Things to Say Instead of “Just Circling Back”


Dear Scooter,

This email popped back up to the top of my inbox, so I wanted to check in! How are you feeling about going forward with this project?


Hi Barb,

Hope you’re doing fabulously. Still want to work together? No wrong answers! 🙂


Howdy, Mike!

I woke up at 3 AM thinking about this project. Very sweaty, haha. Would love to know if you’re still game to kick off next week.


Hey Jenny,

Hope I’m not bugging you. Just can’t stop imagining the sweet, sweet magic we could make together. LOL, actually can’t stop!! Please reply 🙂


Hi again Scooter,

You ever think about why your parents named you Scooter? Anyway, let me know when to send the invoice! Super stoked to get started.


Hey Barbarooni,

I try not to take things personally, but I noticed you opened my last 3 emails and didn’t reply. What’s wrong? Did you end up going in-house? Why would you do that?


Hola Mike,

Did my last email about being sweaty scare you away? My bad. I have showered and I am ready to get started when you are!


Dear Jenny,

It’s weird that you showed up on Zoom for that one call we had. I didn’t know ghosts could appear on video. Because that’s what you are. A BIG RUDE GHOST!!! So you know what? I’m gonna haunt you too, because you should know how it feels! IT FEELS BAD, JENNY!!! BOOOOOO!!!

10 Easy-As-Pie Punchups for Warmer, Funnier, More Personable Copy

10 Easy-As-Pie Punchups for Warmer, Funnier, More Personable Copy

We all have THAT friend.

The one who effortlessly charms new pals the moment they meet her.

Who cracks jokes that make everyone laugh. Who makes you feel like you’re part of a secret club just for knowing her.

She’s radiant, game for anything, and also happens to be a great cook and did we mention she’s not only super-organized, but DROP-DEAD GORGEOUS?

You know the one.

It can be tempting to resent that friend.

To think, “I’ll never come off that way. She’s just got something I don’t.”

And it can be tempting to think the same thing about your marketing copy. You’ve probably had at least one day where you slammed your laptop closed, huffed like the Big Bad Wolf, and said,

“F#$% it. I can’t write engaging, funny, warm copy. It just doesn’t come naturally to me.”

Why would you even WANT to write funny?

Maybe you want your writing to be funnier because you know that humor is a shortcut to the Holy Grail of marketing: trust.

Maybe you’re just trying to mix it up a little bit, because you’re tired of sounding like every other ho-hum copywriter or content creator out there.

But the idea of being funnier is hard for people who don’t feel a constant need for validation like they’re naturally funny.

And “be funny” is not an actionable piece of advice.

Luckily, even if you’re as uptight as Anna Wintour in a whalebone corset, you can still come off as fun, warm, and personable in your copy.

You just need a little guidance. Sentence-level hacks.

And that, my sweet friends, is what I’m here to give you.

How to fake being funny on paper

Here’s a little secret that I’ve only shared with my cats: You can write like you normally do, and then go back and edit in humor and personality.

*record scratch* Wiggity wiggity whaaat? YES. IT IS POSSIBLE.

Small, sentence-level changes to your writing can add up to a totally new voice. Then you can take full advantage of humor’s effects on your audience.

Here’s how this will go: I’ll show you 10 sentence-level punchup techniques I personally use, explain WHY I use them, and tell you WHEN it’s appropriate (and not) to use each technique in your copy.

Two caveats before we dive in:

Know your audience. Don’t go whole-hog with humor and then discover your market is actually comprised of 100% tired, angry high-school principals.

Prepare to chill out. These techniques require a little laxity with syntax, punctuation, all that good nerdy stuff. So this approach probably won’t appeal to strict grammarians. (But honestly, I used to BE a grammarian — and then I loosened up. I feel better now.) 😉

Punchup #1: Write words in ALL CAPS

You wouldn’t deliver a speech in a flat monotone at a steady volume, right? You’d find a dynamic range between soft and loud, high-pitched and low.

You can do the same by working caps into your writing here and there.

On most of the internet, writing in all caps indicates yelling or emphasis.

So anywhere you’re feeling ferocious in your copy, write a couple of those words in caps! DO IT! TRY IT AT LEAST ONCE!

See what I did there?Tip: Anywhere you decide to use all caps, use them judiciously. I like to avoid capitalizing whole sentences, and stick to a few key words.

Like I did with this subject line in an email to my list, which got a 66.2% open rate:

email subject line

I am fairly screamy, yes.

Best place to use CAPS: Emails (both subject lines and body copy), personal social media, anywhere that feels like a one-on-one connection.

Worst place to use CAPS: New client proposals (YMMV). Also SMS or MMS marketing messages — since those are usually already too close to feeling spammy and invasive.

Punchup #2: Punctuate “incorrectly” or include a typo (pick one)

Yes, this copywriter is telling you to intentionally make “mistakes”.

Because mistakes are inextricably woven into the way people communicate, they help you appear more human, and thus more trustworthy.

In certain contexts, they also help you appear like you just dashed off your latest marketing message, then sashayed away into the sunset — instead of what actually happened (AKA you hunched over that marketing message way ahead of time. Wrote it. Revised it. Scheduled it).

One of my personal favorite ways to punctuate “incorrectly”? Asterisks.

Via this post I wrote

Plus, language is fluid. Keeping current with how the youth are currently punctuating helps you look more like a culturally knowledgeable, likeable Young than a stodgy, irritable Old.

Here’s Mark Littlewood of Business of Software flaunting his hipness in an intentionally misspelled subject line:

email subject line


Now, I don’t advocate intentional typos more than once every EXTREMELY blue moon, because you have to demonstrate competence, too.

One study found that typos in email body copy amplified the perceived emotion of that body copy — so angry emails came across as angrier, and happy emails came across as even more joyful.

