If you want to cut through the noise so your copywriting stands out, and really connects with the people you need to reach, you can do much worse than sounding edgy.

First though, it’s worth explaining what we mean by ‘edgy’

For most businesses, copywriting is treading a fine line between sounding different and bold, yet maintaining respect and professionalism. Unless you’re a radical brand with a keen appetite for risk, chances are you hire a copywriter like me wanting to strike that balance: fresh and disruptive, yet trustworthy and smart.

So in the context of what I find most clients want, by edgy I mean unconventional, rather than zany, outlandish or off-the-wall. And here we’re talking about how we do that in copywriting tone of voice – the way you come across in your copy.

It’s a tricky gig to pull off, but here are three ways I help my clients inject a bit of personality into their tone, when I’m freelance copywriting for them. For the purpose of this post, let’s assume I’m writing for a startup e-commerce outfit.

1. Use playful asides

‘Once we’ve double-checked your order, we’ll drop it in the post first thing the next day (well, not first first thing – we need our beauty sleep, plus the dog needs walking too, oh and there’s coffee to buy… look, it’ll get done quickly, trust us).’

What we’re doing here is revealing a chink in our armour – that impenetrable veneer of faultless, robotic efficiency that most companies like to surround themselves in. Essentially, we’re saying ‘hey, we’re human too’ – something pretty edgy for a business, if you think about it.

It doesn’t matter that what you say isn’t really true. You might not own a dog – it’s all about saying ‘you get the point’ – you’re just being silly with the detail. If you’ve done your homework properly, the people you’re trying to connect with will get that and love you all the more for doing so.

2. Take a friendly poke at your rivals

‘Our rivals make fun of us for being so precious about our orders – they think we’re costly and wasteful. Maybe they’re right. But then they don’t get 100% positive reviews from their customers. So there.’

The idea here is to be cheeky and insinuate you do something better than your rivals. It also humanises you again, in terms that real people identify with – we all enjoy a friendly poke that isn’t derogatory or crude – I hear they call it ‘bantz’ these days.

Just to be clear though, this is not about making libellous statements about other companies. The intention is to be harmless and unspecific, not to accuse a rival of manufacturing landmines for child soldiers.

Why is this edgy? Well in our increasingly litigious culture, the attitude to taking risks like mentioning other brands in copy is one of ‘better safe than sorry’. So ideas like this often get killed by a legal team before they ever make it into the copywriting process. Odd that, when you consider that the so-called bedrock of an innovative free market is healthy competition. And what is more healthy than challenging your rivals on some aspect of your service?

3. Talk about the meta

‘If you’re not happy with your order you can always send it back. Happy is subjective of course – you might just be picky, or luck enough to find a grubby mark on your new product. Happy or not, we won’t ask any awkward questions about where the mark came from. Just pop your order in the post and we’ll sort out the mess (again, within reason).’

In our final example, we allow the copy to digress somewhat from its original point and explore a thought or idea that the reader will be familiar with (in this case what constitutes an acceptable return – we’ve all tried getting our money back on something we wore once, right?). Again, the edginess comes from shattering the illusion of perfection – that ruthless efficiency and professionalism which smothers personality in a brand. We’re showing the reader that we too think about these things.

Live life on the edge

In these three brief examples, you can see that we’ve pulled off a few clever tricks. We’ve come across informally yet we’ve still managed to get our point across. Yes, the copy does end up being a bit more laboured, but the trade-off is you achieve that goal of sounding different and forging a bond with the reader. Put simply, your copy is all the warmer for letting your guard down a bit.

We’ve also seen that edginess deflates pomposity – it adds humanness to otherwise faceless organisations. It shows you don’t take yourselves too seriously – people are desperate to see this. It’s why tweets go viral when the corporate facade is eroded for a moment in one (although often deliberately) throwaway tweet by one seemingly irreverent individual.

As long as this tone of voice fits with your mission, your audience and the worldview you all share, then you’re ready to try being a little more edgy in your copywriting.

Afternote

If you’d like to see more examples of how edginess (in conjunction with the right brand) can really enhance the copywriting experience, take a look at my collaboration with UOWN.