I always think it’s interesting to look at how copywriters strike a balance between honesty and deceit.
On the one hand, good copy is honest, frank, and upfront. That doesn’t change. But, as copywriters, we’re routinely called upon to lie. How many times do you use ‘I’ or ‘We’ in copy, but really you’re speaking as the client? How often do you take on a different personality to get the right voice for a certain piece?
Part of our job is pretending to be somebody we’re not. But that’s okay.
Telling A Seductive Lie
The techniques that we use as copywriters are the same techniques that people use in their personal lives all the time. The way that we communicate with customers draws on the same social skill that we use to communicate with our family, friends, lovers.
When I first started out as a copywriter, I knew a girl called Lucy. She was a great friend and somebody I could always turn to, just a phone call away when I was overjoyed, heartbroken or just bored.
One day, the roles were reversed – she turned to me for support. That was unexpected.
She was inconsolable. I’d never heard anything like it. You see, Lucy was in love. His name was Alex and he was kind, and thoughtful, and honest.
Or so she thought.
In fact, he had been lying to her for all thirteen-and-a-half months of their relationship. He had lied about almost everything – his education, his high-flying job, his first girlfriend. He had even gone so far as to tell her these stories about a younger brother that, it later transpires, didn’t even exist.
As you can imagine, Lucy was devastated. Being terrible at dealing with situations like this, I went with my gut. I set about telling her that he was worthless, that the way he had acted was reprehensible, and that she was better off without him.
Lucy didn’t agree. She told me something that I’ll always remember – “I loved those lies more than anything.”
And, with some reluctance, I must admit that Alex was very good at what he did. He created a world that was rich with detail and incredibly enticing.
He had told a story from a fictional perspective, because that was the most attractive thing that he could do.
Lying Isn’t Always Bad For Copy
I think we can learn two different things from Lucy’s story.
First, it tells us that lies can be irresistibly attractive, as they were to her. With the freedom to make the quotes in your press release neater, or the copy on the blog post a more elegant version of events, it becomes easier to keep hold of readers from the first line to the last.
It also tells us that there are good times and bad times to lie! Although no customer is going to be upset if they find out the decision-making process detailed in a case-study is streamlined, it might be problematic to lie about the specifics of a product or service. Like Lucy, customers want to be absolutely sure of what they are getting!
Oh, and finally, it proves the seductiveness of lies, and the incredible way that fiction can be used to emphasise a point, or show it in a more memorable way.
Because – as I’m sure you’ve gathered – I’ve never known anybody called Lucy.