Copywriting is an important part of a company’s image, as it helps to define the consumer perception of the brand personality.

For example, Innocent Smoothies uses quirky, light-hearted copy to portray a caring, friendly brand image.

But to what extent can copywriting really impact the consumer perception of a brand when they are already familiar with the business?

Brand language consultancy The Writer investigated this topic by testing people’s reaction to a series of customer scenarios.

2,000 consumers blind-tested writing samples from three airlines and three retailers, as well as an invented sample for each scenario.


One scenario tested how customers react when an airline cancels a flight based purely on the email copy.

Respondents were asked whether the refund instructions would put them off flying with each of the airlines again. Here are the results:

  • More than two-thirds were put off flying with Virgin again.
  • More than half were put off flying with British Airways again.
  • Just fewer than 50% were put off flying with Ryanair again.

The Writer’s sample email achieved the best results, which is suggests was due to the fact that it cut out jargon such as ‘monies paid’ and ‘causes within the carrier’s control’.

It was also the only example to offer an apology and made the copy personal by writing ‘we’ and ‘you’ rather than ‘the passenger’
and ‘the carrier’.

The report says that airlines could therefore retain 12% more customers following flight cancellations if they altered the tone of their emails, however this is massively oversimplifying the situation.

Consumers consider a huge number of factors when buying a flight, with the most important probably being the price. So to suggest that the language used in a single email will have such a drastic impact is foolish.

In reality, this test just proves that brand image is far more important than the content of a cancellation email, as if respondents knew which airline had sent each email then the results would likely have been very different.


The second scenario tested the impact of language on whether people apply for loyalty cards online. Respondents were asked which card they would opt for based on the writing alone:

  • 11% would choose House of Fraser’s loyalty card.
  • 21% would choose Costa’s.
  • 28% would choose Tesco’s.
  • 40% would choose the imaginary card from The Writer.

For The Writer’s fake sample it sacrificed clarity for personality and even owned up to the fact that there’s something in it for the company if people keep coming back.

Respondents actually felt that Tesco’s writing was clearer (25% vs. 20%), but claimed they would be more likely to apply for the fake card as they warmed to the brand’s personality.

This is an interesting test as it shows the value of speaking to customers in everyday language rather than boring them with a generic sales pitch, though it again ignores the impact of a customer’s existing perception of the brand.

Also the use of warm, personal copy probably wouldn’t work if used on a one-off basis. 

It would need to be part of the brand’s overall image, otherwise it risks coming across as a cynical attempt to flog a loyalty scheme.

David Moth

Published 8 November, 2012 by David Moth

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn

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Comments (14)

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Mark Mauloni

Good copywriting will sell something, but the product or service needs to backup what was advertised.

Bernbach said "Good advertising can only sell a bad product once."

over 5 years ago

Cassandra Faria

Cassandra Faria, Social Media & Community Manager, EMEA at Adobe

I'm all for the power of good copy. But as this post illustrates, it's just one piece of the brand puzzle. The tone of voice used needs to match the 'culture' of the brand - something Innocent drinks does a very good job of I think. Thumbs up to them.

over 5 years ago

Emily Hill

Emily Hill, CEO at Write My Site

I think the answer to the question in the heading is "no" in that most people probably choose Ryanair over BA because of their perception that it's cheaper. In fact Ryanair is one of the few companies that makes no bones about the fact that it doesn't care if it annoys its customers with extra charges for luggage and penalties for not printing boarding passes etc, because a) they're cheap and b) they fly their planes on time.

Copywriting is far more relevant when you've got a group of ostensibly similar brands battling for the same customer demographic (and not competing purely on price). That's when it becomes really important to develop a unique brand voice and create consistent messaging across all marketing channels. That's pretty much what the loyalty card example demonstrates - i.e. people are bored of generic sales patter, but respond to a lively brand voice.

over 5 years ago

Gemma Storey

Gemma Storey, Content Specialist at Carrot Communications

I think the fake card also proves that people value transparency. Brands can have great messaging and copywriting, but the best brands use clarity, honesty and individuality when talking to customers.

over 5 years ago


Grant Baker

I'm really curious about The Writer study and loyalty cards. Is there anywhere to view the various copy samples that were tested as well as more information on how the study was conducted. Plus, I'm curious if the subject's self-reporting lines up with reality (i.e. Do 28% of website visitors really choose a loyalty card with Tesco?)

over 5 years ago


Michael Corbett, Director at ProductBox

There is something big missing from this article: the copy itself.

