. Let’s all make our projects and companies more human.

0 Responses to “Writing copy for real people”

  1. Great thoughts man!
    I am real guy from India…:) and waiting for friendly copy.

  2. I think friendly copy is great but in the “real world” you can get in trouble for it =[. Best to make sure with the boss if it’s okay first.

  3. Friendly as this sort of copy may be, it comes of as what it probably is: a large, staid corporation saying “look at us, we’re being clever and targeting the 18-25 demographic”.

    I figure that there will be a backlash, and subsequent era of great humanized copy once the “big guys” move past treating it as hip and gimmicky and the trend matures. Give it a few years, and it will be awesome. Hopefully, they’ll learn to start using capitals where proper.

  4. I used to work for in the HQ of the UK’s second largest supermarket and this way of communicating with both customers and staff is key to their business model & they invest a lot of time and money in focus groups & research to see how they can become even more friendly.

    It did have its downsides though. Trying to simplify the T&Cs for financial services was a challenge…

    Remember, if you spend all your money on booze and don’t have enough cash left at the end of the month to pay us – we’re going to kick you out of your home!!!

    Like most things in life, a nice balance is probably the way to go!

    Great shot though Ryan!!

  5. The UK Mobile phone companies have been leading the way with very clever and concise three and five word tag lines for a while. Their strategies are very carefully crafted to appeal to the part of us that is inseparable from our mobile devices.

    The punctuation is likely disregarded deliberately, to garner the impression that it is part of an ongoing conversation you are having with their brand. Orange set out to do this from their launch day and I think, still have the most human strategy. Their film funding board series at the movies wins my cash every time.

  6. Michael on May 30, 2008 at 7:27 pm said:

    I”m wondering though, right off the bat, whether the “humans” of which you speak should ever be trying to put their mouths around something as scary-sounding as “dullcheedaleachfrap”.

    Probably ok to do so though, for apparently you’ve survived well enough to give us all hope that “change” is our only constant.

    Thanks for this find.

  7. What I like about the message is that it not only just gets your attention, but also offers you helpful information by giving you the nearest Orange store address.

    Dave – Forgive me if I’m wrong but isn’t the font Helvetica? I haven’t double checked. 🙂

    Ian – While I fully understand your point about grammar and punctuation, I think that a message should be tailored to suit the target audience.
    However, I have no data to justify unto myself why Orange would leave out punctuation marks in this message. I think a nice exclamation after “peeking” would make the message more pronounced. Don’t you think?

  8. forgot to mention, everything but the address is lower case and the font is very rounded like century gothic. that also adds to the friendly view they are trying to put across.

  9. I am seeing more and more of this type of advertisement where large corporations are trying to show their ‘friendly’ side and shake off the image of being stiff and unapproachable.

  10. Chris – great quote.

    Ian – I agree. By using normal punctuation and grammar, copy actually becomes more personal.

  11. I agree that this personal, conversational language is preferable to more formal copy, but fail to understand why we need to keep dropping capital letters, full stops, and other punctuation.

    Can’t we be human, normal and friendly whilst maintaining grammar standards?

  12. Classic David Ogilvy quote:

    If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think. We try to write in the vernacular.

  13. Ooh, I’m not sure, Ryan. I mean: I think writing for “real people” is good but there’s a broad spectrum and I think a lot of copywriters aiming for this style fall short of the mark.

    Compare, say, the house style of COS, Moo or Howies with the slightly more saccharine tone you see in this Orange poster, or from Innocent. There’s nothing wrong with simple sentences and casual language… but the “twee” and “West Coast” variables need to be kept in careful control.

    There were some horrible Nokia ads on public transport recently, which were copy-heavy and attempted to hit this style and failed horribly; they felt like a company trying to be relaxed and friendly and actually just sounding like an average Valley press release. I’d rather have been addressed in the tone and brand value I associate with Nokia: sharp, confident, short on copy and heavy on design values.

    Orange have shifted the tone of their copy and advertising recently, and I think this is more in line with the Orange Store brand than the Orange Phone brand – so that’s a good thing. I’m just not sure it’s the way I want my phone company to address me. “Professional” doesn’t have to equal “serious” or “boring” or “bullshit” – all words that accurately describe much corporate comms – but it’s always worth remembering that copy expresses brand quite a lot. So whilst this tone suits a company like Carsonified well… I’d run a mile from a bank that addressed me like this!

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