There is no sweeter sound in the world than the long, sighing groan that follows a truly magnificent pun.
You lay it down. You wait a millisecond (OK, sometimes longer).
And then you get the crinkled-up disgust face and the “AUUUUGHHH.”
Bret is disappointed in you.
But it turns out some humor theorists (one in particular) don’t find that sound so sweet.
Let me introduce you to Charles Gruner, who literally made it his life’s work to argue that fun actually = pain.
I’m oversimplifying a bit, but basically, Gruner’s theory of humor is that jokes are a form of “playful aggression”. With the exception of what he calls “good-natured play,” Gruner suggested that humor is a contest or competition. Meaning every joke results in a winner and a loser.
Basically, Gruner saw puns as a game of intellectual oneupmanship. In this light, a post-pun groan is actually the sound of your “opponent” (or in my case, victim) audibly admitting defeat.
YEP. Sounds like a real fun guy to invite to your birthday, right?
In his excellent textbook The Psychology of Humor, Rod A. Martin explains Gruner’s theory when it comes to a “duel of wits,” like a pun:
Puns in everyday conversation may be a way of “defeating” the listener, but canned jokes in which the punch line is based on a pun are seen as a way of enabling the listener to share feelings of mastery and superiority along with the joke-teller. The ability to “get the joke” gives the listener a feeling of superiority and victory, presumably over hypothetical others who might not be able to understand it, perhaps due to their lower intelligence. Thus, according to Gruner, all jokes, no matter how seemingly innocent, contain a contest, a winner, and a loser.”
Really makes you think about all the dad jokes you grew up with, right?
That was cold. Stone cold.
As interesting as it is, Gruner’s theory isn’t the prevailing school of thought among most modern-day psychologists studying humor.
Many theorists now agree that humor plays a huge number of roles in social interaction, cognition and understanding, and emotional experience—to name just a few of its many sparkly facets.
For levity, it sure does have a heavy job to do!
I heard you groan all the way over here. AND I LOVED IT.
I’ll be writing more about theories of humor and how it affects and influences us in the future. But for now, I just wanna know: What’s your favorite pun?
If you’ve read a single sentence on PunchlineCopy.com, you already know I’m deeply (probably overly) invested in how humor, jokes, and personality can shape conversions and influence consumer decision-making.
But recently, I thought to myself,
“Hey, you know what? Maybe other folks don’t intrinsically love this idea as much as you. Maybe you need to SHOW them how and why humor works so well in marketing.”
So now I’m going around the Internet and finding hallmark examples of brands using humor strategically.
I’m screenshotting those emails and landing pages, annotating them, and painstakingly analyzing them right here on this homely little blog — so you can start to get where I’m coming from.
First up, we’ve got Purple.
Y’all probably know Purple. It’s the super cohesively branded mattress company that went viral with ads like this:
And their landing pages don’t disappoint, either. In keeping with the brand’s zany, carefree style, Purple’s landing pages use humor in combination with tried-and-testing copywriting best practices.
Click to view a full-size, zoomable version of the annotated page in a new tab. Then scroll down for my thoughts on what Purple is doing and why it works.
What Purple is doing right on this page
Conversion-focused writers and UX specialists will notice the page design and layout first:
It’s segmented into easy-to-parse sections…
and features not one, but TWO videos showing the product in use.
Bullet points and illustrations abound, making the page easy to take in. No walls of text here.
Plus, the copy asks and answers questions, showing readers that Purple truly understands its target market’s problems and has an effective solution on hand.
Check, check, check.
(As for why there are potentially distracting nav menu and footer links, the jury’s out. My guess? Purple’s analytics showed that without the opportunity to explore other pages of the site, visitors bounced — so they offered ’em the ability to click around and come back to this page when ready.)
Dig a little deeper into the copy, and you’ll notice three seriously strategic ways Purple is augmenting its already savvy presentation with humor.
How humor gives Purple the edge
1. Funny and varied word choice (plus wordplay!)
Did you even KNOW there were so many words for butts in the English language? I didn’t.
In nearly every headline and sentence of body copy, Purple says “butt” in a new and different way: derriere, tail, duff, wazoo…
They also gleefully take advantage of low-hanging joke opportunities like “pain in the butt,” and give their sentences a playful cadence by using alliteration, like “precious posteriors” and “squeeze and suffocate”.
