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A Tip for Penning Standout Copy
What Makes Great Writing? #009 - Featuring Aritzia (the clothing brand)
When you think of copywriters, you think of sleazy men with slicked-back hair, sipping Sazerac and bragging about their cars.
You don’t think any of them would be capable of a quote like this:
“Every word has an emotion with it and tells a story”
Joe Sugarman wrote that in his book Triggers_.
(31 pages earlier, he also brags about hiring strippers to increase fraternity pledges. So maybe the “sleazy guy” reputation isn’t entirely off base.)
You could argue copywriting is more difficult than any other type of writing. It is at once poetry and a user’s manual. An inaugural address and a concession speech. Fear and elation. Pain and ecstasy.
Good copy says: “We understand you. Give us your money.” And it often does that in 20 words or less. And it works.
Today, I’d like to take apart a few examples from a clothing brand that writes great copy: Aritzia. In a hyper-competitive market that sells mostly with “vibes,” their copy still shines bright.
Let’s take a look at how Aritzia compels its customers to approach the cash register.
Back in November, Aritzia caught my eye for the first time with this sign.
Humor fuels Aritzia’s copy strategy. They are cheeky. Quirky. Cute. Since this isn’t a comedy class (and since I couldn’t teach one anyway), I’ll stick to a high level comment. When you describe a product differently, it’s more memorable.
(My favorite modern marketer pointed out that naming a brand “New Yorkers” probably would have flopped, while “Humans of New York” is unforgettable.)
Let’s take it word by word:
“Give the gift that grandpa once wore. Soft knits, relaxed silhouettes, and a distinct lack of sleeves. Timeless.”
You of course pick up on the alliterative g’s, with the bonus assonance on the first two (gi-ve the gi-ft). There’s also an sneaky assonance in the words “once wore.” (Say it out loud. Feel how your mouth moves.)
We finish with an ascending tricolon containing 10 words followed by a 1-word sentence. This is a classic hypotaxis/parataxis combo.
My copywriting nerds will notice that within the tricolon, the writer is merely describing the product features. This is not unusual. The unusual part is pointing out a feature that is not present: “a distinct lack of sleeves.”
I only want to pull one phrase out of this:
“Expertly tailored with boiled merino wool.”
Do you know what the difference is between “boiled merino wool” and “regular wool” is? I don’t. Can I get my merino wool poached, fried, or scrambled as well?
It doesn’t matter whether you know the specifics or not. When met with this level of detail, our brain is soaked in assurance: we’re in the hands of experts. This is true whether you’re painting Middle Earth with words or selling sleeveless jackets.
“Discover the valedictorian of skirts. Perfectly pleated with tailored twill in micro and mini lengths.”
In case you haven’t noticed, Aritizia adores alliterations. The three at the end are precious. Let’s start with those because I’m squirming in my chair to make you stare at the extra hidden gem within.
When you look at that last line long enough, you notice the meter matches on the first and last group of words.
That’s nice enough on its own, but plop “tailored twill” in the middle and suddenly this clever alliteration evolves to a mind-boggling chiasmus of syllables.
Per-fect-ly plea-ted. (5 syllables)
Tai_lored _twill (3 syllables)
Mi-cro-and-_mi_-ni. (5 syllables).
We talked about this last week, remember? Writing with rhythm is hypnotic.
Now, back up and look at the opener: “the valedictorian of skirts.”
When you use a metaphor, your reader transfers all the properties of one item to another. When Shakespeare declares that “Juliet is the sun,” he is saying she’s “bright and warm and lovely” without having to use each of those words.
The calling this skirt the “valedictorian” accomplishes the same effect. The skirt is smart and sharp and studious. It’s also, by implication, best in its class.
"Every word has an emotion with it and tells a story", remember?
There was a time when I scoffed at any sales-based writing. It was somehow less sacred as Sylvia Plath. Less insightful than Yancey Strickler. Less earth-shaking than Rutger Bregman.
Now, I look at a pile of words, no matter their purpose, and ask: “What can we learn from this?”
Which, I think, is the whole point of this newsletter.
Much love as always <3