However, the same study also found that while typos make you seem authentic (duh), they also decrease the perception of your intelligence (double duh).

And while I’ve personally had success with lowercased (AKA “incorrect”) subject lines, and Joanna Wiebe of Copy Hackers and Airstory has experimented with them, Boomerang notes that emails with a lowercase subject line receive 13% fewer responses.

So consider whether you’re looking for responses or opens, and tread carefully.

Best place to punctuate incorrectly: Tweets, blog posts, and emails

Worst place to punctuate incorrectly: One-on-one emails and when you need to make a sale

Best place to try a small typo: Email subject line (It might actually boost your open rates)

Worst place to try a small typo: Everywhere else.

Punchup #3: Contract words and throw in some abbrevs 😉

Contractions and abbreviations work on the same principle as mistakes, above.

Contractions show that you speak informally, while abbreviations signal to your audience that you just can’t wait to get to the point.

Both position you as a casual person. And both subtly show that you feel comfortable treating readers as friends.

Here’s ConversionXL’s Alex Birkett titling a blog with an abbreviated swearword (BS):

abbreviated swearword (BS)

Best place to use contractions: Everywhere. It’s 2019.

Worst place to use contractions: Your mom.

Best place to use abbreviations: With any word that is commonly abbreviated and whose abbreviation is widely recognized, ex. “Favorite” to “Fave” or “You” to “U”. Social media is particularly suited to abbreviations.

Worst place to use abbreviations: New client proposals, and on any word your audience won’t recognize in its abbreviated form.

Punchup #4: Chop up your sentences

Ah, sentence fragments. The bane of every grammar teacher’s existence.

(I just fragmented the sentence above. To show you what I mean. Which you totally get, right?)

Cutting sentences down so they start with words like “And,” “Because,” “But” and “Which” may not be grammatically correct, but it’s the way we talk.

It imitates the cadence of casual conversation.

sentence fragments

Headspace knows how to chat.

Plus, it’s WAY easier to parse short sentences than those with tons of dependent clauses.

Give each sentence one job. Or half of one. 😉

Best place to start sentences in the middle: Try this in emails and landing pages. Anywhere you need a conversational tone without sacrificing clarity.

Worst place to start sentences in the middle: More formally written copy and content, like white papers.

Punchup #5: Ask + answer questions

Asking questions and then immediately answering them in your copy helps you accomplish two goals:

  1. It helps keep you from overlooking anything your reader might be wondering about
  2. It creates a conversational flow and helps you draw more attention where you need it

For example, have you noticed that I’ve been using this technique throughout this post? Yes. Yes you have.

NOTA BENE: This technique isn’t the same as asking a rhetorical question, where the answer is already assumed or known, and not usually expected.

ask questions

Image via GoodLandingPages.com.

Best place to ask + answer your own questions: Landing pages.

Why? Because when you write this way, it’s much easier to get into your prospect’s head and mirror the same flow of questions they’re feeling. You’ll end up with a more persuasive page.

Worst place to ask + answer your own questions: There’s no real “worst” place for this. But don’t get too caught up in it. Why? Because it starts to get annoying. What do I mean? Exactly.

Punchup #6: Choose comic book words

One of the easiest ways to take copy from “fine” to “fantastic” is through specific word choice. Lots of writers know that.

So it follows that the way to take copy from “fantastic” to “fantastically funny” is to choose funny or outlandish words. I like to call ‘em “comic book words”.

Words for fighting moves are excellent replacements for boring verbs in your calls to action (like “submit,” “subscribe,” etc).

For example:

“Send my ebook now” could become “Dropkick that ebook into my inbox”

Some comic book words are onomatopoeia (words that spell out noises), like “splat” or “meow”. These work well to stimulate the reader’s imagination when sprinkled in throughout, usually formatted in italics.

Here are a few of my favorite comic book words and onomatopoeia (sorry they’re so violent):

  • Dropkick
  • Bam
  • Punch
  • Kaboom
  • Splat
  • Shazaam

Best place to choose comic book words: Anywhere you need to illustrate a sensation, or you want to make a visceral connection. Also, whenever you want a stickier call-to-action verb.

Worst place to choose comic book words: Anywhere you run the risk of obscuring your own meaning or distracting from your point.

Punchup #7: Throw in puns and portmanteaux

Now, this right here is the type of humor that most people have in mind when they say “I’m not funny.”

The truth is that anyone can come up with puns.

And anyone can come up with portmanteaux — you know, the thing where you squish two words into one, like “bran” and “banana” into “branana,” which sounds like a horrible new protein bar.

It’s a mental muscle, and it gets stronger with exercise.

puns and portmanteaux

This is masterful. Shared by @exclaimeditor on Twitter.

Want to get started working out your pun muscles? Next time you think of a dad joke, MAKE IT. Out loud. Then revel in the groans.

Best place to make a pun: Emails, un-promoted social media posts. Basically anywhere you’re not gunning for a conversion.

Worst place to make a pun: I’ll let you know when I find it. (But really: CTA copy. Don’t sacrifice clarity for a joke.)

Punchup #8: Give asides in parentheticals, italics, or quote marks

Writing an aside is the equivalent of actors breaking the fourth wall in a movie or TV show.

You can crack a joke, spell out what you’re thinking or what the reader is thinking, or hold imaginary debates.

Kira Hug and Rob Marsh pretend to know what readers are thinking re: fingers in this subhead from their Copywriter Accelerator sales page:

number one copywriter

And Cate Martel does something similar in this email from The Hill, using parentheticals to address reader objections (or pretend reader objections):

parentheticals to address reader objections

Asides immediately make your writing more lively. They can also make the reader feel like they’re in on a secret.

