Christmas copy: dodging the clichés and ducking the puns

It’s that time of year again, the shops are full of sparkly stuff, school halls around the country are reverberating to the sound of the recorder orchestra, and the turkeys are wondering why everyone is looking at them funny.

Yes, Christmas is near.

And with Christmas, comes Christmas copy. Oh no it doesn’t. Oh yes it does.

Sorry. Stop me. It’s all getting a bit much.

You see every second email I open, newspaper I glance at or shop I wander past is shouting festive phrases at me as if my ability to understand normal English disappeared overnight when I went to sleep on 30 November, only to be replaced by ‘Christmas Brain’ on 1 December.

And so much of it is the same. The same as it was last year. The same as everything else they’ve written this festive season. The same as their competitors are writing too. The butcher is using the same copy as the florist, who’s stolen her ideas off the launderette. It’s confusing and actually, nobody is really telling us anything other than that Christmas is coming.

It’s so bad that there’s a Christmas copy bingo card that goes around copywriters at this time of year (and excellent fun it is too).

There are exceptions. Of course there are. I like Not On The Highstreet’s offering this year, themed around ‘a thoughtful Christmas’. There’s not a Christmas pun in sight in their catalogue.  Pret are leading with ‘JOYfull’ as their tagline, promoting their work distributing food to people who are homeless. And a special mention has to go to Fat Face for the frivolous but glorious ‘Ooh Aah Just a Little Knit’. Genius.

But for the most part, ‘tis the season for a winter wonderland of festive fun and Christmas crackers. And you’d better watch out, you’d better not cry… To be honest all I want for Christmas is something a bit original.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE CHRISTMAS.

I love a Christmas song, I love a bit of sparkle, I’m a firm believer that you should use as many Christmas decorations as you can throw at a tree (and a few more for luck), and if my mum threatens once more to ditch the traditional turkey as our Christmas dinner I might actually throw my reindeer slippers at her. I’m all for tradition and familiarity and festivities. In fact the odd Christmas pun is OK, it has its place. But it has to be mixed in with something with a bit more meaning, surely?

So, without further ado (there’s been far too much ado already I think), my top tips for avoiding the Christmas cliché*.

Get yourself into the Christmas headspace.

That might not be easy if it’s mid-July when you’re writing. But try. If, like me, you love a cheesy Christmas song, get on YouTube and watch a few. If there’s a food you link to Christmas try to get hold of some. Look back at photos. Watch re-runs of Christmas specials online. Grab a Christmas film. Think back to Christmas when you were a kid and try to think of any time that felt Christmassy to you.

Now, make a list of all the Christmas puns you can think of.

An actual list. Write them down. Collect them as you see them over the weeks.

Use your list of Christmas puns as a guide to steer clear of them.

You can use them for inspiration and to get you in the Christmas frame of mind, you can even play with them to make a pun of your own (if it’s relevant to what you’re writing about). Just mind that you don’t find your copy liberally peppered with them. It’s easy to do. It happens without you noticing (something to do with the elves, I think they add in the puns when we blink) but if you are aware of it you can take them out  before it’s too late and you add to the flood of ‘spirits of Christmas’ and ‘naughty or nice’.

Know what you’re saying and why.

Why should people buy from you this Christmas? What’s good about your product? Or are you genuinely just trying to write a happy Christmas message to your customers. Be heartfelt and genuine, be thoughtful. There’s so much ‘off the shelf’ Christmas marketing that goes on at this time of the year, yours will stand out if some thought has gone into it.

Once you’ve written your copy, leave it for a few hours and then re-read it.

Does it need a bit less festive spirit? Or perhaps you’ve gone the opposite way and it actually does need a bit more sparkle. Now’s the time to refine it before it goes out. A little time away from your draft, if deadlines allow, means you’ll see it with fresh eyes – and that is invaluable at any time of the year.

So there you go. Five simple steps to Christmas copy that avoids the clichés. Now off you go, deck the halls and jingle all the way to a very Merry Christmas knowing you’ve got your Christmas copy all wrapped up.

(Sorry. Damned elves).

*If you’d rather not be bothered with all this, you could get me to do it for you. Take a look at what I do.

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