Why does this work?
Using jokes and different words to describe the same part of the anatomy keeps the reader interested, entertained, and reading further — if for no other reason to see how many unique ways you can say “butt” (19 on this page, for the record).
Wow, what a long, boring word for “attributing human form or personality to”.
Purple anthropormorphizes — what else? — the reader’s butt. We see this happen right away in the hero section headline and video, where a butt is endowed with the human emotion of sadness.
It even gets its very own “Sad Butt Diary” to catalog the many injustices that plague it.
A bit further down, Purple suggests that our butts have been “neglected” by uncomfortable chairs (effectively anthropomorphizing those chairs in the process, too).
Why does this work?
By mentally endowing a part of our own body with its own, distinct emotions, we can more effectively empathize with that part.
Only the most mindful among us has the elastic mental perspective it takes to examine our own thoughts, feelings, and sensations from afar — but given a little mental distance from our butts, we just might start to see them more objectively.
And thinking of your butt as a separate entity also makes it easier to rationalize giving dat booty a nice present. After all, you can deal with being uncomfortable. It’s just you (and you’ve probably dealt with worse).
But when it’s your butt that’s bummed? And that butt feels like a “precious” friend whom you’ve been overlooking?
Well, you’d be a monster to ignore your friend’s complaints, wouldn’t you?
3. Strategic deployment of humor
I saved the best for last.
One of the most common questions I hear (after “Is that your natural hair color?”) is, “But where and when should I use humor in my marketing?”
My answer is the same as it is to many other copywriting questions: It depends.
It depends on your branding, your prospect’s stage of awareness of your product, your risk tolerance for pushing the humor envelope, and a whole host of other things.
In general, you want to cut “cleverness” in favor of clarity. That’s a pretty hard-and-fast copywriting rule.
So it follows that you’d want to eschew humor in the parts of your marketing that are closest to the sale.
Look at where Purple is laying off the jokes and just presenting the facts, albeit in the same lively tone:
Why does this work?
By avoiding potentially distracting readers with humor — or accidentally over-easing readers’ anxiety, some of which is necessary to motivate a sale — Purple keeps the focus on its… bottom line.
Look, it’s the last Thursday in November in the United States!
Allow me to cram this post into a contrived Thanksgiving framework so it makes sense that I wrote and published it today:
What am I thankful for? The following 5 knowledge bombs, and the knowledge that more knowledge bombs will continue to drop as I turn into an old, wrinkly, cranky version of myself (and eventually go live on a mountaintop where people come to seek my wisdom. And bring me gifts. Preferably gifts made of simple carbohydrates.)
There! Done. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
5 things I’ve learned since starting to call myself a copywriter
1. Being a good writer does not make you a good businessperson
Here’s the thing about starting a business: the better you are, the more self-conscious you are about bragging on yourself. Can literally anyone hang their shingle and say, “I’m a copywriter”? Yes. Yes they sure can. Self-doubt is the name of the game when you are a baby writer looking for any and all jobs on Elance (and Craigslist–see below).
And oh boy, if you’re ever looking for evidence that running a business is about growth, check out the first few client emails you sent.
Mine were so stiff, and yet somehow defensive at the same time. It was as if I was saying, “I’m important! I’m good at stuff! But also I am scared to death and you better pay me, or else.”
I also used to offer copy editing services on Craigslist. I wish I could say that was a learning experience.
2.You can always be a better writer
Dear First Clients and Clients Shortly Thereafter,
Do I think you got a raw deal? No. I was undercharging like crazy and doing free work all the time, and I’m 100% certain that I improved your copy.
Do I think my understanding of copywriting and sales and pretty much everything about me has improved a millionfold since then? Yes. Yes I sure do.
3. Sometimes cutting extra words is not the answer
I offered editing services–both copy editing and more substantial content editing–for a long time. Cutting copy down to its bare necessities has always been one of my strengths. But no best practice is best 100% of the time.[Click to tweet]
Long-form sales pages have been shown time and time again to be effective in many cases. Turns out that when you need to persuade folks to do something, you gotta spend some time and effort. File under #commonsense and also #notaseasyasitsounds.
