Being hilarious

We’re re-launching the Carphone help site in a couple of weeks. In preparation for this, I’ve been writing and re-writing reams of copy. And one of the things I’ve been trying to do is make it more amusing. We had a survey of the current site done you see, and a common piece of feedback was that it was dry and lacked personality.

This is a mobile phone retailer’s help and support site remember. Humour isn’t exactly a natural bedfellow. And corporate humour is a very difficult thing to pull off. If you make cheap beer it’s just about possible, but there are thousands of terrible attempts for every half decent ‘Carlsberg don’t do nightclubs’ gag.

A big part of the problem is that anything even remotely risqué is bound to offend someone. And the last thing you can afford to be is offensive. Which traps you in the tricky region between cracker jokes and coming up with something genuinely witty. Regular readers will realise I’ve got no chance of the latter.

The following example illustrates the problem eloquently. I needed to write a strapline for a page explaining what happens if a customer isn’t at home to receive a delivery. I wrote:

What happens if I’m not at home when my delivery comes?

We’ll break a window to get in.

Naturally I was delighted my effort. I strode over to my fellow copywriters to show them my good work and was met with the snotty, short-sighted and probably entirely correct response that I couldn’t write that in a million years. Our target audience is not 20-something drinkers of Danish lager. It’s absolutely anybody, and there’s always a risk that one of these people might get the wrong end of the stick and start taping up their windows using methods unseen since the blitz.

In the end I settled on ‘Don’t worry – we won’t break any windows’, which isn’t nearly as funny (though I’m aware my first idea was hardly something to have Jimmy Carr fretfully turning over to the cold side of the pillow).

Ultimately I hope I can persuade the company that the (slightly) edgier tone is the way to go. I’ve been working a lot on our tone of voice over the last few months, and I think it’s the companies who take the risks that manage to develop a real ‘personality’. There’s a big difference between saying ‘let’s be spiky and out there’ and actually meaning it.

This post doesn’t really have a conclusion. It just goes to show the travails I’m going through to bring you the funniest mobile phone site in the world. Hopefully I’ll be able to bring you a more considered solution in a few weeks’ time.

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