What if you just talked like a real human being?

97974257 I began my career as a copywriter and at the core, it's still how I think of myself.  I love creating emotional responses, telling stories and drawing pictures with words.  (This could be due to the fact that I cannot draw them any other way!)

But I've always believed that many marketing writers have missed the point. We're not supposed to be so clever and so fancy that we confuse people.  We're not supposed to use inside jargon or bloated words (empower, paradigm, etc.) that have been so badly overused that they are meaningless.

We are supposed to talk like regular human beings.

Sure, you can be a remarkable storyteller like the folks at J. Peterman's catalog or fire people up like Steve Farber can — but you do it in language they can understand and relate to.

Check out this black Friday sales e-mail from the StoryPeople organization, located in my home state of Iowa.  (click on the link to see their cool building!)  

Sure, they're announcing a sale but listen to how human they sound.

Subject: Happy Bright Friday! Yippee! (because calling it Black Friday is just too bleak…)

OK, we were hanging out at the studio this morning & for very good reasons, we started a game of Let's Pretend. Why? you may ask…

Because, we would answer, given our usual balmy Iowa November weather, outside there was ice coming down in sheets the size of billboards. We HAD to pretend that it was all a bad dream & that it was happening SOMEWHERE ELSE. Somewhere else where we weren't. Like Narnia, or the South Pole, or someplace like that, where they like ice coming down in sheets.

It was fun for a while, but the ice didn't want to play along. Boo, ice! So, we decided to play something else instead. Ben suggested a game of Rename The Day After Thanksgiving. Because really, who likes the name Black Friday? We don't know who called it that in the first place, but obviously, they were having a really bad day.

Once we got started, of course, we got all happy & chirpy again (as long as no one looked outside). After much lively discussion & laughter, we voted to call it Bright Friday instead.

(But don't worry. We're not like the government, where even if it's a stupid idea, you're stuck with it. We think of it as a temporary name until someone comes up with something better. To be honest, we didn't have a lot to work with. It was one of two suggestions. The other was Rainbows & Unicorns Friday. See? Bright Friday doesn't sound so bad after all, does it?)

Because it seems like just the kind of day that demands a celebration, we're doing a StoryPeople special in honor of Bright Friday. Woo hoo! For the entire month from now until, well, a month from now. (We first thought it'd make sense to keep with the whole 30 days in a month theme & give you 30% off of all purchases of 30, or more, things. But that didn't seem all that bright, being that it was Bright Friday & all…)

So, we went with 30% off of all purchases of 3, or more, of everything. (Ok, except for individual greeting cards, furniture, holiday ornaments & our create-your-own products. Because we're swamped right now & that would push us completely over the edge. But that still leaves tons more stuff & all the rest of it is fair game.) So pick any three things- a sculpture, a book, a print, you name it & we'll give you 30% off for 30 days. Hooray for Bright Friday…

Oh yeah, one more thing…

Don't forget that you have until November 29th to nominate your favorite Princess for the only-one-in-the-whole-world StoryPeople tiara. If you haven't heard yet, the tiara was done by Lynne the Jeweler who does all the StoryPeople holiday ornaments. (Which, by the way, are only guaranteed to arrive in time for the holidays if you order by November 29th.) So, if you haven't done it already, nominate your favorite Princess (since we're running out of time, be sure you send it via email to Annette@storypeople.com) by telling us who they are & why they should be crowned this year's StoryPeople Princess of the Known Universe. Heck, if you want to make it really easy, just add it to the comment at the end of your order when you stock up on this year's limited edition StoryPeople holiday ornaments… 🙂

No matter what, make sure you get everything in by November 29th (because, no kidding, this once-in-a-lifetime chance at the tiara ends then. We're putting our foot down. Even with Bright Friday dancing into sight, ice is still coming down in sheets. So, don't even think about messing with us on this… 🙂

We look forward to seeing you at StoryPeople.com soon (& even if we don't, let us know how your Bright Friday goes. We have a feeling with a name like that, it's going to be fabulous…)

With love,

The Crew at StoryPeople



Did they make their point?  Sure… they're having a sale.  But they did it in a way that sounds quite human.  And also very true to their brand.  Can you imagine seeing an ad that says "because we're swamped right now & that would push us completely over the edge?"  I'd like the company that had the courage to do it.

How about you?  Could you copy use a little humanization?  



By the way… thanks to reader Rebecca (love that Rebecca!) for sharing the e-mail copy. I'd never h eard of the StoryPeople before, despite their Iowa location.  

But, I see that they're selling a book by Twitter sensation Tim Siedell (twitter name: BadBanana) who I knew way before he was twitter funny and he guest blogged here while I vacationed.  Tim and I share a love of branding, Disney and David Ogilvy. He blogs too. He is a twisted sister of funny, so check out the book.