Best place to include asides: Try this in content pieces and emails. But, as with most of these tips, beware including too many. You’ll frustrate readers who just want you to get to the point. (I’ve been there.)

Worst place to include asides: Calls to action.

Punchup #9: Trail off with ellipses

Would you believe…

That trailing off with an ellipsis (or as some people call them, “tri-periods”) adds drama and anticipation to your copy?

Playing with punctuation allows you to dictate where your reader will pause, so you can create an intentional cadence.

Crosshead ellipsis example

Crosshead ellipsis example via GoodLandingPages.com.

Also, lines ending in ellipses are often shorter, which makes them a breath of fresh air for a visually fatigued reader.

Best place to trail off with an ellipsis: Email subject lines (hello, curiosity gap!). Email body copy, whenever a shorter line would push your reader to keep going. Landing pages, when you’re agitating a problem.

Worst place to trail off with an ellipsis: Marriage proposals.

Punchup #10: “Misspeak” using strikethrough

This is one of my favorite techniques, and you’ve probably definitely already noticed it in this post.

I like strikethrough because it harks to actual writing — like, in a notebook with a pen. (FYI, a pen is a hollow tube filled with dark liquid that you use to make marks.)

It’s a fun way to make a joke in just a couple of words without distracting the reader.

Also, not every reader will notice struck-through copy — so it’s a subtle reward for those who are paying attention.

Best place to use strikethrough: Anywhere you want to make a joke, but don’t want to spend more than a couple words on it.

Worst place to use strikethrough: UVPs, headlines, and anywhere else clarity is paramount.

BONUS Punchup #11: Include emoji and GIFs

I saved the best for last!

Along with breaking up copy to save readers from visual fatigue, GIFs can take your jokes to a new place. They help illustrate concepts succinctly — and obviously, they’re entertaining!

Sometimes, GIFs can even inspire the perfect frame for an entire piece of content or copy, like when I discovered there were enough Matrix GIFs to illustrate a 2500-word piece on evoking emotion in ecommerce copy.

Best place to use GIFs: EVERYWHERE. (Really: content pieces, emails, social media. And specifically in content pieces when you know it’s time for an image, but there’s no graphic or photo that can help illustrate the point you’re making.)

Worst place to use GIFs: I… I do not know. They are perfect.

See these techniques in action

Wanna see how I apply these tips? Let’s do it live.

Here’s a paragraph I swiped from an email I got the other day.

Example 1 original copy

Stop charging by the hour.

Here’s why:

If you’re charging hourly prices for the work you’re doing for clients, you’re putting a cap on your earnings, you’re doing your clients a disservice, and you’re building the wrong kind of career.

When you bill hourly, you are putting yourself in a position where you are incentivized to take as long as possible to deliver the results that your client is trying to buy.

After all, why would you spend any time or energy trying to figure out how you could fulfill this contract in half the time, thereby cutting your pay in half?

So it’s not so much that you will intentionally ignore ways to optimize the process, but that you won’t be harnessing your mind in that direction.

Now, this copy is solid. It makes sense. But it’s a snoozefest, personality-wise.

To punch it up, I’d pick and choose from the techniques above, and…tada:

Example 1 revised copy

HOLD UP. Stop charging by the hour.

Just stop. Right now.


If you’re charging hourly prices for the work you’re doing for clients, you’re putting a cap on your earnings (and not the cute kind of cap, like a baby would wear to a ballgame).

You’re doing your clients a disservice, and you’re building the wrong kind of career. Sorry to break the bad news there, guy.

When you bill hourly, you put yourself in a position where taking as long as possible to deliver results = rewarding yourself for inefficiency with a big fat cookie, I mean paycheck.

Which means you probs won’t spend any time or energy trying to figure out how you could fulfill this contract in half the time. Since that would slash your pay in half.

So you won’t intentionally IGNORE ways to optimize the process, but you def won’t be focusing on getting harder, better, faster, stronger.

Punchup techniques I used

  • All caps
  • Asides (italics and parentheticals)
  • Abbreviations
  • Asking and answering questions

Want another example? Here’s part of a landing page I punched up for leadPops.

Example 2 original copy

I can’t count how many clients I’ve worked with who are paying all kinds of money to generate leads…

Only to have those leads “fall through the cracks” because it’s such a headache to transfer the leads into the LO’s email newsletter software for consistent, regular follow-up.

In fact, many mortgage companies could grow their current business by 75-100% or more just by plugging this one leak.

Sprinkle with magic sauce, aaaannnnd 3, 2, 1…

Example 2 revised copy

What kind of cash would you let slip through the couch cushions?

Pennies? Dimes?

How about quarters?

How about $100 bills?

Crisp Benjamins, just slipping down into No-Man’s Land, because you’ll never remember to check under there…

If you’re paying tons of money to generate leads…

Only to watch ‘em fall through the cracks because it’s such a headache to transfer their information into your email software…

You might as well be emptying your pockets into the couch, my friend.

Many mortgage companies could grow their current business by 75-100% or more just by plugging this one leak.

Punchup techniques I used

  • Asking and answering questions
  • Asides (italics)
  • Abbreviations
  • GIFs

Use this knowledge wisely, padawan

All right. Now you know all most of my secrets.

You’re poised to become the friend everyone talks about…

So one last thing: Don’t go crazy with these tips.

Pick the techniques that feel easiest or within reach for you. Then try them in a low-pressure situation (like an unpromoted social media post, non-sales-related email to your list, or best yet: in a post on your own blog).

Then sit back and see what happens! In my experience, people will perk up and take notice.

And whether they like your new style or not, they’ll tell you what they think — which is better than crickets any day.