4. People are irrationally attached to the words they use to describe themselves
Copywriters reading this: Ever have a client who hired you to write something for them, then changed your final draft on their own? Without giving you a chance to explain why you chose the words you did?
Or a client who turned out to be completely intractable when it came to revamping a tagline or elevator pitch, because they’d been using the same one for so long it just felt wrong and weird to mix it up?
People can be stubborn and dumb and scared, so copywriting is sometimes less about the words you use in your work, and more about the words you use to persuade them that 1) this is forward progress and 2) forward progress is good.
5. Saying no is fucking great
Everybody and their mom talks about why it’s important to learn to say no. But this is my blog, so now you have to read what I think about it.
Recently, I’ve been turning down new client inquiries left and right because I am very popular and important, according to my mom.
I’m not turning down requests because I can’t handle the work (we’re all gluttons for punishment, after all)–but because I’ve learned to sniff out a “bad client” from miles away. This is the archetypal Disney villain-cum-bullheaded-moron who simultaneously undervalues you and needs your help all the time; whose invoices are late and whose revisions are premature.
The flip side of this is that when I spy a potential client who seems to really know why they’re looking for a copywriter and the actual dollar value (in ROI) of the services I provide, I will run to that client like Forrest Gump to Jenny.
TL;DR: Today, on Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for growth. And pie.
Hey,New Orleans business owners, marketers, and entrepreneurs! I’ve been working on this thing with my talented friends Julia Sevin and Frank Aymami, and we want to share it with you.
Get Creatives is a pithy 45-minute presentation that packs in a ton of information you need to know if you’re the one who markets your business. Register now on Eventbrite, or read on for a few more reasons to join us on July 13 at 6pm!
Communication design: What it is, and why it matters
You’ll learn how your investment in communication design (including copywriting, graphic design, and photography) actually increases your profits and positions your brand for bigger and better things.
You’ll get actionable tips on where to find “creatives”; how much to pay them; what to ask for; and what to look out for.
And you’ll learn how to scrimp smartly so you can save your marketing dollars without sacrificing the end quality of your product.
55% of your website visitors will spend less than 15 seconds on a given page
Your contract with an independent creative should always specify a kill fee
You might not own the rights to the photographs you commissioned
There’s a lot more where that came from.
We’re going through the entire process of working with a “creative”–everything from how and where to find quality writers, designers, and photographers, to contracts and taxes, to the best way to send feedback and get the results you want.
[Note: Hilary Joyner of Cutie Cameras and a few other ladybloggers invited me to do a #bloggeroutfit post today. Get ready for some serious navel-gazing. –Lianna]
The write way to dress
Here’s how I feel about “writing clothes”: What you wear informs your comfort, and your comfort informs the tone (and sometimes the quality) of your writing. Bear with me, because there’s a happy middle ground here.
Comfort is paramount. But being too comfortable isn’t good either. After all, I’m working. Gotta get my brain in the game.
As I write this, I’m still in my pajamas. Why? I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU, FELLOW SLOBS. But when I’m writing something important–say, a landing page to increase conversions–I’m probably going to want to wear pants.
If I have a solid writing day with no meetings (#blessed), I usually go for jeans or cutoffs, a comfy T-shirt, and flats. If I really don’t want anyone to bother me at the coffee shop (read: most days), I wear my glasses. They frame my BRF nicely.
You can have my T-shirts when you pry them from my cold, dead hands
I collect T-shirts on pure intuition, which has led me to acknowledge that:
1) They’re usually gray.
2) They must be insanely soft.
3) I like people to know that I know about cool things that they probably don’t know about.
My newest acquisition–this kickass band tee from my friends (and rock superstars) Hildegard–fits the bill. It’s just creepy enough, nice and long, and did I mention how soft it is? Perfect for writing. And doing everything else.
Please don’t make me take it off.
I feel naked without earrings
In high school/early college, I went through a phase wherein the bigger my earrings were, the better. I’m talking plate-sized, pressed-tin “LEO” astrology-themed danglers, big ol’ wooden circles, you name it. I loved them.
One day, something changed, and since then, I’ve preferred post earrings. Was it an invasion of the body snatchers, or my burgeoning maturity? Maybe it was Maybelline! We’ll never know.
Either way, my Etsy wishlist now bears witness to my love for delicate post earrings. And wooden furniture. And backpacks. And necklaces. OH MY GOD I WANT IT ALL.
