How to write holiday copy

Presented live on Tuesday, Oct 31, 2017

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It’s Halloween… or Thanksgiving… or Mother’s Day! Time for you to get creative with your copywriting. But how creative should your holiday copy get? How much is too much? And what about when you start adding holiday-specific images alongside your copy? In this tutorial, conversion copywriter Joanna Wiebe shows you how to write holiday copy by following 5 essential steps.

Joanna is writing in Airstory, the writing software for research-based projects. 


Hello everybody! Happy Halloween. Joanna here from Copy Hackers and Airstory. We are doing Tutorial Tuesdays. We’re back. Last week we had … I lost my internet for 24 hours. No, 22 hours. And they were the longest 22 hours of my life. And I have a co-working space to go to but I lost the internet 15 minutes before the tutorial was supposed to start. So I didn’t even have time to … There was nothing. I couldn’t even get anybody to send out an email and say, “This isn’t going to happen.”

Anyway, that was disastrous. But then I got the internet again the next morning. Yay! It’s amazing how hard it is to live without the internet. Holy … I baked. I had nothing else to do so I went and sat at a coffee shop and then I came home and baked. Yeah. That’s how hard up for something to do I was. It was pretty rough.

But, yes. Okay. So, we’re back and it is Halloween. Thank you, Jill. This is my costume. That’s the extent of my costume. I feel really bad, actually, for not having a costume. My dad would totally be like, “Joanna Risk, get your costume on.” He was a big costume guy. So, I think he’d be very disappointed in me right now. Sure, Brian, let’s go with Lois Lame. I actually told a friend that I didn’t have a costume for today and he was like, “You could just curl the front of your hair and go as Clark Kent with glasses on.” I was like, “Thanks. That’s really helpful.” So let’s pretend that’s what I’m doing.

Okay. But I hope other people have costumes on. If you do or you’re planning on wearing one tonight, I’d love you to chat it over. That’d be kind of cool to hear about. People are doing cool stuff. I looked up some cool homemade ones. There’s cool stuff. There was one of a girl … Who’s the one on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with, who turns into a blueberry? There’s this wicked … You know how girls, women need to have the sexy version of something, which is super irritating? But so there’s this girl who went as a giant blueberry with the white wig on. Oh my gosh, it was the best. That’s how it should be.

Lauren, you’re saying you are doing Putting On The Ritz in a 1930s evening dress tonight. Girl, go! Yeah, Sarah, Verruca Salt. I write Verruca. Verruca Salt. I always mix it up because of the band. Verruca Salt. I’m like, “Is that the name?” But yeah, Verruca. Totally. No one else is doing any costumes? Really? That’s it? Okay. Then I don’t feel so bad after all for not having a costume on. I was considering going as crazy cat lady and just having my cats here, but they’re both asleep so that’s not going to happen.

That is awesome. Corbit just shared a really interesting one. Dianna’s Attilla [inaudible 00:02:52]. I go as that daily at 3 o’clock. Yeah. Okay. So I don’t feel too badly. Right? We have other things to do, sadly, in life. Oh, that’s wicked. Amanda just chatted this only to panelists, “The whole marketing team is dressed as our CMO.” That would be hilarious for that CMO. That’d be hilarious for everybody involved. And Sarah, “Just several dressed as Joe.” Really, Sarah? Come on camera. Let’s see. Oh, that’d be awesome.

Okay. Cool. I will. We’ll check out on the Instagram. Go over to @lookbookhq and check that out. Okay. Tacky America Joe’s. Okay, that is awesome. Seeing cool costumes come in. I could, obviously, I’m … I was missing tutorials so now I just want to chat, but I know you’re here not for a chat but for the tutorial itself.

So, quick housekeeping before we dive in. We are recording this, which means all of that stuff we just said is going to get transcribed, which makes me feel very bad for the person who’s doing the transcription. If you have anything you want to just chat over quickly that it’s in the moment, just like a think like, “Oh, there’s a tech issue.” By the way, if there’s a tech issue, just give it a sec, refresh, do what you can. It’s usually just the internet lagging a bit. So if there’s that.

