Speak to any seasoned designer long enough and the topic of copywriting comes up. Any designer worth their salt knows the value of great copywriting and how it can transform a dull, routine web experience into a delightful one.
But what exactly does it mean to write great copy? How do we know when we achieved it? Is this something that we can learn as part of the design process, or should we have a dedicated copywriter (if we don’t already)?
A good case study for the power of copy comes from the white-hot startup Groupon. Groupon is a collective buying service that offer daily deal coupons in most major cities around the world. By some estimates Groupon is the fastest growing company ever.
If you’ve ever read a Groupon deal (and chances are you have) you may have been struck with how friendly and informal the writing is. They take great pains to make even the most mundane services sound exciting. Here’s an excerpt from a recent Groupon I received for a deal on a dentist:
The Tooth Fairy is a burglarizing fetishist specializing in black-market ivory trade, and she must be stopped. Today’s Groupon helps keep teeth in mouths and out of the hands of maniacal, winged phantasms: for $49, you get a cleaning, an exam, and x-rays at Longwood Dental Group in Brookline (a $356 value). The office is easily reachable from the C Line’s Englewood Avenue stop on Beacon Street.
Now, anybody who can make a visit to the dentist at least interesting is writing some impressive copy. And the thing is, Groupon makes this look easy. You barely realize they’re sucking you into another daily deal for an everyday service when you’re already clicking through to take advantage of it. That’s the power of great copy…when it’s really good you barely notice it’s there.
It turns out that Groupon has lots of writers on staff. (as of September 2010 they had 70) And they also have an entire style guide that helps writers adhere to the friendly Groupon voice:
Reading through this manual is a wonderful exercise in decoding what makes Groupon’s writing work. I highly recommend it. Here’s an example of how Groupon uses counter-intuitive imagery to draw readers in:
Use Absurd images. Sweeping, dramatic nonsense. The absurd narrator.
e.g. Humankind has been playing with fire for years; now we can harness the bronzing essence of the fiery sun in a gentle mist, proving once and for all our dominance over the weak, inanimate solar system.
There is lots of talk of whether Groupon can keep their advantage over new competitors. But the competitors I have seen don’t have the copywriting chops that Groupon does, at least right now. As long as Groupon continues to write such great copy, they’ll have a big advantage over their competitors. That’s the value of copywriting…an integral part of the user’s experience.