You can't talk about copy in an abstract way like this and ask readers to imagine what the words are like. You need to see them!

They don't seem to appear on the Writer's website either and that makes me wonder what's going on and maybe someone's trying to make a point without having the supporting evidence.

over 5 years ago


Neil Taylor

Hi Dan,

We agree – a warm tone can’t be just used as a tactic to get people to sign up to something. We did the research to test our theories about how people react to language. We’ve spent ten years training people in all sorts of businesses and we noticed that many had the same fear: ‘I can’t write like I speak because my customers, and my boss, won’t like it.’

We wanted to give people the numbers to prove this isn’t true; actually, people do like it. Of course it needs to be part of the bigger brand picture – we’re not undervaluing image and the other aspects of a brand. We’re arguing instead that some people are undervaluing the language element of theirs.

Some of the brands we looked at are well known for great brand language. Virgin is a good example of this. A lot of areas of their website are very on-brand and sound great, but they’ve missed a trick in others. Our suggestion is that every piece of writing is part of the brand impression they’re creating. The brands who spend time getting this right (even in writing people traditionally find dull but is critical to customers – like refund instructions), will have a real advantage over the others.

We also have some more data from the research, coming out in January, that looks at people’s reactions to language when they apply for a bank account. We found that the results challenge the general trend a little. This is important because again it proves that there are some instances where sincerity and maturity of tone are just as important as being helpful and human. After all, no one wants their bank to sound like people who make smoothies.

over 5 years ago


Neale Gilhooley

No. In this case it would take a lot more than some artfully crafted copywriting to shift such deep negative perceptions created by years (decades?) of awful headlines and truly awful customers service experience that Ryanair has consistently delivered.

However as the poster above allude to, people already know this and accept it as part of the ‘deal’. They know they will pay their money and just hope that the worst does not befall them.

over 5 years ago

John Waghorn

John Waghorn, Content Marketer at Koozai Ltd

I would say that the way you phrase something has a significant bearing on how you are perceived as a brand. Obviously, as pointed out in the article, there are other contributing factors when a customer decides to buy into a brand, such as price and brand familiarity. You need to use language to connect with the customer from the outset, but when you maintain custom you still need to be able to show that you value them as well. The product you are offering needs to be of value too besides the actual copy. In terms of showing the actual copy used, perhaps this could be used as a follow up article?

over 5 years ago

Ivor Morgan

Ivor Morgan, Personal

I'm with @MichaelCorbett - I'd like to see the competing copy samples as well. Otherwise this reads as a puff piece, rather than an educational post.

over 5 years ago


Michael Corbett, Director at ProductBox

Puff piece! Yes, that's the phrase I was searching for. Thanks, Ivor.

With copywriting, the proof of the pudding's in the actual words. You can tell two copywriters to write "in friendly terms and in terms the customer would understand" (which is what the article in affect says) and you'd end up with two separate bits of copy - one of which could be blindingly successful and the other give a very poor response.

A lot depends on the actual words...

over 5 years ago


Julian Peterson

Interesting reminder about jargon.

Like the pic of the man on the phone and thought I should mention that this is from the hilarious Monies" by Fonejacker.

I've linked my name to it.

over 5 years ago


Christopher Elliott

There's a cumulative effect that, as the article states, is ignored. Yes, copywriting is effective; but, add that to brand image, familiarity, and loyalty - well, it's a no brainer.

over 5 years ago


Andy Wesley

Great copywriting can not only boost your product but it can actually sell it and leave the competitor out. Copywriters are trained to do this and they really know what they're doing.

over 5 years ago

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