If you have a question that you really, really, really want answered, you don’t want it to get lost in Q, sorry, in chat, put it over in Q&A and I will look at it there at the end of the tutorial. Okay? So, yes, it’s being recorded. Yes, you can chat over questions as we go. For best results, put any questions in Q&A. There’s no template to share up today, so Sarah won’t be sharing any links, necessarily.

What I’m going to do is just share with you how we write seasonal copy. So, over the last 15 years as a copywriter, especially in the first half of that, I was involved in a lot of creative campaigns. So, anytime it’s Halloween, it’s Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas time, Thanksgiving, anytime. I mean, I don’t have to list off all the holidays or season, right? But anytime there’s something really to send an email about or to put a cool landing page together or even like an ad or something, usually campaigns are associated with that. It’s a great time to pull up your copy [chalks 00:05:09] and kind of get a little creative. But I want to keep in mind that it’s not just a creative exercise, it’s still a copywriting exercise. Okay?

So, I’m going to share my screen. We’re going to talk through the tutorial for how to write seasonal or holiday copy with a focus on Halloween copy because that’s what’s up today. For everybody who celebrates or recognizes in any way Halloween. So, I’m going to share my screen. You should see that now. Let me know if you don’t see the Airstory interface with holiday copywriting up at the top. You’ll see my whole desktop, actually, but I’m using, thanks to … I can’t remember who it was that sent it to me. Muzzle app. I’m finally not going to bother you with pop ups coming up during the tutorial. So, thank you. I forget the name of the gentleman who sent me the link to Muzzle app, but I’m using it now so we shouldn’t see any weird pop ups from chat messages or Slack or anything as I present today.

Okay. So, writing copy for any holiday or season. Brian, thank you, that was you. You’re awesome. Okay. Really quick steps here and then we’ll dig into them. At a high level, we want to start … When you’re writing anything, you want to start with clarity as your number one goal. So, you always write your clear message. Oh, I’ll also post in Muzzle app. That’s cool. People are funny. That’s awesome. Okay, sorry.

Okay. So, we always want to start with your very clear message. And that means, whatever you’re trying to communicate. If you’re sending an email on Halloween or Thanksgiving or whatever, for an offer, some sort of campaign that you’re running, then start with the clear message about your campaign. That’s not about your campaign, but the offer, the message that you’re actually trying to communicate. That’s number one.

The message you’re trying to communicate is not, “Hey, it’s Halloween.” Unless you’re sending just a newsletter or something like that, that is purely meant to be an emotional engagement builder. But we’re not really talking about that today. And even still, I have yet to see anybody send an email just to say, “Happy Halloween,” without anything else. It might be. Right? There are eCommerce companies that could absolutely do that and other brands that could do that, sure. But we’re not really going to talk about that. We’re going to talk about copy that converts, where the goal is, of course, to get people to take action.

So, we want to start by writing without atmosphere. Write for clarity first. Then, we get to decide on the atmosphere to create. So, I’m going to walk you through what that looks like in just a second, but it’s not always going to be the most obvious thing like, “Oh, it’s Halloween so we should write something spooky.” It doesn’t always have to go there. It might. It might commonly go there, but we’re going to dig into how to kind of bring that atmosphere to life.

And that brings us to the third step here, which is immersing yourself in the atmosphere. Okay? And once you’re immersed, only then do you go in and try to edit the atmosphere into the clear copy you wrote in step one. And then, final step here is when you add imagery of any kind. That seasonal imagery. The more of that you add, the fewer word choices you should have that are season specific. And I’m going to show you, again, exactly what that means. Okay?

So, this is the high level view of how to write seasonal copy. Let me switch out of outland mode and we’ll dig into this. Okay. So, again, start by writing a piece without seasonal atmosphere. Then decide on the atmosphere you want to create. Okay. Here’s how to do this. This is a really simple, quick table you could chart out on a white board or just on sticky notes in front of you. That is where you want to come up with one or two adjectives or other forms of words, probably an adjective, that describes the atmosphere you want to create. Okay? Just one or two words. And if you can do two, that’s likely to remove you from jumping into one word that’s a really obvious one. Again, spooky comes up again and again for Halloween in marketing copy that’s seasonal.

