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When chatty copy goes bad

As Prince Andrew everyone knows, tone is easy to get wrong.

There was an easily avoidable tone fail in an email I got last month from a well-known multinational corporation. The part I took exception to was the salutation — “Hey D.”

“Hey D”? Really?

via GIPHY

My inner Victorian dowager was not impressed.

She drew herself up and said (mentally), “Sir, of all the greetings available, you plumped for this? Do I look like a character from Dazed and Confused?

I have a friend who I have known for years. We have regular catch-ups and I went to her wedding. She occasionally calls me D when she messages me and I do not mind at all.

But you are not my friend. You are a company that has not earned my goodwill, or put the work in to build a relationship. In future communications, kindly use ‘Hi Dawn’, or ‘Dear Ms Kofie’. Good day.”

The weirdly pally tone of the opening to this company’s email was also at odds with its content — updates to their terms and conditions and privacy policy. It was a bit like getting a letter from HMRC about your tax return that kicked off with, ‘Yo, yo, yo!’

As if that wasn’t enough, the rest of their email was in that, *serious face, serious voice* ‘we’re legally obliged to tell you this’ tone. The one a lot of organisations default to when it comes to anything to do with the law.

This odd approach meant I was even less receptive to their yawn-inducing message. Not the outcome they were looking for.

There’s a lot of this clumsy overfamiliarity about. Here’s an example from a photo printing app’s website:

“Hey you! If you’re reading this message, you’re most likely looking for a website to print your loveliest photos and transform them into fabulous products… are we right? Well,  you’ve come to the right place. Yup, with [overly perky company’s name] you simply choose the style you want to print in: Classic, Square or Retro prints. There is something for everyone! You’ll also discover our Photo Albums, Posters and other funky walk [sic] decorations that have three things in common – design, quality and simplicity!”

I wish it would stop.

Informality and light-heartedness can be a way of standing out and showing that you’re human, relatable and don’t take yourself too seriously. Copywriters Jo Watson and Karen Marston do this really well on their websites agoodwriteup.com and edinburghcopywriter.com.

But this type of tone can’t be used indiscriminately. You need to:

  • know what you want to do and if a relaxed tone is going to help you achieve it
  • think about context – a ‘welcome to my email list’ message is different from an error message, which is different from a late payment notification
  • invest in some voice of customer research to find out what your customers need and which tone’s going to be best

Jen Havice’s book Finding the right message: how to turn voice of customer research into irresistible web copy is a helpful starting point.

Peace out, dude.

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