We often talk about online copywriting here on the blog. From product descriptions to SEO-friendly headlines – it’s easy to focus on how brands use words to draw in digital shoppers.

But what about copy in a real-life context? 

Packaging copy has gained a bad reputation in the past few years, mainly due to the rise of ‘wackaging’ – i.e. the overly-friendly and almost sickly-sweet style of language used by Innocent and Ella’s Kitchen. 

It’s understandable why this tactic has become so popular. By using chatty language and quirky slogans, brands are aiming to grab the buyer’s attention and create a more personal connection. The problem is - it can also feel patronising if, say, you’re simply looking for a smoothie with the lowest sugar content. No one wants to be told to ‘eat your greens’ at the same time, right?

This is an arguably cynical point of view, and perhaps it is rather too obvious to single out Innocent. It has crafted its own unique and highly recognisable brand voice, and there is undoubtedly an audience for it.

So, where does the balance lie when it comes to good packaging copy? Here are a few examples that I think hit the mark, and how it might impact the consumer in a positive way.

The Ordinary

Most beauty brands use over-the-top packaging to capture the attention of shoppers, using equally exaggerated names and descriptions to hammer-home the supposed benefits. 

For instance, while Maybelline’s ‘Colossal Big Shot Mascara’ sounds impressive, the reality could leave customers feeling slightly let down by its bold claim. Similarly, skincare is another area where brands tend to go over the top, waxing lyrical about how a product will restore a youthful glow or banish wrinkles. 

The Ordinary is one brand that does the opposite, instead using packaging copy to reflect its wider ethos of ‘less is more’. By taking away unnecessary ingredients, design, and marketing – which only ramps up price – it is able to take a no-frills approach across the board. Its packaging reflects this, merely listing ingredients to leave the consumer in no doubt as to what’s included.

While this might sound like it lacks elements of persuasion, I think it instils confidence in customers. Promising ‘clinical formulations with integrity’ – it comes across as a brand that strives to be honest and authentic rather than boastful and in-your-face. There is the argument that a lack of information on packaging might leave customers unsure about what the product is meant to do, however, as a brand that largely sells online, the Ordinary relies on the fact that this is typically included on ecommerce sites.

Anatomicals

Another way brands tend to use copy to stand out on shelves is with humour. Again, this can be an even riskier strategy, with the combined danger of sounding overly-friendly as well as unfunny. 

One company that I think uses humour and wit to great effect is bath and body brand, Anatomicals. Its uses a bold typeface and witty puns to grab the user’s attention, also doing so to make its broad (and perhaps mundane) product range sound exciting and appealing to customers - especially against glossy and high-end competitive brands.

I don’t mean that the brand is mundane. But on the product side is it really possible to make lip balm sound exciting? With its ‘stop cracking up’ balm – Anatomicals gives it a good go. Elsewhere, from the “you need a blooming shower, rose and jasmine cleanser” to the “help the paw hand cream” – its copy is both clever and unique.

Anatomicals also shrewdly recognises the context in which its products will be used, for example incorporating lengthy descriptions on products like shampoo or shower gel, in situations where consumers are likely to stop and linger. 

Another reason the copy works well is that – much like The Ordinary - it reflects the brand’s no-nonsense approach. If you’ve ever come across an Anatomicals product, you might have noticed that it does not try to convince you to buy it with endless benefits and promised results. Rather, it concentrates on the functional and straight-forward elements of the product. 

What more can you say about “puffy the eye-bag slayer: wake-up under-eye patches”? I for one am convinced.

Propercorn

As well as trying to make friends with consumers, a number of brands are now using copy to convey a sense of authenticity or artisanal sensibility. This can backfire of course, with brands like (the now defunct) ‘Harris & Hoole’ pretending to sound independent – despite being owned by Tesco.

Some can get it right, if values and products match up that is. Propercorn is one brand that I think does succeed with its artisanal packaging copy, using a good combination of storytelling and product information to engage customers in-the-moment. After all, Propercorn does not largely invest in digital marketing activity, typically relying on outdoor ads and word of mouth instead.

On its packaging, which is also well-known for its bright and eye-catching design, it takes the opportunity to tell the story of how the brand began. Detailing how it’s “popcorn done properly”, borne out “hours spent experimenting with ingredients and seasonings” – the copy surprises consumers with a personal touch.

The fact that it’s also written from the personal perspective of co-founder, Cassandra Stavrou, further enhances this notion.

To me, this is what makes Propercorn stand out amid an onslaught of similar brands. With restrained yet engaging storytelling, the product is perhaps more likely to draw in customers browsing supermarket snack shelves. 

Oasis

Finally, while you might not consider fashion items to contain ‘packaging’ copy (unless you order online) – I’ve noticed that Oasis has been placing a big focus on in-store copy of late. 

For example, customers might come across slogans like “you deserve it” or “treat yourself” on item hangers, perhaps prompting you to at least try it on…

Meanwhile, signs around the store speak to customers at every touchpoint, from encouraging you to ask for another size to checking out Oasis on social. 

This example shows that copywriting does not have to begin and end online – and neither does it have to be the hallmark of FMCG brands.

By using copy in a creative and personal way, Oasis is able to successfully reach out engage customers in-the-moment, when they’re ready and primed to buy.

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Nikki Gilliland

Published 27 November, 2017 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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