So, what if we want to push past spooky? What if spooky is kind of common, right? And you’re not a common brand. So maybe there’s another word that you can use that’s more specific than the one that you defaulted to. But you can also put the default down as well. So, spooky might be one word you want to put down as well as eerie. Okay? Maybe those are the two feelings that you want people to have or when they read the copy you want to kind of do this world building thing where they walk away feeling, “Oh, that was kind of eerie,” without maybe being too crazy. But this, of course, then depends on your brand voice.

So, the first two words are around the atmosphere you want to create. The second two words are the best descriptors of your brand voice. So, I’ve got a table showing here that has across the top we’ve got the two brand voice words. Across the left, we have the atmosphere words. And then we want to just look through those and decide on which, what are the intercepting or where can … Our copy’s going to live in an intersection of two of these. Which ones are those? And they might be really close, right? Eerie and playful, and spooky and playful are pretty similar.

But as we start writing and as we think more about really bringing an atmosphere to life, spooky might feel a little bit different from eerie. Spooky might feel more common and almost playful already, whereas eerie could feel very different from spooky, especially if you had eerie and clever together. That could come up with a very different sort of atmosphere than spooky and playful. Those two are going to feel one way, and eerie and clever are going to feel a different way.

For example, because examples help … Let me do this. So, here’s an example from ModCloth. This also came from really good emails. So if you don’t keep a swipe file yourself, which you should, but if you don’t, then go to Really Good Emails or other places like that. I think Rob Marsh at the copywriter club is doing collections of landing pages, as well. But Really Good Emails is super comprehensive, so check that out if you want inspiration.

But this ModCloth one that’s showing here that says, “Witch, please.” This is the one that I want to focus on right now and we’re talking about deciding on the atmosphere you want to create. So, the ModCloth brand has specific words that would best describe its voice. Playful and clever are definitely on that list. And then, the brand voice or the atmosphere words that you want to get across are spooky and eerie. Okay? So, what might the intersection of those be? So, spooky and playful could lead us to a world where we create this email that is Witch, Please. It’s playful, it’s spooky, and it’s actually still a little clever, as well. So, hitting two notes there, which is pretty cool.

Any questions about that? Thanks for chatting those over. There is no template link, Charlotte, in case, for other people who are joining late, as well. There’s no template today. This is pure tutorial rather than a tutorial and a template. Okay? All right.

So, we’d want to do this again and again for different brands. So, the, again, the atmosphere words go on the left. Your brand voice words go along the top. And you just, basically decide. Now, there are other, smarter ways to just decide. And a lot of times that might mean knowing your audience extremely well and knowing what they’re going to respond well to, or having a strong history of doing testing, even, around the messages that are more seasonal.

So, if we look at something like, here’s one for the iPad for Mother’s Day. Make every day mom’s day. Then getting into more about the iPad pro. You can see that there’s the atmosphere created here is not the same as the one that was created on the Halloween email from ModCloth. Here, we’ve got something where the Apple voice is so distinct and it’s very focused on clarity. But it’s so distinct that they wouldn’t push it further. Right? You wouldn’t go too hard with the Apple brand versus something like, because you know that your audience doesn’t expect that from you. Your brand is so well developed that you wouldn’t push beyond the comfort zone of your brand just for the sake of doing something fun for Halloween.

Whereas ModCloth’s brand is well established as a very playful brand, so they can get really playful at this time of year. Other areas where you’re trying to be perhaps a little more serious, like Harry’s. Harry’s Christmas email that we have here, “Ensure a Harry’s Holiday.” We can see that outside of the image and the word holiday, I’m going to read this copy to you and you tell me if it sounds like it’s building atmosphere. “Forward this email to a friend to let them know Harry’s is on your wishlist this year. It’s the best way to avoid awkward returns. If you’ve been forwarded this email, we can help you eliminate the will-they-like-it-moment when exchanging gifts this year. Gift Harry’s.”

