Is it just me or is anybody else alarmed by the amount of violence in web copywriting nowadays?
Just look at the headlines of sales pages.
You'd think everyone was out to become a “ninja” at every desirable skill, “kick b**t” in their field, and “annihilate” or “crush” every one who gets in their way.
Is that really how you see yourself?
Is that how our readers see themselves?
In a world where teens are killing each other and themselves because of bullying, where armed men are shooting at or plowing their vehicles over crowds, where people blow up other people and themselves in the name of their beliefs, I call on my fellow copywriters to stop using violent language.
Obviously the saying “sticks and stones may hurt my bones, but words will never hurt me” is simply untrue.
Words can and do hurt.
Not only that, words evoke feelings, affect our self-esteem, and shape our behavior.
I can't argue with that. Violence, oddly enough, is gratifying. Just look at the blockbuster movies. Most of them are violent.
And, hey, I myself enjoy watching CSI and Bones.
But here's the thing: violence is not the only thing that sells.
I suggest we look at other aspects of humanity that resonate with our readers. Let's look at other areas as inspiration for our metaphors and imagery, such as:
I'm not big on sports, but many people are! Sports provide plenty of language we can use to represent winning and success. A few examples:
Let's not forget that most of our readers are probably deeply spiritual people. While you may not want to use words that are specific to one religion (unless you are writing for members of that religion), you can draw on other aspects of spirituality in your copy. Spiritual words include:
Women as well as men are longing for intimate connection, so romantic language could very well help sell your products/services. Romantic language includes words like:
You can read more about using feminine romantic words in your copy here.
The bottom line is this: It IS possible to use non-violent copy and still sell.
In fact, I dare say that in certain markets and products, this non-violent language is more appropriate and effective.
The problem is, we need to look farther and work harder to find alternative language. One that our readers can connect with.
Are copywriters willing to go the extra mile to discover and use that language? I hope so. Let's do it! Our survival could depend on it.
What are your thoughts on this issue? Am I over-reacting? Are there other sources of non-violent language that we can look at?
I'd love to read your comments below.
Image by raymaclean
Lexi Rodrigo is a communication and marketing professional for multimillion-dollar businesses, co-author of Blog Post Ideas: 21 Proven Ways to Create Compelling Content and Kiss Writer's Block Goodbye, and host of "Marketing Insights LIVE!." Connect with Lexi on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.
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Killer post, Lexi! 😉
I have to admit paragraph two made me burst out laughing – I never saw it from that perspective until you pointed it out.
I agree very much that choosing words, language and themes carefully is important – especially when you’re in business.
At Men with Pens, we write what we call “branded web copy”, which means that if your brand image is warm, friendly and welcoming.. the web copy reflects that tone and uses words that create the association with readers. You won’t find kickass in that copy!
But for a site in sports, we might use that word – it’s a word that may (depending on the business) be common to that target market and even be accepted.
Point is, choose words and associations carefully and choose wisely, based on image and brand.
@James Chartrand – “Branded web copy” sounds wonderful! More marketers need to be conscious of that. I once saw “diva” and “kickass” on the same sales page, probably on the same headline. When that happens you have to wonder, what image is this person trying to portray, and what kind of person is this person trying to connect with?
This is a really great original perspective (and it’s about time somebody said it). A follow up could be written about removing sex from copy.
@Laura – You’re right, Laura, and sex-oriented copy is probably linked to violence against women. We’ve barely touched the deeper implications of the language we’re using online. Thanks!
It all depends whether you want to be a social reformer or write copy your client wants. If he’s selling to 20-year-old single guys who spend all their days street-racing, sensitivity isn’t going to sell. But I have to admit, I consciously avoid words like “annihilate” “kill” “rip” etc.
There are plenty of other creative words expressing testosterone-laden energy.
And it’s fun finding ones that work.
@Marya – That’s it, exactly: how do you sell to 20-something, videogame-playing dudes without resorting to violent language? Is it even possible? With a lot of creativity, I’m sure it can be done!
I think you’re going to get your wish. My prediction… “Ninja” language and the like will run its course and then all but disappear, just like “Rockstar.” Remember that one? That term arrived on the scene, got waaay overused and now sounds pretty lame. So what term will takeover from “Ninja”? I dunno, but I’m with you… I’m ready for some language that’s a little more chill. In fact… how about… “Monk”? Yep, I vote for Monk. 😉
@Pete – Thanks, Pete! I sure hope your prediction is correct. We need more life-breathing copy language. And, yes, I’ll use “monk” as soon as I possibly can.
Great post Lexi! Right in the middle of it I had to run over to one of my salespages to see if I was guilty.
Happily I do not use, promote or otherwise condone violence in sales copy.
@Angela – Glad to hear it! I think the use of violence metaphors has become a copywriting cliche–a sure sign of laziness. I agree with Pete. It will soon go out of fashion. Let’s blaze a new trail and set new trends 🙂
I have always remembered my 7th grade English teacher saying “There are millions of words out there (we were in 7th grade…millions seemed like an outrageously high number at the time), it is your job to find the one that completely fits.” It is the same with cursing. Sure, you can drop an F-bomb every other word, but what exactly are you trying to say? It is similar to throwing in the word “Abacus” all over the place – not only does it get abacus old after a while, but it doesn’t abacus make sense either. Abacus.
I’m with you on making copy less violent.
@Sal – Exactly! With so many words at our disposal, why limit ourselves to words that conjure violence and hatred? With some, it’s probably pure laziness. Everyone else is doing it and it seems to work, so why do anything else?
Besides, it is far more difficult to not use those words and still sell like the big dogs. I think it shows that you are classy and really have a solid command of the English language. It is as if you are convincing a vampire that he really needs this clove of garlic… 🙂
@Sal – I like that, “classy.” Let’s all strive to be classy instead of trite 😀
Nice post, Lexi, and so true.
Violence appeals to a segment of the market but I think it’s on its way out.
More marketers are adopting authenticity, humility and genuine giving. Why, because it works better in the long run.
And because it’s a wiser, more humane way to be.
@Oscar – I like it: “authenticity, humility and genuine giving.” I guess that’s more in line with my personal style as well. Thanks for posting a comment 😀