How we approach copywriting at Spill
The thinking behind the words and phrases we use across our app, ads, website and more⏳ 2min read
Be clear about the key types of phrases you need
After looking at a lot —no, really, a lot — of our favourite tech brands’ websites, social media accounts, search results, apps and more, some patterns became evident. The big phrases tend to fall into two camps: lofty directive propositions (‘what we preach’) and pithy pragmatic descriptors (‘what we do’). Tell people to do something, and then say how you’ll help them do it. Idealise a future state, and then say how you’ll bring it about. Separate to these are smaller phrases used as backup supporting claims (‘why you should believe us’). Funny just how many software brands follow this format:
Think about what you don’t say
It was also interesting to look at the words and phrases tech brands purposefully don’t use: in general, specifics like ‘app’ or ‘software’ are frequently omitted in favour of generalisations like ‘everything you need’ (Adobe). Category terms are purposefully avoided when the product is looking to disrupt that category: Uber never uses the word ‘taxi’ (it sells ‘rides’), Zipcar never says ‘rental’ (it offers ‘wheels when you want them’) and Spanx never calls itself ‘lingerie’ (instead it’s ‘shapewear’). Often the brand name can do the grunt work of establishing category connotations (TransferWise, Evernote) — of telling people what the thing literally is — which therefore frees up the proposition to go a level higher and vaguer (‘Money without borders’, ‘Meet your second brain’).
The discussion around what not to say ended up in unanimous agreement at Spill HQ. We know we’re in the business of wellness, not illness: we want to get the 80% of people undiagnosed with a mental health condition to talk more about their feelings now and make therapy into a positive, ‘little and often’ habit. We want to help those who face problems but wouldn’t otherwise be able to access help. We don’t want to scaremonger people by threatening them about how bad things can be without therapy, or stop people from otherwise getting the proper medical treatment they need.
Shamelessly copy the techniques killer brands use to write taglines
In the absence of any formal theory on how to write absolute zingers, we took a slightly more rogue approach. We screenshotted hundreds of our favourite lines, divided them into categories based on ways the lines were constructed, and then reverse-engineered the copywriting techniques used to create them. Here are those twelve techniques (a couple we’d heard of but many were new to us), each with a few examples and our own stab at a version for Spill.
1 — Adjective noun, verb
2 — Idealise a future scenario
3 — Unexpected metaphor
4 — Contrast before and after
5 — Frame yourself against the status quo
6 — ASAP (As Simple As Possible), aka the Granny test
7 — Repetition for effect
8 — Break the ask down to seem more manageable
9 — Try getting a bit chummy
10 — Alliteration
11 — Jam together two words to make a unique phrase
12 — The rule of three
Put it all together
Taking all those cobbled-together learnings into account, we ended up with a structure for Spill’s brand language that manages to cut through in the medicalised mental health category, explain what we do and — hopefully — stick in people’s minds.