Copy with personality

Too much of the copy I read on websites is bland and uninspiring. Its time to add some personality.

If your website was a person what type of person would it be? Is it young idealistic and carefree or a portly middle aged business man that likes to play golf on the weekend?

The chances are it is neither. In fact it probably has no personality at all. It may have pretty graphics which set a tone, but it is the copy that should add the character.

Unfortunately most online copy is a mixture of various styles and tone. Website owners simply do not consider what personality their copy is communicating.

However, copy doesn’t need to be this way. Let’s look at three examples of great writing.

Lynx shower gel

Photograph of Lynx shower gel

For my shame I buy Lynx shower gel. This is surprising because their product is aimed at teenage men (something I have long since stopped being). The copy on their bottles reflects their audience and definitely communicates a very strong personality; that of an oversexed young guy desperate to get laid…

Want skin she can’t wait to get her hands on? Lynx Smoothing Shower Scrub with cactus milk exfoliates and energises your skin to keep her coming back for more.

I particularly like the way they refers to ‘cactus milk’ rather than Aloe Vera. Aloe Vera is mentioned a lot in women’s beauty products and that is not at all appropriate for this image conscious male audience.

I want one of those

I want one of those is a website that sells a variety of gadgets and gizmos. It is trying to project a fun, light-hearted persona full of ideas and great things to do. Its copy reflects that.

Waboba Ball

Take for example the Waboba Ball that they sell. Basically it is a plastic ball you throw around in the sea. There is very little to say about it but that doesn’t put off the copy writers on this site…

Named after the rare and sacred Waboba goat found only in the high Annapurna (not sure there’s a low one), this ball, whilst devoid of hooves, hair, horns and questionable eating habits, is just like a goat, and even bounces on water just like a goat does. Hmmm. Perhaps it isn’t named after the goat after all, we just looked up goats and it seems that they tend not to bounce on water, or anything else come to that. The Waboba Ball however miraculously does bounce, a lot. This brilliant invention is what larking about in water was invented for. Forget lobbing plastic discs at each other in the pool or at the beach, this hackey-sack sized little monster bounces off the water like you wouldn’t believe.

Genius. What it lacks in real selling points it makes up for in character.

Innocent Smoothies

Package shot of innocent smoothies

Innocent are masters of good copy. Their packaging is a work of art from the “stop looking at my bottom” message on the bottom of their bottles to the “enjoy by” notice rather than the normal “Use by”. Their website too has some gems of good copy that simply oozes personality…

We were wondering if you’d like to join the innocent family. Don’t worry – it’s not some weird cult. It’s just our way of staying in touch with the people who drink our drinks i.e. you. Every week we’ll email you our news and give you the chance to win lots of drinks. We’ll also invite you to nice events like the innocent village fete and maybe send you the odd present if you’re lucky. Finally, we’ll very occasionally ask you what you reckon we should do next, as we sometimes get confused.

Its self deprecating, its friendly and most importantly it draws you in, pursuing you to keep reading.

So what about your site? Admittedly the above examples are all fairly light hearted and friendly. Not all websites want to communicate this type of personality. However, all organisations should demonstrate some kind of personality through its copy. Its time to decide what that personality is.

  • http://www.fwon.co.uk Paul Randall

    Good copy is very important for the web, as conveying a ‘tone’ is more difficult than it is in audio.
    Having good copy makes a huge difference to a website, but the key is to not alienate your audience.
    More often than not, the words are the last thing to be given to a Web Developer, and have been written by the client with no thought as to who they are trying to talk to. Many talk ‘at them’ rather than ‘to them’

  • http://www.targetict.com Neil

    Website design should be split into 3 specialist areas – copy, graphics and code.
    But how many people split these areas?! They’re 3 different areas that require 3 different specialist qualifications. Its all too often that a coder thinks they can do the graphic design etc etc.

  • http://www.simongriffiths.name funkygorilla

    This is true for the right site, but you may have a site that needs to portray a corporate image, in which case unfortunately no personality is the best option!
    If you look at all your examples they are aimed a specific audience where a less formal, more friendly, and occasionally daft style is appropriate. You have to say though that for every Lynx there will be a bigger Radox appealing to a broader audience. Similarly Wilson tennis balls, and if I was in the UK I could tell you a juice manufacturer, but I will say Australian Fresh over here.
    From a marketing point of view what these companies are doing is attempting to appeal to a specific market segment. Lynx will probably be made by the same people as Radox, but are more likely to sell if they segment. Segmentation is also a great way of getting into the market. If you look at innocent, or nudie over here (not sure if they are related or one copied the other), they are picking up on a younger generations emphasis on health, design, non-corporate feelings etc and are creating a very successful brand by just targeting them.
    btw – when writing this style of copy, having personas is very handy, as you can really aim your copy at them and the things that are important to them.
    Anyway enough of the marketing. Bottom line is you can add appropriate personality, where it is appropriate!

  • Marcus

    A rare moment… I find myself reading one of Paul’s articles :-)
    @funkygorilla – I think the point here, with the vast majority of websites, is that no appropriate tone is taken i.e. no-one even thinks whether ‘corporate’ or ‘zany’ is appropriate, they just mindlessly ‘plug in’ the content.
    Doesn’t happen in traditional publishing and it shouldn’t happen online either. This is the next big thing in our world – trust me ;-)

  • http://www.babywachs.com Wade

    More than just reading Paul’s article, you actually agreed with what he was saying!
    My question though is what’s an example of a site that shows a good corporate tone? I could list sites all day that have a great ‘zany’ tone, but I can’t think of one that stands out with a good ‘corporate’ tone.
    So please enlighten us, what does a good corporate tone in the copy look like?

  • http://boagworld.com Paul Boag

    @Wade, corporate tone does certainly exist but is more subtle than B2C. Check out http://getfeedback.net/. They are one of our clients and write excellent copy. He is an extract…
    “We’re all about making businesses better by changing how employees operate. The evidence suggests that people or ‘talent’ offer the best opportunity for improvement and change in a business. Our approach is very specific and tangible: identify the commercial challenge, find out what ‘success’ looks like, then find a way to get there using new and existing employees.”
    Its clear, friendly and avoids jargon. They write how they speak and engage with the reader personally.

  • http://www.amazingadgets.co.uk Amazing Gadgets

    More than three specialities to develop a website, I will say more than ever it’s very important to have a seo specialist in the very begining to help with all design and code. A website with good code and good design it’s not always an seo friendly website.

  • rctrucks

    Your post has really made me think. Your so right and the examples you have given were and the perfect choice.
    I love Innocent and I Want One Of Those, they are so fun. I enjoy just reading their comments, and product descriptions. Very current, very fun.
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