These adorable little owls were made by my pal Miss Malaprop, who also happens to be participating in the #bloggeroutfit post roundup! They’re the earring equivalent of a great T-shirt: cute but not too fancy, goes with everything, and can be worn multiple days in a row without anyone noticing the smell.
Flats are my jam
Look, I love heels. I have a closet full of beautiful heels that, if they could talk, would probably be croaking something like “Please…just let me die…” I bust out a pair about two or three times a year.
Maybe it’s my crippling lack of self-confidence, but most days, I’m happy being 5’8″ and walking comfortably.
I got these insanely sparkly jelly flats on eBay for like, $5. I wear them on days when the sky is not quite ominous enough for rain boots, but you JUST KNOW that if you wear anything leather on your feet, you’ll get drenched.
Moment of silence for all the ruined suede flats out there.
Anyway, that’s usually what I wear to write! Was this the most self-indulgent post ever? If you think so, you probably haven’t read this one.
[Psst–this post is by Terra, the sharp-as-a-tack English Maven intern! Don’t you wish your intern was smart like mine? OK, enough bragging. Read on. — Lianna]
When it comes to writing for any genre, there’s a clear list of minimum required skills. You need to know how to read and write, how sentences and paragraphs work, and how to build on them to create meaning. And while anyone can apply that baseline, lowest-common-denominator skillset to just about anything written, not all wordsmiths can write copy.
Let me break that down just in case you, like me, are math-challenged: you need to know how to do much more than write to be a good copywriter. It’s not enough to be able to write a nice metaphor—great copywriters turn phrases that turn into dollars. And you can, too.
In order to harness this power, you must first understand it. The art of copywriting distinctly differs from other forms of writing. Once you learn the rules of copywriting, you can follow them, apply them, customize them, and use them to transform into the copywriter you were meant to be.
Are you ready? Let’s begin.
1. Copy sells something.
Copy is writing that businesses use to advertise a product’s market value. To effectively sell a product, copy must inform, entice, and inspire the audience to become customers. Good copy appeals to its audience, and allows readers to realize the product’s value, connect its benefits to their specific needs, and compel them to buy it by outlining how said product could improve or enhance their lives. If your writing doesn’t sell, the product won’t either. That’s it.
2. Copy targets a specific audience.
Everyone is different, but not that different. Understanding what unifies your target audience is crucial to determining its wants and needs:information you can use to better appeal to them.
Knowing your audience will also shed light on other make-or-break factors, like which publishing platform will drive the most traffic, which advertising channel will return the best results, and which tone and style resonates the most with your audience. Focusing on the customer is a huge part of that equation—by tailoring your copy to a key customer demographic or demand, you can capture their attention more fully and direct business where it matters most.
3. Copy compels its audience to take action.
If your copy doesn’t impact your bottom line, it’s your bottom on the line. Copy’s ultimate goal is to turn readers into customers; if your copy isn’t compelling, the audience won’t respond to it, period. Inciting copy allows readers to visualize the product’s benefits to their lives, which makes becoming a customer more attractive to them.
In order to spur its audience to action, your copy needs to explain why the reader should care, what to do about it, and then exactly how to do that thing. To that end, clients often work with copywriters to determine how the copy should come across to maximize results– inclusive of tone, language style, customer preferences, length, structure, content, and technicalities. Such client specifications are important for producing effective copy, but the process is by no means a one-way street: copywriting is very much a collaborative activity, one in which the customer’s needs and writer’s voice must be heard (and read) to achieve the best possible end result.
There you have it: the three tenets of copywriting that will help you drive profitable business, better communicate with potential customers, and transform your love of language into a tool more powerful than you could ever imagine. By crafting masterful copy, a writer can convey meaning and create opportunity.
But do be wary of your new powers…with great copy comes great response-ability.
Here’s a confession: I have discovered my soft spot for self-improvement books. I don’t say “self-help,” because that genre has long been maligned (and justly so, for titles like these), and now it just sounds stupid.
But “self-improvement” books—books based on research, on science, on facts—those I can get behind. So, when Birchbox Book Club sent me a free copy of Better Than Before, I set about reading it.
Step 1: Recognize you are just completely, totally flawed.