4 Mistakes to Avoid When You’re Trying to Convert with Funny Copy

4 funny copy mistakes

You know when someone tells a joke, and they’re super excited about it, and you’re waiting for the punchline…

And then the punchline comes, and that poor lil joke falls flat on its face?

r2d2 fallsWomp.

Maybe that’s happened to you. It’s DEFINITELY happened me. More than once.

*cue silent, awkward foot shuffling *

The same thing can happen when you’re trying to write funny copy.

And along with your joke falling flat, you don’t get your point across…

And with that failed punchline and missed point go all hope of convincing or converting your readers.

If your joke is REALLY bad, your readers might not even like you anymore. 🙁

luke nooooAnd as we know, being liked is the only reason to continue existing.

Now, I can’t tell you what jokes will have your readers rolling on the floor like those stupid jingle-ball cat toys I inexplicably have forty of.

What I CAN do is tell you about 4 common mistakes I see in so-called “funny copy”. These faux pas suck the air out of a joke faster than the vacuum of space deflates our puny human lungs.

^^ Observe! An in-the-wild example of a joke that didn’t quiiiite get there.

Mistake #1: Forcing the joke

If a joke takes an entire extra sentence, a series of hyphens, or a personal phone call to explain, it’s just not obvious enough.

Forcing a joke creates an agonizingly awkward experience. And that experience makes the rest of your copy less effective.

Unclear, obtuse, and poorly phrased jokes add to your readers’ cognitive load. Their brains literally have to burn more sugar just to try to understand you.

That’s brain-sugar they’re NOT using to think about how convincing your offer is.

luke and yodaMmm, sugar.

One quick and easy way to simplify a joke? End your sentence on or near the funniest word.

For example, take this dumb bit I used to perform:

I like to replace the words “kid,” “child,” and “baby” with “possum” because it just sounds so much better when other women talk down to me. “Everything is different once you have a possum, Lianna.” “I didn’t know what love was until I met my possum.” “I needed reconstructive surgery after giving birth to my possum.”

Possum is a hilarious word. And it’s the main reason that bit got laughs. ‘Cause let’s be real, it’s not my finest work.

Mistake #2: Too many jokes

Look, I’m a firm believer that the more puns, the better. Punning is my favorite pastime.

In fact, I was crowned the Pun Champun of New Orleans at the first International House of Puncakes competition in 2017. (It’s not actually international, but who could miss the chance for that name?)

lianna pun competition

You were expecting another Star Wars GIF, weren’t you?

I make a punishing number of puns — so many puns, some people find it punbelievable!

BUT. I also try to kill my darlings when I’m writing copy…

Because, just like forcing the joke (Mistake #1), including too many jokes can distract readers from the real point of your copy.

And that’s a losing proposition.


Y’all see “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”? Sure, it was good, but it had like 25 different openings.

In my incredibly humble but also completely accurate and inarguable opinion, “The Last Jedi” would have been a lot stronger if there had been just one or two different establishing scenes. Instead of the seventeen opening scenes that just made it feel like the movie was constantly starting over like Groundhog Day.

darth maul

Yeah, I said it. COME AT ME, NERDS

There isn’t really a hard-and-fast rule for how many jokes you should make in a piece of copy, but in case you need one, I made it for you:


This should keep us all sane and on track.

Also, obviously this rule doesn’t apply to me. Because I said so. *stamps foot*

Mistake #3: Failing to voice-match

One of the most common issues brands and writers make when they’re starting to experiment with humor? Failing to match their voice with the brand’s existing voice.

OR, a brand goes full-bore with customer-facing humor from the start… but they forget to update the default copy in their email service platform or CMS.

So you get this maniacal mix of fun, punchy, branded copy — and boring-ass transactional emails.

For example, here’s what happens when you subscribe to McSweeney’s, which you’d think would have side-splittingly great copy even in its default emails:

mcsweeney's meh

You would be wrong.

Dang! So disappointing.

Attention to detail is always important when it comes to copy, but it’s extra crucial when you’re aiming to be funny.

Mistake #4: Jokes in the wrong spot

Rhythm is one of the basic principles of comedy. Whether you’re watching standup, improv, sketch, or your spaghetti-stained Uncle Joe reminiscing about his youth, you’re subconsciously expecting some sort of rhythm and resolution.

When you make a joke at the wrong spot in your copy, you destroy the rhythm. You pull readers away from your point.

Including a joke at the wrong spot can even feel frustrating or irritating, much like including too many jokes.

it's a trap

If this all feels overwhelming, you could just hire me

So where are the RIGHT spots for a joke in your copy?

Anywhere you’re introducing anxiety or doubt — Because humor breaks tension and builds trust. I especially like a little bit of humor in “click trigger” copy under a CTA button

Anywhere you’ve got a long list of boring or “standard” items — Add delight here with a funny line item and reward readers who are paying attention

Anywhere your reader runs the risk of getting bored — Long, technical copy? Make a parenthetical aside every now and then

Anywhere you’re talking about yourself and your brand — Show readers and customers that you’re confident enough to be self-deprecating. It’s paradoxically endearing

In your image captions — Everybody reads the captions. Everybody. Even you


These are all extra-safe options, because the object of your joke is never the reader.

(Wanna make fun of your reader? SO DO I. PLEASE STEP INTO MY OFFICE)

Anyway, I figured a post about everything you’re doing wrong would be a great way to make you like me more.

Did it work?

How to Write Funnier Copy with the Rule of 3

How to Write Funnier Copy with the Rule of 3

The Rule of 3 (also called the “triple”) is a copywriting and comedy commandment.

Think about it.

Everything is just punchier, more memorable, and more enticing in threes — whether you’re creating a bullet-point list, ordering scoops at the ice cream shop, or juggling multiple lovers… none of whom know about the others’ existence. 😬

mesmerizing, isn't it?