So, is there a strong atmosphere happening there? Without this image, would we even really feel anything about the atmosphere that’s being created? With that in mind, I’m going to get into the note about images versus the actual copy that you’re using. But I want to just really point out here that you don’t have to go, excuse me. You don’t have to go heavy handed all the time. I see people push it a little too far sometimes and a little goes a long way.

Okay. So, let’s say you’ve filled in this quick table. And again, it doesn’t have to be … You can just write this out on a piece of paper or put it together in your own Airstory or whatever it is that you use to write. And then we want to immerse ourselves in the atmosphere. This is something that I learned to do as a creative copywriter in my first years as a copywriter, and that is, you need to immerse yourself in the feeling you’re trying to create. The more you do this, the better it’ll be. And this is a 10-minute exercise while you’re having coffee.

So, what you do is you take these key words, playful and spooky, the two that you choose, and you head on over to istock photo. I prefer istock at this point because I have a history of just going to istock for this kind of stuff. Doesn’t matter about the stock photo place you go to. And you might even find that using Google image search. Works really well, too. Point is, we want to search those key words that you want to bring to life in the copy you’re going to write. And just go through and really just look at the different images.

This is a very basic exercise. You’re just trying to immerse yourself. Let your mind kind of see this stuff. Let it sink in. You don’t have to be consciously working on trying to absorb it. But just look through the images. This is all part of immersion. And this is what … After you watch a Halloween movie, you’re still kind of all worked up in it, usually. Except for IT, which was a disaster, in my humble opinion. But yeah. You just want to kind of put yourself in that world so that you can then create from that world. Okay?

So, immerse yourself there. If you keep a swipe file, you can immerse yourself in those swipes, as well. So, going over to something like Really Good Emails and searching for seasonal, searching for Halloween or whatever it is, that can help you, again, get immersed. But I’d be careful with the swipe file because you might find yourself copying rather than being inspired by it.

So, if I look at ModCloth’s Witch, Please, and I’m like, “Oh, that’s neat. I like it.” Then I might focus on that instead of bringing something new and fun to life that could be really cool. So, just be careful with a swipe file. Immerse yourself in the images rather than in the copy that someone else has writing because you might find yourself … If you’re like me at all, you might find yourself just kind of wanting to do what they did, which isn’t as fun as ever, as not doing it.

If you don’t keep a swipe file, start now. Tanya just chatted over, “What is a swipe fil and how do you create one?” A swipe file is a copywriter’s best friend. It is … When it’s time for you to write anything, you reference your swipe file. And swipe file is really a collection of copy that has inspired you or that is interesting. A swipe file can be a negative swipe file, as well, where you say, where you put a swipe file together that’s for things you don’t ever want to do, like, “Avoid this kind of stuff.” Okay, cool. There’s some stuff that’s being chatted out to everybody, which is really, really helpful. Thanks, guys.

But yeah. And then other ways to keep the swipe file. What I do and why we built this [zapier 00:17:48] integration into Airstory is, I have a zap set up between my Gmail account and my Airstory. So I can send, once I star and email inside Gmail, it comes into, it gets sent, just like this, or gets sent as text or whatever that as the actual email itself, into my Airstory card library so that any time something comes in, I can tag it, swipe, and it goes into a swipe file that I can then look up inside my Airstory card library. But there are lots of different ways to create a swipe file.

Point is, when it’s time for you to write something, you want to have examples at your fingertips because they can be helpful shortcuts in really beginning to conquer the blank page. The last thing you need to do is stare at a blank page because the longer you stare at it, the worse it gets. So, if you have a swipe file handy, that’s, you can then go ahead and just reference that. And at least it gets you started on actually writing something.

Okay. Once you’re immersed, only at that point do we actually edit the atmosphere in. So, we talk all the time at Copy Hackers about editing in the awesome. All of that awesome stuff that a lot of people want to jump straight to should only happen in the editing process. Once you’ve got a strong first draft in place, then you go edit in the awesome. In this case, the awesome is atmosphere. So, this is where we want to then go in, rewrite pieces of our copy with atmosphere in mind using this immersion that you’ve got going in your head. Okay?