Rubin writes in a casual, conversational style, which is great when you’re subconsciously comparing yourself to her and losing.
I held off judgment until page 20 or so, when Rubin describes the “Four Tendencies” of people. There are Upholders, who meet both internal and external expectations, but may get exhausted and fail to find time to recharge. There are Obligers, who have no trouble meeting external expectations, but won’t meet a goal if no one’s relying on them for success. There are Questioners, who will only meet an expectation if it seems worthwhile, valid, and reasonable to them. And then there are Rebels, who don’t give a fuck about “expectations”.
I’m not one to dichotomize myself, but it was pretty gratifying to immediately identify with the Obliger tendency. Most people see me as an Upholder, but they have no idea how many of my own projects and commitments are languishing at the back of my mind, slowly starving to death. I know I should do [Certain Thing], but unless someone is counting on me to do it, there’s a good chance I won’t.
For example, my exercise schedule tends to go something like this.
Friend: “Hey, want to run around the park on Wednesday?”
Me: “Yeah, let’s do it!”
Friend: “I can’t go today 🙁 “
Me: *sits at home binge-eating pita chips and re-watching Battlestar Galactica*
The book offers more tendencies and how to identify your own—from things like when you wake up and go to sleep (Owls vs. Larks), to whether you’re able to control your food cravings (Moderators) or you’re better off avoiding temptation completely (Abstainers).
Each idea is framed by Rubin’s own experiences forming new habits, breaking old ones, and inflicting her Type A personality on friends and family members.
Step 2: Be okay with that.
The point is not simply to classify yourself, though. The point is to get a close-up view of the type of person you are–so you can approach forming better daily habits in a way that works for you and will be more likely to stick.
Rubin peppers the book with research citations and other examples that, while less scientific, are at least inspiring. This is another book that makes you think, “Well, why not?” or “What if…?”
She then offers several “pillars” for building stronger habits. These strategies are often rooted in common sense, and more often than not, the need to be honest with yourself replaces the need for iron willpower.
Step 3: Are you enlightened yet?
It’s funny, because I’m not sure if Rubin and I would be friends in real life. She says she doesn’t like music and prefers plain food, and other things that sound, well, pretty boring. But she knows these things about herself, and she is fine with them. She has enough self-knowledge to empower habits that matter to her (like enforced daily “Quitting Time”), and ditch the ones that don’t (like meditation). Seriously, though? Everyone can benefit from meditation.
Her main commandment is “Be Gretchen”. That earned her my grudging admiration (you’re welcome, Gretchen. Surely you were sitting at home, waiting for that).
In some way, it’s almost like permission to “Be Lianna”. It’s a heady feeling for someone already deep in the process of trying to be her best self (still talking about me here). This book is Mindfulness Lite, for people who want to gain more self-knowledge—which makes it especially funny to me that Rubin didn’t see any benefit to meditation.
But far be it from me to call the kettle black. I can’t promise that I’ll stick with my newly re-energized dedication to 10 minutes of daily meditation, or with the bright yellow blocks of time on my calendar dedicated to twice-weekly yoga. Or that I’ll stop eating sugar. (Hell, I ate half a bag of Hershey kisses while I finished this post.)
But the one lesson of Better Than Before that stuck in my mind (and was promptly supplemented by this TED Talk) is that once you’ve decided to do something, you’ve decided. You need waste no more time on agony.
I hadn’t thought of my life like that before. It seems like a game-changer. We’ll see what happens.
Y’all, New Orleans Entrepreneur Week kicked off this weekend, and in between preparing for our presentation and building a new website to go along with it (yes, that’s right, I took that on for some reason), I’ve been thinking about writing this post.
There are lots of “social media checklists” out there–and some of them are super helpful. But there wasn’t one that focused specifically on what to take care of before you attend a conference, talk, or party. Until now.
May I present to you: 5 social media tasks to handle before you step inside the doors of your next event.
1. Update your headshot.
If the last time you got your professional photo taken was more than 5 years ago; or if you’ve changed your look significantly; or if you had a luscious head of hair back then, and now, schoolchildren regularly rub your chrome dome for good luck–it’s time for a new headshot.