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17 comments on “What if you just talked like a real human being?

  1. Ginger Johnson says:

    Brian Andreas has long been a favorite creator artist/writer to me…I have a number of his prints, all his books and they remind me daily of simple profundity. Thanks for posting on this Drew. Cheers – Ginger

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Drew. I’m always amazed at how difficult writing in a human voice is for some brands. It’s like they’re so focused on the task of writing they forget to pay attention to how they SOUND.

    I read good advice somewhere (forget where): Speak your customer’s language, but don’t imitate her voice. It’s a fine distinction that too many marketers aren’t aware or can’t digest.

    Thanks for sharing — and happy belated Thanksgiving!

  3. Mark says:

    I think Twitter and the rest are helping to dumb down the way we communicate. The short blurbs are only continuing a long decline in our language skills and it is unfortunate. The problem now is as a marketer do you prepare ads based on the new generation or old?

  4. Chris Wren says:

    Great post and good advice on the style of your content. Thinking locally and appealing to individuals is so much of what the landscape out there demands. To me there is a borderline between being conversational, and having a conversation. This is the beautiful thing of merging art directors with copywriters, which I believe is essential when telling a longer story. We are so trained to accept multiple streams of information from multiple sources that in a well-executed design, the crux of the email, the offer, can stand out alongside very accessible, human-speak copy.

    Great post as usual.

  5. Andy Nattan says:

    That’s a great example of a casual-friendly voice – and any blogger, marketer or copywriter needs that in their locker.

    That said, don’t be too hasty to knock the formal, jargon-heavy tone. In some instances (and for some audiences), it carries real gravitas.

  6. Doug Rawady says:

    Great article, Drew. The moral of the story is “keep it conversational.” Or as copywriting kingpin, John Carlton, has said, “talk to your intended audience the same way you’d talk to some guy in a bar you just struck up a conversation with over a beer.”

  7. Great post Drew. Talking directly to your audience like you would talk to a friend sitting next to you is what separates the great writers from the mediocre ones.

  8. Anne says:

    The voice may be swell and all, but that email was (IMO) waaaaay too long. The crucial message — 30% off — is buried more than halfway down the text column.

    A better promotional email would maintain the “real human” voice without losing potential customers who react, “TL:DR.”

  9. Stacy says:

    I completely agree with the post by Anne. The e-mail was too long and the key message was lost. I would not have read the entire e-mail, despite the voice in which it was written.

    I do agree that copywriters should limit jargon and inflated writing and stick with a human voice. I’m just not sure I agree that this e-mail is the best example of that.

  10. While I absolutely love the tone of the example email you shared, it’s incredibly long and doesn’t make a pitch until the 6th paragraph. I think most of us probably would not have read that far down, though the bold type helps. Talking like real people is important, but realizing that real people have better things to do than read marketing pitches and so being respectful of their time does wonders too. It doesn’t have to be one or the other – we can do both.

  11. Ginger —

    It was fun to discover they’re right here in Iowa! Sending midwest greetings your way!


  12. Scott,

    That is a fine distinction. Do you remember if they offered any counsel on how to find that fine line?


  13. Mark,

    You blame twitter — I’ll point the finger at text messaging. I think that medium has had a significant impact on the way all of us, but especially kids, communicate.

    I’m hoping the pendulum will swing back the other way soon!


  14. Andy,

    No argument from me there. It’s all about knowing your audience and as Scott referenced — speaking in their language. For some audiences, the example would have been exactly what NOT to do.

    The more a writer understands who they’re talking to, the better the copy will be. Formal or conversational.


  15. Doug & Harrison,

    Your comments cement Andy’s point, I think. Understanding who you are sitting across the bar from is what allows you to choose the right words, tone, tempo and even length of the message.

    It all starts (as it always does) with knowing your audience.


  16. Anne, Stacy and Katherine —

    I wondered if anyone else would notice the length of the e-mail. I can definitely see your point — the sales message IS buried and several paragraphs into the e-mail pitch.

    It goes against what any seasoned direct marketing copywriter would tell you to do. But, I wonder if that’s why it’s effective too? It feels so much like it IS NOT a sales pitch that they sort of ease you into it.

    Keep in mind — you’d probably only get this e-mail if you were a customer, so you’d have some sort of relationship established. Which might mean you’d be more inclined to read it all the way through — like a letter from a friend.

    I have to admit, I’m on the fence about the length. I hear what you are saying but I find myself wondering if that’s part of the beauty of the piece.

    It would be an interesting experiment to send out two identical letters, except one was half as long as the other. I wonder which one would sell more?


  17. Kent says:

    The emoticons play very important role in the sales copy. 🙂

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