This GIF is only tangentially related to that last thing, but honestly, how could I not use it

Schoolhouse Rock even did a song about the rule of 3, which is, like, Jesus, so incredibly creepy:

(Scroll down for an even creepier video on the rule of three. Oh my god, who rubber-stamps this stuff??)

So why does the rule of 3 have such power over us?

Psychological secrets behind the rule of 3

Secret #1: We like things with a beginning, middle, and end

Recently, I saw a newbie try his hand at a local standup comedy open mic.

He grabbed the microphone and started telling a story about his roommate walking in on him while he was masturbating.

Aaaand… that was the end of the story.

Highly dissatisfying. (Probably for everyone involved.)


Actual video of the audience reaction

Why? Because this turdburger didn’t tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end! He left off the end and expected the audience to laugh anyway.

But no one was ready to laugh, because we were still waiting for the story to end (and for this dude to get offstage).

There’s a reason that plays often have three acts… a reason that the trilogy is a popular book and film format…

And that shitty, three-word, period-punctuated headlines like “Cutting-Edge. Superior. Amazing” still appear all over the Internet.

Also in the real world:

Hat tip to Digiday

Secret #2: Three is the minimum number required to create a pattern or “streak”

Remember 10th grade geometry, when your teacher pointed out that it takes a minimum of two points to create a line?

Well, it takes a minimum of three things to create a discernible pattern. That’s why, given a brain-teaser like “Find the 4th number in the sequence: 3, 6, 9, ___,” we can figure out the next number.

Having just “3, 6” wouldn’t tell us what to do next.

Interestingly, one study found that “the third repeat event in a sequence is pivotal to the subjective belief that a streak is occurring.”

Put another way, you need to see your boyfriend do the dishes at least three times before you believe he might actually be worth keeping around.


Lol, gender roles, amirite

Secret #3 (ooooh!): A series of 3 offers a concrete “middle” choice

We also like things in threes because offering three items can help anchor the “middle” choice as the best or most popular. This is a useful pricing tactic, and one you’ll see all over SaaS and other service-provider websites.

Secret #4: Three has a naturally satisfying cadence

Listen to any NPR broadcaster read a series of three items. Their voice will lift or lower on the second one.

It’s just a natural inclination to indicate the difference between one, two, and three.

How to use the rule of 3 in funny copy

In general, if you’re writing copy with a series of three, save the funny word or phrase for the last item in the series. That ensures it’ll have the maximum punch.

What’s funny?

Usually it’s something surprising or shocking. Or something that’s the opposite of what you were led to expect (this is called a reversal).

“I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.”

– Jon Stewart

You can also “heighten” throughout a series.

I could do an entire post on heightening (and I probably will… soon).


My next blog is just over that ice floe

But for now, think of heightening as moving in a clear direction. You can start small and make something bigger and more bombastic, or the opposite — start “normally” and get ridiculously small or insignificant.

You might go from “safety pin” to “knife” to “harpoon cannon”.

Or you might go the opposite direction, from “President of the Galactic Republic” to “2-term Congressperson” to “night janitor at the local high school”.

It’s the relationship between these items that’s funny, not any single item on its own (though I did titter a little when I came up with “harpoon cannon” just now, ‘cause it sounds good. More on funny words and sounds later… ).

I like how improviser Will Hines defines heightening as “hit[ting] a comedic idea several times in a way that obviously gets more absurd as you go.”

(Side note: buy Will’s book, How to Be the Greatest Improviser on Earth. It rules.)

Where should you use the rule of 3?

Aim to lighten the mood with humor in any of these spots in your copy:

Series of examples  — Item 1, Item 2, Unexpected/Absurd Item 3


ComparisonsWriting this post is like having my teeth pulled, only I’m both the dentist and the victim.


Exaggerations This chair is so old, it probably has grandchildren. It probably uses an AARP discount card. It’s so old, it needs its own goddamn chair to sit down and take a load off.

In intros or lead-ins You know, like I did with this post


Remember that 3 is the minimum number required to form a pattern. You don’t have to stop at three.

If you want to hammer home the humor and venture into absurdity, you can continue adding to the pattern, like SNL does in this sketch:

The basketball players in the background are what’s funny in this sketch. They get called out by the director three times, and then we see a series of quick cuts where the background players get more and more ridiculous.

(And did you notice the reversal at the end of the sketch?)

Quick caveat here: if you add more to your series of three items, make sure you don’t let your joke outstay its welcome.

PS. The world’s creepiest video on the rule of 3

Told you I’d give it to you.

How do you usually use the Rule of 3?

Take It From the Experts: HBO’s “Talking Funny”

Takeaways from HBO's Talking Funny

Talking Funny is a 49-minute HBO special featuring Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and Louis C.K. sitting around and talking about comedy.

They chat about the moments they first felt like real comedians and what they like and dislike about each other’s work.

Also, they do impressions of each other, which rules.

And while I’d have loved to see *literally any* female or nonbinary comic included, the video is absolutely worth a watch for comedy nerds!

NOTE: Yep, Louis C.K. was part of this discussion. This was filmed before we all knew he was/is a big ol’ creep.

SECOND NOTE: There’s a part of the discussion that includes the N-word around minute 16. The discussion moves to curse words in general at minute 17.

So what can you learn from 4 masters of the comedic craft?

Here are my takeaways. Yours might be different, but that’s why this is my blog + not yours

Different comedians build their acts in different ways — While C.K. and Chris Rock both write a new hourlong act every year, Seinfeld tosses 10-20% of his act each year and replaces it with new jokes


Wanna get better? Build on the best material you have — Louis C.K. regularly makes himself use his former closing bit as a new opening bit, “just to fuck myself”


Jerry Seinfeld sure likes to talk over people (though we knew this from Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee)


You can have a great joke, but if you don’t set it up right, it won’t hit because the audience doesn’t understand the premise. Context is everything.