So, where do you focus that? Atmosphere building usually happens in your headline. You can do everything in your headline and not touch the rest of your copy and people will still feel something that’s more season related than not. So, I always go to my headline first. I recommend you do the same. Focus that atmosphere building in your headline. From that point on, follow a general rule of thumb where for every 50 words, you use one seasonal word. Okay?

So, again, yeah. 50 words, 1 seasonal word. If you have 25 words and 2, or 25 words for a section and you have 2 seasonal phrases in there, just be careful. Right? Just be a little bit careful about that. Is that intentional? Are you intentionally breaking this rule? And if so, okay. But you have to just be aware that you are breaking the rule and it should then be a really effective, meaningful piece of copy. Okay? So don’t just do it, don’t just throw words all over the place and spooky, scary, creepy, all that kind of stuff and Halloween. It’s a little overwhelming. And you just don’t need it. And it can take away from the clarity of your message.

Which leads me to my last point, which is not to try too hard. It can be super fun to write this stuff, especially if you’re in a world where you don’t get to write this way a lot. And so you’re like, “Oh, I get to be creative. This is so awesome.” And it is. But don’t try too hard. A little goes a very long way. It’s like you’re adding seasoning to your writing. Be careful not to over season it. Okay?

And then finally, if or as you add seasonal imagery, pull back on those seasonal word choices. So, the stronger the image that you’re using, the more seasonal that image is, the less your copy should be filled with a seasonal word choices. Okay? So, if you have a really strong image like we’re seeing in the ModCloth one, “Witch, Please,” then the copy below would be more clear and less about the seasonality of it.

Now, that’s not what they actually do in this ModCloth email. It reads, “Cast your spell in thrilling prints, spooktacular accessories, and more. Shop the boutique.” I wouldn’t do that if I wrote for ModCloth, but I don’t. But I get what they’re doing and I’m sure that it’s working well for the brand. Their brand is very over the top in a lot of ways. If you’re brand is over the top, again, go ahead and break that one, that rule that I have here in number four. You can break that. But, again, just be careful and make sure that you’re intentionally breaking the rule.

Bonus points here for any chances where you can play a bit with words like reinventing a cliché. Again, when I was a creative copywriter, I lived on I would reference that for taglines, for seasonal copy, for anything where you’re like, where being a little clever can go a long way. Again, you’re, we’re … Finally, this isn’t conversion copywriting at it’s core. It still is in some ways, but you get to be creative here and being clever can be also a fun way to kind of bring that Halloween or Christmas or whatever that is to life. Okay?

Okay. Now, this brings me to … So, again, this recording will go out in case anybody wants to see that again. But it really brings me to what we’re going to be talking about over the coming tutorial Tuesdays. I did one session already months ago on one of the seven sweeps. And because clarity is so important that I mentioned at the beginning of this one, but then you kind of add in all the extra stuff, over the coming weeks I’m going to focus on teaching you all about the seven sweeps. And this is what happens when you are editing in the awesome. This is the core of what you’ll do. There’s more ways to edit in the awesome than these seven sweeps. But these are really standard, good sweeps to do as you’re going through. So, that’s going to be happening in coming Tutorial Tuesdays.

Okay. That is today’s tutorial. It actually took … Well, I thought it was going to be five minutes and it took so much longer. I always over prepare. Okay. With that, thanks everybody. I see some questions here. Let me answer these. So, Diane asks, “I like to use Pinterest for a swipe file.” Yes. “Do you have pros or cons about Pinterest and Instagram for swipe files?” No, they’re great. If you can take … I mean, they do require screenshots, so the question I have is around, well, what about your emails? How are you keeping those as swipes? But you can always take screenshots and save them there, as well.

