Positivity in copy: how to avoid making your reader cringe
“We should definitely have ‘positive’ as one of our tone of voice values.” Everyone around the table (or on the screen) nods. Of course, the team want the brand to sound positive. But they all have a nagging doubt: 'what does positivity actually sound like in writing?'.
Too gushy. Too desperate. Too good to be true. There are definitely dangers around positivity when it comes to writing copy. You don’t want to risk sounding like you’re begging your readers to buy. Equally, trying to be your customers’ best bud is a bit weird.
But if you can nail positivity, you’ll leave readers feeling great about your brand. And if you can highlight the positives of your product effectively, they’ll be more confident that you’ll help solve their challenges.
So, what’s the trick to getting it right? Here are our practical tips for writing in a positive way.
1. Decide what positivity means to your brand
Not every brand could get away with calling their blog TalkingCrap like Who Gives a Crap. And the same goes for positivity – you need to decide what it looks like for your brand and define boundaries.
MailChimp keep their copy short and punchy. They inject positivity with a motivational tone and emphasise their support. It’s simple, but it works well.
But if you’re bolder like Hendrick’s Gin, positivity might look something more like this:
I will miss your communiquès, but would like to unsubscribe from Curiositorium emails.
As they say, if you love something you must let it go. Use the contact form below to unsubscribe. Should you decide to return, we will welcome you back with open arms.
For other brands, positivity might mean sharing stories. The copy on Starling Bank’s website is straightforward and focuses on the benefits of banking with them. But take a look at this section of their website.
Here’s an extract from John’s story:
Is there such a thing as too many Starling accounts? John Hibbs, who has five Starling accounts, certainly doesn’t think so. John, 41, is a stay-at-home dad, software engineer and runs a charity with his family.
2. Share what matters to you
Ever heard someone talk about a topic they’re passionate about? Their positivity is incredibly inspiring. And it’s no different when it comes to brands.
In this case, Beyond Meat shares a short quote from their Founder. His enthusiasm shines through and adding an authentic voice helps build trust too, so it’s a win-win.
Of course, adding a testimonial from a client or customer would have a similar impact. Their positivity is genuine – even if they do sound a bit gushy or cheesy. This works particularly well for B2B writing where your copy might need to be quite straightforward to sell the product or service.
3. Don’t overdo it
I admire the excessive detail online catalogue retailer, JML, go for in every single one of their product descriptions. Even for something as simple as a mop or pair of socks.
It takes some effort to muster 400-words of enthusiasm for a sticky tape measure:
“Measure-It! is the measuring aid that builders and home DIY enthusiasts have been waiting for!”
Or face masks:
“So forget wearing and throwing away medical masks that will spend years in landfill sites, and forget cobbling together uncomfortable and impractical masks from socks and towels.”
Granted, there's a fair bit of creativity gone in to all these benefits. But there's big chunk of exaggeration (number one give away is the exclamation mark). And while it’s great to acknowledge your readers’ challenges, I’m not sure anyone has fashioned a mask out of an odd sock.
Le Creuset describe their non-stick pan set in a simpler set of benefits:
Of course, these brands are worlds apart tonally, but simplifying the benefits in this way is helpful for the reader. Language that could seem like exaggeration like “our best-ever” is backed up with evidence.
So, bear in mind when writing that being overly positive can potentially sound like exaggeration and positive language alone isn’t going to persuade your reader.
4. Don’t go for gushy, go for detail
As a relatively new dog owner, I hadn’t even considered I should be celebrating Valentine’s Day with my four-legged friend. However, this landed in my inbox and Pets at Home seem to think I should.
To the minority that call their pets ‘furbabies’, maybe this gushy approach might work. But for many normal pet owners, it’s definitely cringeworthy.
Of course, I recognise Valentine’s is gush central, but it made me wonder what it takes for a brand to stand out.
Bloom, an online flower delivery company, have nailed the minor details. “Customer Delight team” – could you get any more positive than that? Simply changing it from customer service takes away the negative connotations. And they actually sound like they’ll be helpful.
And while as a copywriter I’d normally be wary of rhyming, look how uplifting this sign-up form for Jimmy’s Iced Coffee’s newsletter is.
It goes to show there’s no need to panic about being positive all the time. You can add good vibes with a few small tweaks.
5. Opt for honesty over cliches
Brands have been eager to reassure their customers with positive messages throughout the pandemic. But is anything they’re saying unique? Watch this.
By saying what everyone else is saying, your well-intended, positive messages lose value. Ultimately, your audience won’t be able to distinguish your brand from any of your competitors.
So, what’s the alternative? We think the solution lies in honesty. As Oatly’s sustainability report shows, sometimes you have to acknowledge the negatives to look at the positives moving forward.
6. Make it punchy
It’s time to ditch any long-windedness. If you want to sound positive, you’ve got to make your messages clear.
On the page for Creative Cloud, Adobe pack their copy with action aiming to inspire. It’s uplifting and leaves the reader feeling motivated.
Or how about this CTA on Oberlo’s site. It’s to the point but the “no experience necessary” empowers anyone reading it.
What should you take away from all this positivity talk? If you’re adding “positive” to your list of tone of voice values, be specific. Tell your team what they need to do. Whether that’s finding the uplifting stories that sell your product, punchy sentences that add rhythm or finding small opportunities to inject enthusiasm.
Positivity comes in all shapes and forms. It’s something you need to define for your brand. If it’s done well, positivity has the power to create connections with your reader and inspire them to take action.