To Ricky Gervais, truly great comedy isn’t about being funny, because some things are always funny (ex. personifying animals). It’s about “going out and doing something no one else can do.”


In that same vein, jokes that depend purely on profanity aren’t good enough


Chris Rock’s take on racist jokes: “Talk about what [people] do, not what they are


Have you watched this special? It’s been on my list forever.

Interested to know what you got from it! Leave a comment and let me know. I promise I’ll actually check the draft comments this time. ????

(Side note: I feel like Seinfeld wakes up in the morning and looks in the mirror and growls, “You’re Jerry Fucking Seinfeld, you glorious bastard.”)

Why Your Brand’s Gotta Be Funny

Why Your Brand's Gotta Be Funny

(Pssst, I’m hoping to turn this into a series of posts about the psychology and functions of humor! Let me know in the comments what other topics you want me to cover.)


Why should businesses use humor in their marketing?

Well… let’s look at what the research says.

it's a stampede!

cue everyone leaving

Psychologist Michael Apter suggests that there are two social contexts, or states, that humans switch between:

The telic, or goal-oriented state — AKA when we’re focused on gettin sh** done

And the paratelic, or play-oriented state — AKA when we’re goofing off and making jokes

We switch between these modes all the time throughout the day. (Just think of the last meeting you went to, when someone cracked a joke. Everybody laughed… and then y’all all went back to work.)

Now, these moments might just seem like quick breaks, but this kind of playtime actually serves some super-important social, emotional, and cognitive functions.

For example, research has shown that humor is linked to overall improvements in outlook and attitude. It’s a coping mechanism when times are tough. And it helps people bond together as a group.

All of this seems pretty self-evident from, um, being a human in the world, right?

But for some reason, the idea of being funny just FLIES OUT of most people’s brains when they’re putting their marketing campaigns together.

Which is crazy, because marketing is all about forming a real connection with your customers. So why would you just leave one of your best tools in your arsenal?

Humor helps you…

 Build genuine relationships with your readers or users — you know, like the relationships you have in real life (if you don’t, well, that’s a different issue)

Address potential objections in a lighthearted way, and paint a realistic picture of what people COULD be doing instead

dealforma screenshot

This benefits copy I wrote for DealForma helps readers better picture their life with clean data

Save face in awkward situations — like when you need to ‘fess up to a mistake, or roll out sensitive new pricing or plan updates

Alleviate anxiety in key moments — for instance, when your user might be worried about whether they need to provide a credit card for a free trial

bluetick.io CTA

Fun little click-trigger copy I wrote for Bluetick.io (check it out. It rules)

AND a whole lot more.

Now, there’s obviously way more to all of this — in fact, there are multiple books about the psychology and function of humor in the brain.

I’m barely scratching the surface here… but scratching sure does feel good.

happy lil sloth scratching

Live video from the Punchline office.

Wanna learn more about how humor works in the brain, and how you can leverage it to improve your marketing?

I’m building a course! Sign up below to hear when I launch it:

Blue Ribbon Ecommerce Mastermind

blue ribbon ecommerce mastermind denver

Hey you! Look at your face. It’s a great one. I’m glad it’s reading this blog.

Soooo. Earlier this month, I had the wild honor of speaking at the Blue  Ribbon Ecommerce Mastermind in Denver!

What’s Blue Ribbon?

The Blue Ribbon Ecommerce Mastermind, run by Smart Marketer, is a group of the most successful ecommerce business owners in the world, plus a sprinkling of tip-top agency owners and marketers.

And they’re somehow ALL shockingly talented Ping-Pong players. Like, shocking.

I mostly drank and watched.

Blue Ribbon members sell their own original products (like Panda Planner and Groove Rings), cool shit they discovered in China, auto parts, supplements, you name it.

If it’s genuinely valuable to customers, if there’s a niche for it, someone at Blue Ribbon is probably selling it or about to sell it. They’re prescient AF like that.

Ezra Firestone is the marketing genius and ecommerce biz owner behind Blue Ribbon. * insert beardy man-bun emoji *

He kicked off the 2-day meeting with a rundown of the biggest challenges facing online store owners.

Ezra’s kickoff session was followed by talks from luminary geniuses like Brett Curry, Drew Sanocki, Moiz Ali, Todd Kriney, Molly Pittman, and more.

patrick eckstein, william painter

Please enjoy this totally gratuitous photo of me and William Painter co-founder Patrick Eckstein, wearing WP’s killer shades.

Oh, I spoke too!

I was super-honored to share my talk on humor in marketing (which boils down to why, how, and where in your marketing funnel it pays to be funny).

Check out the killer live sketchnotes the Smart Marketer team was kind enough to arrange for all the speakers — and then send to us after the event!

blue ribbon ecommerce mastermind sketchnotes

Featuring two extremely hairy Vanna Whites!

A couple of book recs for the road

Here are the two books I added to my list after speakers recommended them:

Here’s How to Pick the Perfect GIF

how to pick the perfect gif

People ask me this a lot: “Lianna, how do you sniff out the GIFs you use obsessively in every piece of content you create?”

I shake my head sadly, and think, Oh, you poor sad slob. If you don’t get it now, you never will.

Then I ride off into the sunset on my high horse.

high horse yeee

Look how condescending this horse is!

Obviously, this is a horrible and shitty thing to think or say.

So instead of saying it, I decided to examine the actual thought process I go through when picking a GIF.

And write it down for you. So you never have to hire me. ????

GIFs are the future

True fact: GIFs (graphical interchange format, for all you acronym nerds) are uniquely hilarious.

Precisely because they’re less immersive — and thus less intimidating or time-consuming to enjoy — than videos, and waaaay more visually interesting than plain ol’ paragraphs of text, GIFs fill a singular role in content.

