Big Bums, Scuffles, and How to Craft Copy Your Competitors Wouldn’t Dare Write

dare to say what the others won't

Your biggest copy opportunity is this: your competitors are chickens.

They’re scared of saying something that gets noticed.

They’re scared of writing copy that sounds and looks different from what everyone else is publishing.

They’re terrified of stringing together line after line of notice-me copy that’s actually sticky enough to make visitors do a double-take. To stop bored eyes from rolling along aimlessly. To make busy people pause and take notice.

But what if taking a chance on unexpected copy could bring in, say, 124 percent more clicks? Or 26 percent more leads?

Can you tell these services apart from each other?

Have a look at the following copy from a handful of different sites trying to match people with clothes they’ll love wearing:

Images via,, and

Images via,, and

Based on the copy alone, can you tell those services apart from each other?

Do you know which one to choose, and why?

Do any of them make you want to switch from your current method of clothes shopping to their method? To go through the work of creating an account, filling in whatever as-yet-unseen massive forms they’ve got, and giving up all sorts of personal information along the way?

Now take a look below, and see if you notice anything different:

Images via,, and

Images via,, and

Did you see that?

The copy on the middle page uses words like “bum” and “boobs” in the headline. Here they are, side by side, for your comparing pleasure:

We A/B tested the Control and Variation B — and I’ll give you the results of that copy experiment in a second. But first things first.

What on earth compelled us to write a headline beginning with “Big bum?”

For starters, we knew we wanted to say something different. Period. This test was actually part of a bigger group of tests I did with Jen Havice called, “The Risky Copy Experiments.”

We wrote the headline for Variation B based entirely on the language used by the target audience, which is women who struggle to find clothes for their body types.

We pored over discussions in forums for plus-size women, and we found something that probably won’t surprise you: they talk about their bodies using real words, like “bum” and “boobs.” Because they’re human.

So, if our audience talks about themselves in a certain way, what is the risk for us talking to them using the same words?

We didn’t absolutely know the risk — and the whole point of the experiment was to push the envelope — so we tested it.

Plus, we replaced that tragically invisible “Sign up now” button copy with value-focused button copy: “Show me outfits I’ll love.”

The Control copy wasn’t taking risks or trying to be visible. Variation B’s copy was.

The result of our test? Variation B saw 124 percent more visitors click to sign up, with 99.9 percent confidence. The riskier, stickier copy was better for the business.

Risky copy is powerful because it breaks patterns

Science says that when you put on your shoes each morning, you do it the same way — but when you go on vacation, you might put on your shoes differently without even realizing it.

Once a pattern or habit changes, everything else can change too.

People become open to suggestion when a pattern is broken. That’s why a hypnotist might shake your hand in an unusual way to put you in a transderivational state. And that’s why the copy “300 pennies for 8 cards … which is a bargain!” sold twice as many cards as “$3 for 8 cards” in a study discussed here.

Because while the brain is busy processing a disrupted pattern, our copy actually stands a chance of sinking in.

Now, if you are one of those folks who believes you can’t test risky copy because B2B stands for “boring to boring,” check this out: studies show that the less exciting your product or service is, the more engaging your copy needs to be and the more personality it ought to have.

This 2005 study exposed people to six brands of bottled water (a rather boring product), with five brands possessing one of these five positive, human-like personalities: Sincere, Competent, Excited, Sophist, Rugged.

Researchers found that people were more likely to buy and three times more likely to recall the brands that had a human-like personality, compared to the neutral brand.

But what words should you use to express personality in your copy? I’d posit you should swipe them directly from your customers, as I discuss here, here, and everywhere I can.

Unusual and surprising words engage the brain

In addition, a 2013 study found that the words and phrases that reliably engage the brain, shaking us out of a state of mindless data consumption and compelling deep attention, are the very sort Shakespeare used.

They’re unusual and surprising.

Consider some of the following words Shakespeare is credited with coining or first writing down, with more here:

  • Scuffle
  • Multitudinous
  • Cold-blooded
  • Castigate
  • Clangor
  • Dwindle
  • Sanctimonious

Those are words crafted to be noticed.

As a copywriter, I rarely find myself crackin’ open my old Oxford Shakespeare. After all, single-syllable words meant for a fifth-to sixth-grade reading level are the norm online.

But maybe the likes of Shakespeare ought to inform our word selection. Marshall McLuhan likened the advertiser to the artist, saying both are in the business of grabbing attention:

“The concern of the advertiser is to make an effect. Any painter, any artist, musician sets out to create an effect. He sets a trap to catch someone’s attention.”

Shakespeare and copywriters have at least this in common: we’re all trying to grab attention and keep audiences engaged.

Shakespeare didn’t always hit the mark — risky copy doesn’t, either

The Risky Copy Experiments didn’t result in winners across the board. For every 124 percent lift on one site, there’s a drop on another. Sometimes copy that pushes us out of our comfort zones as marketers also pushes our prospects out of their comfort zones, and they bail on us.

But that’s why we test.

Because we want to grow our businesses. And study after study shows that going out on a limb with personality-filled, unexpected copy can work. Different copy can help you grow your business. You just have to find the right words. And stay on message.

For example, most travelers rank safety as their top consideration when flying, and all major U.S. airlines strive to be safe.

So, if you were going to test riskier copy for an airline, you wouldn’t veer from the safety message; rather, you’d express it in a way that your competitors wouldn’t think or dare to do. And, to be very clear, you’d A/B test it.

Last example

Take a look at the following copy pulled from the home pages of popular rehab centers:

Image via

Image via

When a person is at a point where they are considering rehabilitation, do you think they are likely to care to read about a center’s “balanced, congruent, and highly effective blah blah blah” or to learn about its “joint commission accredited OMG I don’t care?”

We thought not. So, as we showed here, we looked online for how addicts, recovering addicts, and their families talk about battling addiction. The words and phrases they use. We stumbled upon this language in a book review on Amazon:

“If you think you need rehab, you do.”

Intrigued by how different that statement sounded from anything we were reading on rehab center websites, we tested it as a headline against the control, “Your addiction ends here.”

Image via

Images via

The result: Variation B saw more than 400 percent more clicks to sign up and 26 percent more completed lead submissions.

So, what might you gain by testing copy your competitors wouldn’t?

The post Big Bums, Scuffles, and How to Craft Copy Your Competitors Wouldn’t Dare Write appeared first on Copyblogger.


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