Making boring content interesting: From blasé to blazing
Our Chief Copywriter, Rory, explores how to make your writing amaze and astound the audience even when the subject is... less than thrilling.
The job of a copywriter, I am contractually obliged to say, is brilliant. Agency-side, you get to work with a full spectrum of exciting clients with every day a new adventure. In-house, you become the voice of an entire brand, helping articulate its unique personality in new and exciting ways.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, some jobs land on your desk which are just a plain old chore.
You know as well as anyone else that aint nobody caring about an update to some obscure law or an upcoming talk on cardigans enough to get excited. But there’s no excuse for boring copy, and if you can make the dull stuff pop, you can write anything.
Here’s how we do it at Sookio…
It might only be boring to you
Little story for you. I was at a networking thing once and got talking to this guy about the problems he was having creating content to promote his business.
‘It’s just such dry subject matter,’ he told me, ‘nobody cares about nerdy technical stuff like this.’ Out of interest, I asked him what his company made.
‘Lasers,’ he replied.
Now I’ve done a little research on the topic, and it turns out there are very few things in life cooler than lasers. However, when you’re immersed in something all the time as part of your daily grind, any topic can begin to feel like the same old same old.
Getting a fresh pair of eyes on your subject matter can help you get back to a place where the topic feels fresh and exciting. Those eyes might come from an external source like an agency, or perhaps from someone in your own organisation whose enthusiasm hasn’t dimmed with time.
Perhaps this is how Slack came up with this tagline, which is loaded with enthusiasm and ambition for how you can use their product.
Use humour and personality
If you approach a boring topic like it’s a boring topic, guess what’ll happen. But if you approach it like it’s news of an alien landing mid-way through a Rage Against the Machine reunion, the results may surprise you.
I know this might seem obvious, but we often have clients apologising to us for dry subject matter before we’ve even received a brief.
Don’t accept defeat! So long as the information you’re trying to convey to the audience is there and it’s clear, there’s nothing to stop you injecting some personality to liven things up. A good metaphor often covers both bases and allows you to get genuinely creative with even the driest subject matter.
Self-awareness, as always, is your friend here.
Industry in-jokes and knowing nods to current trends and received wisdom are a great way of building authority by demonstrating you know what’s going on, presenting useful info and making it all accessible at the same time.
RS Components do that well in this tweet. Their approach across social media is to focus on all the exciting applications of their product, not just the nuts and bolts.
And you may remember the UPS ad campaign, That's Logistics.
When it's planes in the sky
For a chain of supply
When the pipes for the line
Come precisely on time
Watch the video and you'll be humming the song all day. And you might even think, "I wasn't that interested in logistics before but it's actually, like, pretty amazing, yeah?"
Make it visual
This leads me on to say that as a copywriter, it kills me to admit it, but sometimes plain text isn’t the best way of bringing a topic to life. There. I said it.
Images and video don’t just brighten the page up, they direct the eye around, convey meaning and break up what might otherwise just be a field of words.
Avoid stock images like the plague, though. Stock images say ‘our topic is so dull it can only be represented by a random photo of a woman smiling at a salad which everyone has seen a dozen times before.’
Infographics give you the opportunity to combine information with visual stimuli, giving you content which an audience can share on their own channels to explain an otherwise dry topic and lead traffic back to you. See how construction firm PROSOCO grab your attention with a graphic all about...concrete floors.
Using video is ideal for this purpose, as we've seen above. Moving images can convey complex, technical info with clarity and character, allowing you to craft a compelling story out of any topic imaginable.
Blendtec are the masters of this, with their Will It Blend series. Blenders are not that interesting in themselves; use one to destroy a load of expensive gadgets and suddenly they become very interesting indeed.
Pay attention to structure
If you’ve got a lot of information to cover and just one page to cover it, you need to get creative with how you present everything. If that information is of a very precise, technical nature then you might be restricted in what you’re allowed to change without altering the meaning.
Fear not! You can do all sorts of things to make a piece easier to digest without altering a word. Consider the following:
Break up sentences. Short sentences: Much easier to read!
Use pull quotes to highlight crucial parts of the text.
Turn a statement into a question?
Talk directly to the reader; in this case that’s you!
Use W words: Who, what, why, when and… erm… how.
An organisation who do this well is the NHS. Their content often covers very serious subjects, but the way it is presented makes it very readable.
Latch onto a hot topic
People always care more about things that are happening to them right now. By linking your content to something topical, you tap into that wider context and piggyback off its relevance to make your content instantly that much more engaging.
Of course, be wary of doing it wrong. A shameless attempt to shoehorn your content into the latest news or gossip can easily backfire. A better approach might be to keep your ear to the ground and stay reactive, jumping on opportunities to give your take on events whenever they become relevant.
Part of your ongoing content strategy (you’ve got one of those, right?) should ideally incorporate seasonal topics to demonstrate your finger on the pulse. It can also serve as a great prompt when you feel like you’ve described your product/service/idea from every possible angle.
Just try to put a little more thought into it than a certain crisps brand. They had a whole year to prepare and this was what they came up with.
Need help bringing your brand to life?
Do you struggle with tedious subject matter? Do you have some expert tips for jazzing up the most tedious topics? Get in touch and tell us all about it.