They ask little and deliver a lot. They’re a low-tech way to entertain, illustrate a point, crack a joke, you name it. Everyone should use ‘em.

I used to pronounce GIF with a hard G. Now I pronounce it with a soft G, like the sugary, salty peanut butter my mom wouldn’t buy us.

Why? Because the guy who invented it SAYS it should be a soft G. Respect, y’all.

I’m gonna walk you step-by-step through picking a GIF for your blog or email, using THIS VERY POST as an example.

It’s so meta that we might both implode, like dying stars or Donald Trump’s colon — but let’s see what happens.

First things first: Decide where you want a GIF

To find the ideal place for your GIF, zoom out and look at the entire structure of your document. You’re looking for…

  • Walls of text
  • Spots where you’re hammering home a point
  • And any other spot where you’d like to lighten the mood or provide a moment of levity

When I finished this post draft, I set my screen to 50% so I could see where I needed a GIF. Here’s what that looked like (META WARNING):

how to find the perfect GIF

Also, as I’m writing, if I know there’s a spot ripe for a joke, I’ll add [GIF] in brackets so I don’t have to interrupt my flow to go find one.

I’ll also include any notes about what I think the GIF could be, so I don’t accidentally publish without finding the GIF. Like so:

[GIF: how dare you]

Next, head to Giphy.com

(AHEM. Another reason it’s pronounced with a soft G? Because that means Giphy.com is pronounced “Jiffy”. As in, “Find your GIF in a jiffy.” YOU’RE WELCOME.)

Now you’re here on Giphy, and you’ve gotta decide what to search. This is where it gets tricky, and where most people are just like,


uh wat

See what I did there?

The secret search sauce

And now, the secret sauce. Consider it my GIF to you. ????

Read the sentence right before the place you’ve decided to insert the GIF.

Right after you read it, imagine making a SHORT, offhanded, under-your-breath joke to a friend next to you. You’re looking for a two-to-three-word phrase, like:

  • Am I right?
  • Oh God
  • How bout them apples??!


Then type that phrase into Giphy, and WATCH THE MAGIC HAPPEN.

Depending on how esoteric your search phrase is, you’ll get a page of either directly or tangentially related GIFs. Fair warning: at least 8% of them will contain boobs.

You can also use GIFs to finish a thought, like I did above with the poodle GIF. Advanced users only, please.

So, here I am on Giphy. I’ve decided I need a GIF to finish the sentence “This is where it gets tricky, and where most people are just like… ”

Because I know that sentence would end with “Huh???” if I were writing it, I search “Huh?” in Giphy.

I get these results:

giphy search results

So many quizzical, bemused faces!!

And I pick the poodle head-tilt GIF, as you already knew.

Why did I pick THAT one? Well, a few reasons…

Lianna’s Very Official, Extremely Important Rules for Picking GIFs

  • GIFs must be high-res. Unless they’re REALLY good. And even then, use small or low-res GIFs sparingly. Only one shitty GIF per content piece (please tweet this)
  • No esoteric pop culture or other references. While it’s so, so awesome to use a GIF from The Office because I know my readers love that shit just as much as I do, there’s always a risk of ascribing too much weight or meaning to a GIF that a reader won’t “get”.

    So aim to pick a GIF that’s funny even without knowing what show, movie, or catastrophic life event it’s from. Like this one:
  • zootopia(It’s from Zootopia, but that doesn’t matter.)


  • Nothing overly distracting. GIFs that loop for too long run the risk of distracting your reader, so I try to pick shorter loops. I also often eschew GIFs including text, unless the text can conceivably read like an extension of the writing.
  • Nothing racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive or marginalizing. I tend toward the absurd/surreal anyhow, but if there’s ANY chance a GIF would offend your target reader, it’s better to pick a different one.
  • Don’t settle… but also don’t overthink it. The first GIF that stands out to you and meets all these criteria is probably the right one.
  • Pick a few, then whittle it down. Not sure which GIF is right? Open a few in new tabs, and then pick your fave.

That’s it! Only 6 simple rules to keep in mind.

Six rules isn’t simple, you say? Your mind can only hold three rules at a time? Good thing you can hire me to do this for you, then.

If this process DIDN’T work for you, that’s OK. It happens. Here’s how to troubleshoot crappy or nonexistent GIF search results:

Think of a different or related phrase, and search again.

This isn’t as annoying as it sounds, because you’ll find that your first page of Giphy search results will inspire you to make different searches. Sometimes, just a slight phrasing difference (say, from “no thank you” to “no thanks” or even to “do not want”) will turn up the perfect GIF.

Like this one:

perfect gif is perfect

Try this method and tell me what happens

Especially if you’ve thought “Garsh, I just can’t pick a GIF to save my life!” Which I’m sure all of three people planetwide have thought.

ANALYSIS: How Dollar Shave Club Introduces Humor in Its Homepage Copy

Analysis_ Dollar Shave Club


I’m your host, Lianna Patch, and you can read my analysis of Purple’s Seat Cushion Landing page right here if you haven’t already.

Today I’m gonna take you through the current iteration of Dollar Shave Club’s homepage. Like Purple, DSC first went viral with a hilarious ad:

And their branding promises punchy, masculine fun in both their marketing copy and their physical products.

But when I went through DSC’s homepage this weekend, one thing struck me: They play it pretttttty slow and safe when introducing humor into their copy.

Lemme go through why I think they’re taking it slow, since, you know, this is my blog and all.

Here’s the page I’m looking at:

Dollar Shave Club Homepage (as of January 2018)

Click to view a full-size, zoomable version of the annotated page in a new tab. Then scroll down for my thoughts on what DSC is doing, what’s working, and what’s not.

