Why better packaging copy counts

The copy on a product is probably the most important thing you can write about it. It’s an advert you get to put up for free. It builds a relationship with the person who’s picked up the box and is still unsure about what’s inside. It gets a crucial chance to provide them with a mood, a connection. Like most writing, you only get a few seconds to make it work and get the reader to commit.

A recent Nielsen study found that most food packaging copy just isn’t cutting it. They polled 25,000 consumers globally and discovered that 59% have trouble understanding the nutritional information and labelling on their food.

Nielsen results of food packaging survey


Even worse, when they asked respondents if they believed the claims that products were making on their labels, only 3 out of 10 products were believed by more than 20% of the people.

Better writing, both in terms of accuracy and style, can help overcome these problems. Food packaging in particular is subject to great scrutiny, so many products surrender good style in order to get the facts across. In reality, style plays just as important a part in building trust with the reader. Sincerity in the style of your copy feels good in the mind of the reader, and leads them to trust the facts you’re telling them.

Authenticity alert!

An example of when headlines go wrong

Always expect insincerity to get spotted

Spotted in this month’s Ocado magazine: the perfect example of how insincerity can get past a lazy subeditor. The subhead for this interview with Mercedes Ngoh reads:

“Alice Hart-Davies chillaxes with the ultimate yoga mama,”

And without a hint of irony.

Ocado magazine is targeting the middle aged, middle class and middle England, but obviously likes to underestimate their judgment. What should have been a fun subheading has veered into the insincere.

Interesting fact: Mercedes Ngoh was the cantina dancer in George Lucas’ special edition of Star Wars. A great piece of information, which they left out of this feature!





How you can write top headlines for the web

Writing headlines for your web page is simple, so long as you remember that you’re writing for an active medium.


The headline isn’t the static thing it once was. Print headlines are contextual: they are framed and surrounded by a subhead, photo, caption, crossheads – even the pages around it all serve to put the headline in a solid context.


Headlines on the web are lonely animals. They exist only as bare bones: the exact words you write are the only aspects that are guaranteed to carry over into the online world.


Your headline will appear in lists against other headlines from other sources. It will appear in different fonts, sizes and spacings. It will not have the luxury of a ‘sell’: that cascade of follow-on text that sets the scene. You won’t even know or be able to control what images, if any, will sit next to your headline.


So what can you do? Easy. Just write it straight, news style.


That means summing up everything in five to ten words with nothing hidden. It’s the ideal style for search engines to understand, and the most tempting form for readers.


Here’s a few rules that your web headline should follow.


1. Include the subject

Who features? The human element should always be included. People like reading about people, after all – give them someone to picture in their minds.


2. Include the object

What’s the deal? Is it a new technique, a new theory, new research? This is where you let your reader know that what is coming is actually news.


3. Include a verb

Passivity wins nobody over. Include an action word and your headline comes to life. This is where hot words like ‘reveals’, ‘uncovers’, ‘surprises’, ‘abandons’ and ‘destroys’ are so brilliant.


4. Comprehension test

You have ten words to explain everything, so triple-check you understand the long version before writing the headline. The core of the story may only be revealed in the middle (though this is pretty poor practice for online writing).


5. Include the facts

You won’t win prizes for saving your best until last. Take the biggest, boldest and proved claims from the story and get them to the shop window, immediately.


6. Use clear terms

That means no jargon, no abbreviation or tabloid tendencies. There’s a plain reason for this: you have no idea where your headline may appear eventually. Out of context, your headline may sound like utter nonsense.


7. Give benefits

If you can, include a distinctive reason why clicking here will help. People want to be helped – even if it’s just to arm themselves with new data or interesting facts. Tell them they’ll be a better person after reading what you have – maybe even turn this into a tempting question so they’ll know you’re able to equip them with what they want.



Naming tricks and tools

Creating a name for a product is both incredibly simple and infernally difficult. A team can spend days, even weeks, researching, collating and sifting through material to invent the new name. They can go through a shortlist, develop concepts and tinker with spellings in a search for the right name for their product.


At Modern Copy we have a checklist of techniques to try out for naming projects. Different jobs need specific efforts, depending on whether it’s a new brand, a sub-range, or a renaming overhaul.


Professional naming agencies now employ computers to develop names, and can easily come up with a list of 800-1000 potentials. These often have nothing to do with what the client had mind, as Iran Bachrach of Namelab once revealed in an interview:  “We’re not really interested in what the client wants,” he says. “What we do reflects what the client needs. We have our own analytic system for looking at what the structure of a name should be, and actually, tend to ignore the client’s wishes.”


It’s a pretty sharp way of doing business. Finding what makes the client happy – even if they’re a bit surprised – is a far safer way, especially if your budget doesn’t run to the $75,000 that dedicated naming companies often require.


As David Ogilvy admits in Ogilvy on Advertising, “I have suggested names for dozens of new products, but have not yet had one accepted. Good luck to you.” You can certainly even up your chances of luck by deploying just a few key ideas as you cook up a new household word.



In other words, a true name. Like Jehovah, Jupiter or Jimmy Savile. They stick in the mind and humanise your product (whether you’d want to buy a Jimmy Savile is another question). Be careful if you’re inventing a character to stick the name on though – such tricks are easily seen through, especially if they end up in the realms of irony, and rapidly turn your product inauthentic and unattractive.



You can always try nonsense, as long as it somehow ‘feels’ right. This is more about linking sounds, alliteration and connotations to create a desired sense in the mind of the reader. ‘Pid’ means nothing to anyone – but an ‘iPid’ instantly suggests something. Or PidLid, for that matter. Just be prepared to promote, hard, to connect your function to the name.



In a crisis, get shouting. Words that blare out, staccato and fierce will capture the eye and work wonderfully on your layouts. You can be big and short at the same time. It’s the genius in Anglo-Saxon that delivers rampaging axe-blows to our cognitive functions: crack, smack, yell, akimbo, lust – all old English words that demand your attention.



Names don’t come from thin air, they come from people. People love naming things, so let them help: give a friend your shortlist without telling them what the product is and see what kind of a picture it paints for them. Talking about it makes the name real, not a flat 2D item on your screen. You learn if it’s hard to pronounce or just sounds embarrassing – remember who’s going to be asking for it in a shop or bar and see if you can visualise it happening.



Not literally, of course. But you have to be thorough about checking whether your name is truly available. That means checking with Companies House, the Intellectual Property Office and European Trade Mark Office. You’ll also need to check that the name isn’t being used by someone who’s not officially registered – they still have rights over it and can cause you pain. What’s getting harder now is the purchase of a relevant URL, too: dotcom addresses are depressingly thin on the ground, and spybots on search engines can even steal your name, register the URL and hike the price up without you even realising. Make sure you use a safe WHOIS search like the one at geektools.com. Or just contact us at Modern Copy and we’ll do it all for you.