What ketchup teaches us about great copy
By Carolyn McMurray, SOCIATE’s Junior Copywriter & Blogstar
Words. Grammar. Punctation. Sauce. Seems like a stretch, but there’s actually a pretty solid link between copy and ketchup. But before we dive into that, let’s crack open “great copy”.
What does it mean? What does it look like? What is it not?
You see, there’s a lot of copy out there. Not all of it is good. A lot of agencies seem to have this mentality of “content for content’s sake”. In other words, they mass produce a whole lot of copy (blog posts, social media content, website copy) just for the sake of getting something – anything – out there.
It’s like getting instant food from the supermarket and expecting it to taste like a Michelin meal. It’s delusional. Copy shouldn’t just be written for the sake of pushing out content. It should be written with a purpose in mind.
It should have an audience in mind.
If you want to write great copy, a good place to start is by taking a long, hard look at ketchup. Or mayo. Or even brown sauce. Think of all those quintessential cupboard sauce staples you have lying about. I’m not talking about Nando’s Peri-Peri or Tabasco. I’m talking about the plain Janes of the sauce world. The ketchups, mayos, and BBQ sauces of our world all have one thing in common; they’re super simple but also super delicious.
They don’t need a flaming mix of chillis or twenty different spices to make them come to life. Their simplicity is what makes them so iconic. It’s the same with great copy, and I’ll explain why.
The process of crafting copy is a bit like making sauce. You throw in a bunch of ingredients (words, phrases, metaphors) and then gently reduce it, simmering away at all the unneeded faff and heavy phrasing. Great copy is simple because writers know that readers don’t have all day. People like to skim through things.
That doesn’t mean you can’t get creative – but more on this later.
I like to think of blogs as the exception to this rule. As long-form pieces of content, they can be a little more wordy and wild. But short-form copy? That stuff needs to be succinct and simple. Instagram captions, website copy, newsletters, headlines – they’re not meant to be 1,000 words long.
They’re meant to reel the reader in with some bait, and that bait is short but snappy copy.
Simple copy is also super important when it comes to explaining tough topics. Writing like a scientist for readers who can’t differentiate between a proton and a neutron is pointless.
You need to get down on their level and write the copy in a way that’s easily understood.
Let’s say you’re writing about a shiny, new piece of software that lets people communicate on the cloud, and this is the brief you get: UCaaS system that integrates seamlessly with existing dev-ops tools to enable teams to telework from anywhere. Combines SMS and video conferencing for elevated enterprise communications.
Now, this will all depend on your target audience. If they’re pros at UCaaS and have used the system before, then this description isn’t so bad. It’s really dull, but they’ll probably know what you’re talking about. But if they’re rookies and have never heard of UCaaS, then it’s pointless. It will be like reading a foreign language. You’ve got to make it simple enough for them to understand. It’s all about putting yourself in the readers’ shoes.
What words would help you understand the concept clearly?
A much better take on the brief would be:
Empower teams to work from the cloud, so they can work from anywhere. Discover a tool that combines messaging, video, and phone calls for a seamless communications experience.
Why does it work?
It’s simple and cuts out inflated words like UCaaS and telework for an easy-to-understand explanation.
Tip: Bulldozing through all the inflated, heavy words is never easy. Sometimes it’s easier to just write. Instead of editing as you go, try drafting your copy all in one go. Write what feels natural and go with the flow – you can always come back and edit later. Draft, draft, draft, and only then unleash your inner editor.
Just because ketchup is simple doesn’t make it boring. It’s flavorsome. It’s got a subtle kick. It’s the same with copy. You want to keep it succinct, but it’s also got to be snappy and enticing. Veer away from making your words a carbon copy of what’s come before. Be creative and try something a little different. If all your competitors write about your product in an oh-so-boring way, step it up and try something different.
Sometimes, a little bit of bravery goes a long way.
Just like it did with Vin De France. What do you usually see plastered on wine bottles? The name of the estate, alcohol percentage, and brand. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a description of all the tasting notes. What don’t you see on wine bottles? A snazzy line of copy that evokes a feeling. A mood. An atmosphere.
You hardly ever see this:
Now is when I know I love you.
A wonderfully simple line of copy, but it’s magnetic. It evokes a sensation. It gets people talking. I would happily choose that bottle over the 2013 Chardonnay wine, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. It’s different, but it works. It also plays on the adage of great copy; readers don’t care about your product, they care about the benefits. They care about how it makes them feel, and Vin De France hit the nail on the head perfectly with this buzz line.
Tip: Creativity can’t just be plucked out of thin air. You can prompt it, trigger it, and try to set the flame alight but as all writers know, sometimes you’ve just got to wait. Carry around a notebook and whenever an idea pops into your head, jot it down. It doesn’t matter how crazy it sounds. Be open to creativity coming to you when you least expect it and don’t be afraid to do things a little differently.
Ditch black and white writing rules
What you learned at high school and uni about writing won’t always apply to copy. Keep that in mind. You’ve got your basic grammar and spelling rules, but you don’t have to be so strict with yourself. Great copy is meant to flow well, and sometimes that means breaking the rules.
One of those infamous rules is starting sentences with conjunctions. The number of times I was told to never ever (under any circumstance) start a sentence with and, or, but is actually quite funny.
Because I break that rule all the time!
Copy isn’t a dissertation or a high-school essay. It’s a description. A way to evoke a feeling. It’s a soft sell, and that’s the way it should always be, and starting a sentence with a conjunction can sometimes add a really nice cadence to a piece of writing. It just helps it flow better. Of course, your copy shouldn’t be littered with them, but a few thoughtful placements can really elevate your writing.
Tip: Break a few typical conventions and see how it sounds. Editors like Grammarly are great for spotting a few hiccups, but they can sometimes take a beautiful piece of phrasing and make it sound a little robotic, so don’t take all their suggestions to heart. Throw in an ‘and’ at the start of your copy, use repetition, be a little conversational at times – do what feels right. And then unleash that inner editor.
The “great copy” sauce
Turns out that “great copy” sauce only has three ingredients: simplicity and creativity, with a side of “break (some) of the rules”. It’s ketchup/mayo/BBQ sauce/ranch dressing/whatever you want it to be.
Great copy sauce takes an ordinary pen and turns it into the pen. The pen that leads to a generation of writers. The pen that inspires a little boy to write. It turns something that’s made of plastic and ink into a wonderful brand story. It is storytelling. Put simply. Put creatively. Put daringly.
And PS, if you don’t want to create copy from scratch – check out our Copywriting services.
Our house sauce is clear and oh-so-snappy, with an innovative flair. We do STRONG and we do YOU. Our copy sauce has that signature SOCIATE twang, but will always be aligned with your brand’s tone of voice.