Once you’ve got a new headshot, standardize it across your professional profile. You want to avoid having your LinkedIn photo, which says, “Yes, I am a consummate professional!” undercut by your Twitter photo, which says, “Yes, I sure do love to stuff my face with crawfish, yes I do.”
2. Make sure your last tweet showcases your business.
If you’re a prolific tweeter, this won’t be a problem for you. Chances are, you’re tweeting interesting industry tidbits at least a small percentage of the time. But if you only created a Twitter account last year because you read in Forbes that it’s important, and your last tweet dates from the Super Bowl and reads, “lol wats up with those sharks next to katy perry??? #confused”…just post another, more flattering tweet.
Or better yet, more than one.
Push that Katy Perry tweet as far down as you can, friend.
3. Check your privacy settings.
Don’t want 400 creepy friend requests from strangers or deposed Nigerian princes? Would prefer your intimate Disqus comments stay, well, intimate? Better tweak those privacy settings before you give out a million business cards.
4. Create a boosted post.
Targeted correctly, a boosted Facebook post can reach the people you’ll be meeting at your fancy upcoming event. That way, when you reach for their hand and introduce yourself, they might just be familiar with your brand already–and as we all know, familiarity breeds contempt loyalty.
5. Write a new blog.
You like how I’m taking care of item #5 with this very post? It’s so meta, either you or I will probably explode at the end of this sentence.
But seriously, update your blog if you have one. This item is especially important for those in a content field (which, ahem, is all of you. Even if you don’t think so). A new blog says, “I’m active and invested in my business!” An old blog is almost as bad as a Katy Perry shark tweet. These pop culture references will self-destruct in three…two…one…
One last thing: If you are not the schmooziest schmoozer in the book, a slug of bourbon and a big friendly smile never hurt anyone.
I’ve been too focused on screens lately. Using RescueTime, I can tell exactly how long I’ve been on my computer–and it’s around 45-50 hours every week.
I’ve been forgetting to read.
When this happens, I get a handle on my brain by standing in front of my bookshelf. I reach for the first title that speaks to me. Usually, it’s fiction. Usually, it’s something I’ve read before.
We overuse the word a lot, but I believe your bookshelf should be “curated”–so that when you make the conscious decision to read, you don’t grab something that sucks and spend a half-hour trying to believe the narrator.
Right now, I just have this one bookshelf. Space is at a premium. I regularly cull titles that I didn’t love, or that I know I just won’t read.
The result is a highly selective, tiny library of the ideas that move me. My shelves are loosely divided into categories: Fiction I Love, Fiction I Haven’t Gotten to Yet, Business/Grammar Nerd Stuff, and Creative Shit (where craft-making books and all of my favorite graphic novels from high school live).
Here’s the top shelf, where I keep some of my favorite fiction, and a few novels I haven’t read yet, so they’re on my eye level. (Also, whiskey is a plus.)
Every single book here is meaningful to me in some way, whether I love it, I hate it–but grudgingly respect its incredible craft–or I haven’t read it yet.
I’d say I’m saving the unread ones for a rainy day, but my inbox has nothing to do with the weather[click to tweet]. Working on that.
It’s Okay to Be a Creature of Habit…
…as long as you know that about yourself.
I’m a bit predictable sometimes. I like to know what I’m getting. I often order the same sandwich from the place down the street, because I know it’s good. It’s not that I don’t want to try new things; it’s that I search for familiar feelings because I’m still pinning down what, exactly, I love most.
I reach for Plainsong by Kent Haruf when I want to revel in the simple beauty of the English language. I pluck my well-worn copy of Burning Chrome, by William Gibson, when I want to be transported to other universes and times (actually, this one just lives on my bedside table).
I page through Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath when I want a no-nonsense reminder of what works in marketing psychology, and what doesn’t.
Sometimes, though, I grab a title I haven’t read yet. The last two books I ended up with were The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson, and The Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles. Both were fan-fucking-tastic. I didn’t shut up about Devil in the White City for weeks.
Simply Put, Your Bookshelf Should Make You Want to Read.
It should fill you with joy, not aversion. It should make you pause. It should calm you.
I have nothing against Kindles; mine’s in a cute little red-leather case so I can pretend to use it for work. But nothing can replace the scent and heft of a book in your hand–and the sweet relief of giving your eyes a break from Netflix, texting, and obsessively refreshing Facebook.