How we approach copywriting at Spill

The thinking behind the words and phrases we use across our app, ads, website and more

2min read

Money without borders

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:

Phrases Sonos use

Phrases Transferwise use

Phrases Aobde use

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.

A slide from the Spill brand guidelines on what to say or not say

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

Adjective, noun, verb brand copy examples

2 — Idealise a future scenario

Idealise a future scenario brand copy examples

3 — Unexpected metaphor

Unexpected metaphor brand copy examples

4 — Contrast before and after

Contrast before and after brand copy examples

5 — Frame yourself against the status quo

Frame yourself against the status quo brand copy examples

6 — ASAP (As Simple As Possible), aka the Granny test

As simple as possible brand copy examples

7 — Repetition for effect

Repitition for effect brand copy examples

8 — Break the ask down to seem more manageable

Break the ask down to seem more manageable brand copy examples

9 — Try getting a bit chummy

Try getting a bit chummy brand copy examples

10 — Alliteration

Alliteration brand copy examples

11 — Jam together two words to make a unique phrase

Putting words together to create a unique phrase brand copy examples

12 — The rule of three

The rule of three brand copy examples

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.

Spill brand guidelines

Providing mental health support beats reading about it.