Using humor in sales copy is OK. But I’d have done it this-a-way…

April 1, 2011 •
Humour-in-copywriting

I stumbled upon this page today. Here’s a screenshot of it:

I hated it. Maybe I just need another coffee, but I found myself switching off in the first sentence.

What’s wrong with it?

There are quite a few things wrong here, and I’ll touch on a few of them, but the thing I want to focus on most, is the humor. Don’t get me wrong, I like that they tried to use humor. I even like the brand of humor they used. But I think their execution is getting in the way of the message.

Although the humor doesn’t rear its head in the headline, for structure’s sake, I’ll start there, and work my way down.

Ok…

Using Welcome in the headline is bad. People either feel welcome or they don’t. Explicitly welcoming them is pointless, and a waste of your most valuable real estate: your headline.

Although, in this case, the value of that real estate is severely undermined by the fact that it’s centered. And the same size and font as the rest of the copy, just bolded. Remember the F-shaped pattern people’s eyes (mostly) follow when they first come to a website?


F-shaped pattern readers use to scan a page (from Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox)

What are they gonna see first here? Blank space!

Now for the humor

If you know me at all, you know I love random humor. (Take the 404 page I wrote for Silver Pistol, for example. Or its meta tags…) But in the absence of a headline, leading with irrelevant humor leaves the reader without any meaning whatsoever. They’re completely dislocated.

Also, to me, the implementation of the humor, the wording of the sentences, is off. I like what they’re trying to do, but I think they missed it. The sentences are long and clunky. They lack rhythm and punch.

How I’d have written it

Assuming they’re saying the right things about their offering and its benefits (I don’t have time to think about whether that’s the case), here’s how I would have written it.

Below wholesale! Grab a bargain on our most popular stock

The ‘Bargain Bin’ is where you’ll find unbeatable prices on some of our most popular items. We buy them up in ridiculous quantities, then sell them off below wholesale! (Not to be confused with the ‘Smelly Bin of Crap’ other stores roll out when they can’t sell their rubbish at full price!)

You already know us as the ‘bargain blokes’, but this is even better. We’ve beaten even our own prices!

Take a look below at the unbeatable deals in the Bargain Bin today…

Some notes on what I did

  • I changed the headline so the first words you see are “Below wholesale”. I front-loaded the headline with the most important meaning words, so they can’t be missed. (The first 2 words are what people pay most attention to when they scan.)
  • In the headline, I turned the bargain bin from something possessed by the shop (“OUR Bargain E-BIN”), into something readers could profit from. And I used the active voice: “Grab a bargain”.
  • I added context to the headline, so people know what the page is about: “our most popular stock”.
  • I changed “E-Bin” to “Bin” because people trust what they know, and easy = true (“Bargain E-Bin” is too hard to read).
  • I described the bin clearly in the first and second sentences.
  • Then I put the first bit of humor in brackets, so people know they don’t have to read it, but people who want to, still can.
  • I made the ‘smelly’ sentence easier to read, and gave the crap bin a name to reinforce the humor.
  • I kept “bloke” because that’s a word that resonates with the audience. But I fixed the conflict between the plural “we” and the singular “bloke”. (Man! That was a bad sentence: “You already know that we are the best value for money bloke around and well, WOW.”)
  • And I threw away the last line in favor of a call to action.

Conclusion

Humor can help, but it’s getting in the way here. Not because it’s inappropriate, but because it’s poorly executed. The site owner is fostering a relaxed, ‘you can trust us, we’re like you’ relationship. The writing needs a little work, that’s all.

What do you think? Please comment.

Feel free to comment...
comment avatar
Charles Cuninghame wrote on April 1st, 2011

Humour is always a risky copywriting ploy because not everyone will get it or find it funny.

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Glenn (Owner) wrote on April 1st, 2011

True. But when you have a very niche audience and/or a very good relationship with your audience, it can work.

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Grayden Provis wrote on April 3rd, 2011

Great re-write Glenn. The rhythm is effortless now. "Don't make your readers 'work' " is my motto. They do enough of that in their day job. They certainly don't want to do it when reading their favourite mag! (paper, website, newsletter, whatever)

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Glenn (Owner) wrote on April 3rd, 2011

Thanks Grayden. Definitely agree with you that we shouldn't be making our readers work.

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steve allen wrote on April 4th, 2011

Funny is a hard thing to do in copy. It may have been funny as hell but "the committee" watered it down and changed the punch line. Thanks for the article Glenn

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kaycee wrote on June 23rd, 2011

Hi ! Nice. I enjoyed reading your humorous post. Thanks

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Janjan wrote on November 24th, 2011

I think using humor is effective because your'e creating more connection with your'e readers. But it has to be used in the right way, Because if it it overused it becomes inappropriate. Thanks For the advice using rumors.

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Kelly Rostant wrote on January 4th, 2013

Darling. Are you married? I'm married. But if I wasn't, I'd proposition you...because those meta tags were brilliant. And they're making me work, too. I'll be up late rewriting all my meta tags. My website thanks you. So do my clients. ("Good artists copy. Great artists steal." - Picasso) xoxo Kelly

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Draft Zero, Lively Meta Descriptions, Orwell's Dead Metaphors. wrote on January 5th, 2013

[...] And…you could even treat meta descriptions as part of your art. For example, check out the lively meta descriptions Divine Write copywriter Glenn Murray wrote for S... [...]

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