“That’s gone up, hasn’t it?”
My boyfriend, previously horizontal on the sofa, propped himself up on one elbow and reached for the remote to hit rewind.
“One in two of us will get cancer in our lifetimes.”
The sombre talking head on the screen informed us, for the second time.
“Every pound you give goes directly towards life-saving research…”
“It used to be less than that, didn’t it? Like one in five? Oh no, that’s not good.”
We were watching a show from Channel Four’s Stand Up To Cancer campaign and their tagline had ruffled G’s feathers.
Truth be told it had ruffled mine too—were the stats really that high? I noted down the text-to-donate number flashing on the screen.
Simple but effective
As well as concern for the grim statistic we’d been presented with, there was something else I was feeling. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’d felt a flash of professional envy at whoever came up with that tagline.
It was dazzlingly simple—the best ones are—but mightily effective.
Effective enough to move G upright—something doorbells, the cat’s pestering and even fire alarms have limited success doing when he’s settled in for the evening.
Its impact is partly down to the emotional weight of the c-word. It’s one of a small number in the English language that truly strikes fear into our collective hearts. Terminal. Aggressive. Incurable. The associations are rarely positive.
But there’s something else at play here too. Let’s consider an alternative phrasing:
“50% of the UK population will get cancer in their lifetime.”
It’s exactly the same statistic, but it doesn’t have quite the same impact, does it? That’s because:
- “One in two” is more powerful than “50%”
- “Us” is more powerful than “the UK population”
- “Our lifetimes” is more powerful than “their lifetime”
The closer to home you can bring your message, the more effective it will be.
I’m a freelance copywriter and spend a lot of my professional life trying to work out why my clients’ copy fails to make an impact.
Usually, it’s because it’s all about them.
When I’m reviewing a website homepage, for example, two of the first things I look for are:
- a clear, above the fold, mission statement focused on the problem the business solves or the need it meets.
- a ratio of first-person pronouns to second-person pronouns weighted in favour of the latter (i.e more “you”s than “I”s or “we”s).
The first point is obvious, I hope. People don’t like guesswork, they want to know how you can help them. Take a look at your homepage and check this is true for you. If not, fix it right away, you can thank me later.
The second point should by now be obvious too. For copy to be successful it needs to be more about the reader or user (“you”) than about yourself (“I”).
Commonly, I see things like:
“I’m an experienced digital marketing professional and I specialise in SEO.”
Okay, fine. But how about:
“I‘m here to help your website rank better in Google.”
Perhaps not the most original example, but you get my point. Replacing “I”s with “you”s makes your copy reader-focused and therefore much more compelling.
It also has the added advantage of highlighting benefits, and we all know how persuasive they are.
Over to you
So, next time you’re scratching your head over a piece of copy that’s failing to land, see if you can rework it to make it less about you, more about whoever you’re writing for.
Replace some “I”s with “you”s.
Bring your message closer to home to make people sit up, listen and take note of what you’re saying.