One way to demonstrate empathy for your readership; clients and customers you want to bond with through copywriting, is the classic “we feel your pain” angle. You’ll hear this stalwart of the advertising and marketing industry a lot in snappy TV and radio commercials: “isn’t life tough when your Rhino loses lustre? Restore its sheen today with all-new Buffmammal 3000”.

Essentially what you’re saying here is “we know what it’s like to be in your position because we’re just like you, trust us – we’re also fed up, so we made this special solution for people just like us.”

And it’s ubiquitous because it works.

It was while writing some new copy for a client in Leeds that we put our heads together over whether or not we should use “we feel your pain” as an opening gambit in our copy.

Personally, the direction I wanted the copywriting to head in was confident, certain and strongly focused on the “why we do what we do”. This is a mature company with a clear sense of what they do and why they’re in it. To me this job was all about values-led copy begging to be written.

In the end we agreed to open with a light touch of classic empathy that lead into values-led copy; after all the client has to stand by what their copy says. But this process of discussion and debate put me in an unusual position that I thought worth recording.

I’d say that most of my freelance copywriting projects rely on some form of empathy for the reader’s situation (whether that’s “we feel your pain” or some other writing technique). Yet, as of late I’ve become evermore fascinated by values-led “why we do what we do” copywriting.

This takes us away from traditional sounding copy, because it’s more passionate, aspirational and assertive (and more focused on who’s writing it; less so who’s reading it). Not every company wants to sound like this, or is even capable of attempting it (especially if they’re not yet mature enough as an organisation).

So that was my position. And, in this case favouring writing values-led copy, I found myself defending it against my own usual freelance style. For posterity here are three core arguments I formulated against using “we share your pain” copywriting.

  1. By definition it’s negative – evoking pain and discomfort in the reader isn’t to be taken lightly, especially if you want to inspire them or set an aspirational tone. There’s a time and place for it but perhaps not in your flagship copy.
  2. It spells out the obvious – most people are well aware there’s a problem; that’s why they’re here (on your website, for example) looking for a solution. Is this the best use of their precious attention? Or should you cut to the good stuff convincing them to take action because of who you are and what you stand for?
  3. It isn’t particularly novel – many clients want to sound different so they stand out amongst their rivals. Using such a tried-and-tested copywriting technique won’t really help in that pursuit (however functionally effective it is).

In this specific situation (the one which prompted this blog post), the state of the industry was such that everything my clients stood for was about putting this painful situation right. You couldn’t assert all their other values without giving context of what’s wrong with the world. Therefore, “we feel your pain” made it into my copywriting.

I must also add, the resultant copy is all the better for having “we feel your pain” left in. We found a superb turn of phrase in a client testimonial, describing the pain in very accessible terms, which formed a wonderful hook upon which to hang our proposition.

In the wider context of freelance copywriting in general though, I’ll always stand up for a new or different approach if I feel it best suits a client’s brief. But likewise there’s a point at which every decent copywriter must adapt their style and approach to fulfil a client’s wishes. After all, clients who serve customers always have a deeper understanding of what themes resonate with readers, and it’s our job to craft a vehicle to achieve that goal in a style of copywriting that they’re comfortable with.