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Christmas copy: dodging the clichés and ducking the puns

Based on a post originally published in 2017 – updated, repackaged and with added sparkle for Christmas 2019.

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.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE CHRISTMAS.

I love a Christmas song and 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, familiarity and festivities. The odd Christmas pun is a joy, but it has so much more impact when it’s mixed in with a bit more meaning.

Good Christmas copy is a delicate balance.

The problem is, so much Christmas copy is the same. It’s the same as it was last year and the same as everyone else has written this year. The supermarket is using the same copy as the florist, who’s stolen her ideas off the local Thai restaurant. It’s confusing and actually, nobody is really telling us anything other than that Christmas is coming.

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

And while we LOVE the familiar and everything that makes us feel festive (or at least, I do), it all becomes a bit unimaginative if you’re not careful.

There are exceptions.

Of course there are. I really like Waterstones’ ‘Season’s Readings’ pun this year, and Selfridges have hit festive gold with their ‘Elfridges’ gift-consultation service.

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 that stands out from the crowd.

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

* Alternatively, you could get me to do it for you. Take a look at what I do. 

ONE: 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.

TWO: 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.

THREE: Use your list to navigate a path that avoids the worst of the cheese. 

A bit of cheese is good. A bit of festivity is perfect for the time of year. Use those puns for inspiration, use them to get in the Christmas frame of mind, play with them to make a pun of your own (if it’s relevant).

Just mind that you don’t find your copy swamped by them so it looks just like everyone else’s. It’s easy to do. It happens without you noticing. It’s something to do with the elves, I think. They add in the puns when we blink, but if you know their tricks you can take them out before you inadvertently add to the flood of Christmas spirit and ‘naughty or nice’.

FOUR: Be clear on your purpose.

Why should people buy from you this Christmas? What’s good about your product? Perhaps you’re genuinely just wishing your customers a happy Christmas. Keep it heartfelt, genuine and thoughtful and you won’t go too far wrong. There’s so much ‘off the shelf’ Christmas marketing that yours will stand out if some thought has gone into it.

FIVE: Re-read your copy.

Once you’ve written your copy, take a break and then re-read it. Does it need a bit less festive spirit? Or perhaps you’ve gone the opposite way and it actually needs 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 – 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.

(Damned elves).

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