Is Informal the New Formal in Copywriting?

There are Times When Copywriting Should Wear a Suit

As is evidenced by this blog, I’m all for informality in copywriting. Informality brings people together, it suggests that we’re not too stuck up. It sounds more like the spoken word. As a result, it builds bridges.

Informal copywriting styles were initially used with care. Now it has become a fashion and as a fashion, it has been adopted unthinkingly by the marketing masses. In fact, it’s very much like fashion. The first time anyone wore flares, or cigarette pants, or tricorn hats, it would have appeared daring, on the money, energetic. Then the style was adopted by everyone, and even those who looked bad dressed in the fashion of the day had to wear it too.

It’s the same with copywriting. There are times when it’s just right for the job. Some brands cry out for informality – Innocent Drinks, for example, American Apparel, Gap. They crave snappy sentences that aren’t necessarily grammatical, ‘isn’t’ instead of ‘is not’, exclamation marks, directness.

Yet last week I received a letter from a well respected financial company. They started their letter with ‘We’re pleased to send you…’ Did this make me feel that I had my money in the right place? No. It really didn’t. Where are the trusty, suited individuals looking after my money? It reminds me of the poorly assembled marketing for the Abbey building society before they were purchased by Santander.

Certain organisations should be formal. I’ll give you some examples. Banks, financial institutions, government departments, solicitors, barristers and lawyers, hospitals,  educational institutions, museums, libraries, funeral directors. By formal, I don’t mean stuffy. There is no reason why a copywriting style cannot feel warm, but at the same time reflect certain formalities. These are institutions that we respect, that we rely on to educate our children, uphold the rule of law, care for the vulnerable or the deceased. They’re not selling us snackpots or jeans. They’re there to help us at the most important times in our lives. Quite simply, their writing style should reflect the importance of their role in their lives, and frankly, I don’t care if they come across as formal, or even stuffy. I want them to do their job and do it well. Formal language is a signifier that the doctor has read her notes, the bank has counted to the last penny, and the solictor has remembered that clause we discussed last week. Let’s remember that there are times when copywriting has to wear a suit, and times when it’s OK to wear jeans.

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