So, I think that’s a fantastic tip, Dianne. Use Pinterest. I don’t know enough about Instagram to say use Instagram. But I’m sure Mick on our team would agree with you. Mick is our social media gal and she would agree that Instagram is probably a great way to do it. But if it feels right to you, cool. Point being, have that swipe file wherever you put it. You can have more than one swiper. You can put an email swipe together. It’s just a folder in Gmail and then have landing pages and other things that you send to Pinterest. Stuff like that, too. Whatever works for you. The more you can organize it and tag it, the better, too. And that’s what’s great about Airstory’s card library, is you can go through and you can tag those swipes, as well.

Okay. Thanks, Dianne. Dianne just chatted another one. Okay. Witch, Please, inspired me to ask my clients, “Are you a ghouly ghoul?” As a play on word to girly girl. Oh, that’s cute. Love it. Okay, cool.

Rostin says, “Have you done anything on writing bios, profiles, etc.?” Oh, have I? Have I? First, again, back at the agency, I had to write bios constantly, like constantly, which is why my mood completely shifts when I talk about writing bios. Because people are not as interesting as a bio would like to make them sound. There are a lot of interesting people, but then there are a lot of people who make it very hard for you to write a bio. So, yeah. We might do a tutorial down the road about writing bios. I think I’ll bring in someone who’s less jaded by the whole thing to do that, if that’s something you guys are interested in.

Okay. Cool. That’s awesome, Dianne, about your competition entry. Katy says, “Not a question, but wanted to say I’ve just wrote a whole drip campaign.” Oh, that’s awesome. This is just a nice thing for [Ten X 00:25:54] emails. That’s awesome. Katy just wrote a whole drip campaign after taking Ten X Emails, our course and the [client 00:26:00] response. So, thank you. Katy, that’s nice. You’re like a plant. That’s … We’re checks in the middle. Okay, thanks, Katy. That’s awesome to hear and congrats, as well.

Sue said, “What was the name of that cliché website?” So, it was called clichesite. There are other ones, as well. Let me stop sharing for a sec and I’ll just go in because I just added it to one tab. Other places to go … Let me share this link over. And you can search cliches and euphemisms or whatever. Let me … I’ll send this to everybody. I believe everybody should see that. So, but it’s really just a list of a bunch of cliches. And we’re supposed to avoid cliches in our writing, absolutely. But when you can rework a cliched statement, it can lend to clever feelings.

Most taglines are built out of a reworking of a cliché like … And it doesn’t have to be a cliché. It can be just other things that are known and used in popular language, popular culture, the way that we speak. For our real to rating site, a couple years ago, it was, their tagline was, “The good. The bad. The unbiased.” It was all about ratings, right? So, it’s a take on, “The good. The bad. The ugly.” But this was just a kind of clever take on it. So, if you can take an existing way that people think, and it’s kind of a pattern interrupt and we can get into more of that kind of stuff down the road if we want to. But it’s just a fun way to be a little bit clever without actually having to be very clever at all.

The stock photo app, again, was … It’s over at istock photos, so you just go to istockphoto, like But there are lots of them. I use unsplash a lot now, but unsplash … Unsplash has a lot of serious photos on it and so it can be hard because they’re beautiful phots and istock is filled with photos that are meant for marketers. So, that’s where you can get into kind of more imagination stirring sort of stuff instead of serious stuff.

Oh, Al just chatted over a link, as well. So that’s great. And Sarah chatted out to everybody. So that is awesome. That brings us to the end of our questions, to the end of this Tutorial Tuesday. Thanks, everybody, for coming out. I hope you have a fantastic Halloween, a very safe Halloween. It’s snowing in parts of Alberta so good luck with your jackets. It’s so Canadian to put your jacket over your Halloween costume. Maybe you can fit it underneath, though.

Okay. So, have a great Halloween. Thanks, everybody. And we should see you next week unless something weird happens with the internet, which hopefully will not happen again. But we’ll see you and we’ll be talking about one of those seven sweeps and we’ll dig deep into how you can apply that sweep in order to enhance your copy.

Thanks, everybody. Thanks for your great chats, as well, today. Have a good one. Bye.

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