A Lesson from Literature: Why Bold Copy Makes for an Exhilarating Customer Journey

Experimenting with language is more than an intellectual exercise: it can engage and excite your readers. Here's what your copy can learn from the playfulness of Lewis Carroll and Lawrence Sterne.

An open book with yellowed pages
Source: Alexas_Fotos https://pixabay.com/en/book-pitched-book-pages-paper-1738607/

The problem at the heart of most forgettable copy is simple: it’s functional, but not fun. It informs, but falls woefully short of being engaging. In essence, it is substance without any style.

No writer sets out to be forgettable, so why does this happen? The truth is, it’s a mistake which is all too easy to fall prey to. Maybe you find you don’t have the time you wish you had to spend on every piece of writing your business puts out, and so practicality takes precedence over aestheticism. Or as we discussed in a previous post, you may work in a traditionally straight-laced industry, like law, and worry that edgy web copy will put clients off. And even if your business is as edgy as they come, producing a steady output of dynamic, exciting marketing copy centered around a single topic may eventually leave you lost for words.

But don’t despair. It’s a tale as old as time, and we promise there’s a happy ending.

Let Me Tell You a Story…

Think about the last work of fiction you read. More likely than not, the protagonist had a goal they wanted to achieve or a problem they needed to overcome, and by the end they had found a solution.

Most marketing copy follows the same basic structure, only in a highly condensed form. Your potential client needs something. Your product or service is what they need. You’re taking them on a journey, which begins with interest and concludes with conversion. Your new customer should be left with the same feeling you get when you finish a particularly good book—satisfaction.

The experience of the journey and the words which compose it are important.

You can summarize Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland quite succinctly by saying it is about a girl called Alice who is bored, and who subsequently dreams she has entered a fantasy land, thus alleviating her boredom—but that description alone will not move you, nor make you come back to it again and again. It’s the way that Carroll plays with language and weaves vivid imagery through the text that makes it linger in your mind long after the final page.

But while a novelist can expound to their hearts content, a copywriter is forced to be succinct. Instead of 500 pages, you may only have five paragraphs. But far from stripping your copy down to the bare bones for space, you should see this for what it is—a chance to get really creative with words.

A Novel Idea

Lewis’s Alice novels are a delightfully whimsical example of how words can be used in strange and unusual ways to great effect. From parodies of well-known nursery rhymes and children’s songs to mischievous satire of the contemporary approach to upbringing and education, Lewis uses his words to engage directly and meaningfully with his target audience–children. Devices like the concrete (shaped) poem “The Mouse’s Tale” help the books to transcend the written word and become visually appealing as well—which Alice, who believed books ought to have pictures in them, would approve of.

Lawrence Sterne’s 18th century novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is similarly playful with its words, remaining to this day one of the oddest books ever written. Told in a series of seemingly endless digressions, and featuring various visual, typographic, and symbolic tricks, the novel constantly draws attention to its own fictionality and the conventions of the genre. In doing so, Sterne creates a book that is quite unlike anything else ever written.

The most famous example of Sterne’s experimentation is the notorious “black page” following the death of Yorick. The eponymous narrator’s grief is so great that is overflows onto the following page (front and back) in a solid ink block where the text would appear, leaving the normal margins and page numbers intact. The result? An expression of grief that is simultaneously exaggerated and minimalist, comic and yet affecting. Sometimes, no words are better than some.

When it comes to writing, style can be just as important as substance—and that applies to novel writers and copywriters alike. Remember, “conventional” is just another word for the same as everybody else. To make your business stand out from the crowd, you’ve got to be bold. A little playfulness with language provides exciting new avenues for engaging with consumers in fun and memorable ways, increasing the likelihood of brand loyalty and customers sharing your material with friends.

At MarketSmiths, getting creative with words isn’t just our bread and butter—it’s our jam. To find out more about our copywriting services, and less about our crummy jokes, get in touch.

Samantha McLaren

Samantha McLaren

Having worked as a ghost tour guide for five years, Samantha knows how to get a reaction using only words. Hailing from bonny Scotland, she spent years gathering weird, eclectic experience (from laboratory assistant to radio DJ to Sunday school teacher) before finding her true calling–writing. She came to New York to see what MarketSmiths could teach her, and never left. Copywriter by day, amateur horror writer by night, she has a passion for words and is drawn to the strange and unusual.

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