Dollar Shave Club Homepage_Annotated

What Dollar Shave Club is doing on this page

First things first: DSC is currently using its homepage as a sales page for its Starter Sets.

There are 4 calls to action throughout the page. 3 of those link to a landing page with more options for Starter Sets, and one is a direct Add to Cart link.

There are a few reasons why DSC would choose to treat its homepage as a sales page:

  1. Homepages are overrated and usually poorly executed  — “Let’s put everything we do right here on the homepage and make people scroll until they get bored!!11eleventy”
  2. DSC knows most people become customers through the Starter Set, and they want to make that acquisition easier
  3. They know they can more easily show value through their actual service than here on this page, so they’re gunning to get signups/sales as soon as possible.

OR MAYBE IT’S ALL 3! Or maybe there is another Mystery Reason (TM)!

We in agreement? Cool. Let’s check out the page section by section.

Section 1 (Hero: “Experience Butter with the Classic Shave Starter Set”)

The first thing you notice when you land on the homepage is the hero section video, which I ADORE.

It very quickly turns from a standard product shot (a hand reaching for shaving cream — excuse me, shave butter) to a comedic display of what using the product presumably feels like.

AKA riding a creamy Slip N’ Slide to Shave Heaven, where a distinguished older gentleman gently and sweetly blows the beard right off your scruffy face. I’ll take it.


Now, this video is our first clue that DSC is aiming to brand itself with humor.

And it’s our only clue. Because the copy in this hero section is straight-up boring by itself.

Imagine the video didn’t load when you visited this page, for one reason or another.

All you’d see is “Experience Butter [with the Classic Shave Starter Set].” What does “Experience Butter” even mean?

The subhead does a good job of explaining and clarifying the offer — “Get Shave Butter and a month supply of our best razor for $5” — but that big headline is a waste of valuable space.

Regardless of the video or image in the hero section, the copy here needs to be able to stand on its own!  And right now, it’s as wobbly as a newborn fawn.

You’re welcome

Without even needing to be funny about it, DSC could have easily picked a more evocative headline; say, “Slip Into a Smoother Shave”. (Y’all can have that one. It’s free.)

So why doesn’t Dollar Shave Club go balls-to-the-wall with humor copywriting right away?

Well, because this is a homepage. They’re getting traffic from all different sources here, and not all of those visitors will know who DSC is or what they sell.

It’s better to be clear up front than potentially confusing a significant portion of that traffic — even at the risk of being boring, which the current hero section copy totally is.

Onward, noble steeds!

Section 2 (Offer: “A Starter Set is the ideal way to start”)

This section doubles down on the offer presented up top: Here’s what you get, here’s what it costs, and here’s what you’re signing up for. Pretty straightforward stuff.

Dollar Shave Club Homepage_Annotated_3

Again, there’s a wretchedly lazy header that isn’t working as hard as it could be. “A starter set is the ideal way to start.”


Quoth the Raven, “That shit was real dumb.”

To avoid this repetition (and redundancy), DSC shoulda gone with something like, “Your smoother shave starts here.” Or… “The Starter Kit is your key to a silkier shave.”

Look, I know it’s not Dickinson, but it’s better, OK?

Then we move on to a smaller section — let’s call it 2A — where readers get the deets on the Starter Kit and everything it contains month to month.

I’m not sure why there’s not more info available (like, in a hover or accordion or dropdown) about each of the included items.

Especially the Bathroom Minutes, since I’m guessing not a lot of people can intuit that that it’s a tiny, poop-pun-filled newspaper that DSC sends out with each of its cartridge refills. Why not specify?? It could be a selling point for… some people. 

But OK, they want to keep the page as uncomplicated as possible. Sure. Fine. Next.

Section 3 (Benefits: “3 reasons to try DSC”)

Another lazy swing and miss for this headline. Yes, it’s clear. But it’s also soooo boring.

A simple tweak could make this more persuasive — again, without even needing to inject humor:

“3 reasons to try DSC”  —> “Why should I try DSC?”

Putting this header in the reader’s voice helps the copy relate to what the user is probably asking him- (or her)self at that moment.

Notice how it’s “Why should I”  — not “Why should you,” which is how the original version is phrased (“3 reasons [why you should] try DSC”).

Make it about the reader, y’all

But here’s the interesting thing… this is the section where we start to see some flavor coming into the copy. Not in the headers — that might be too risky! — but in the body copy, right at the end. Just the way you might try to coax a friend into coming to a party when you know she’d rather stay at home in her footie pajamas.

We also get our first real, concrete, funny image: “level 9 yogi flexibility”.

Sadly, this is one of only three such “word pictures” that DSC paints on this page. (First person to find the other two gets a pat on the head from me and a hi-res photo of my cat lying upside down!

Actually, y’all can just have that photo now. You’re welcome.)

Such floof. Much relax!

Section 4 (The we just remembered this was a homepage, so here’s some content, we guess section: “We want more than just your body”)

Readers who have been following the thread of this homepage might do a double-take upon getting to this section, which seems like DSC’s marketing team remembered that homepages are supposed to offer something for everyone, so they threw up a bunch of blog links.

More subpar headline and subhead writing here. “We want more than just your body” is vague, awkwardly phrased, not really about the reader, and doesn’t connect with the subhead below–which is thus given the unfair burden of explaining that hey, DSC also runs a blog. 

I do like those intentionally gross blog thumbnail illustrations, though.

Section 4 (FAQ: “So what’s the catch?”)

Aha! LOOK THERE! A headline written from the user’s point of view! Thank glob.

We’ve finally reached the point where the copywriter(s) who wrote this page were allowed to start having some real fun. Either that, or they started drinking.

It’s been about 8 years. Time for another Mad Men GIF.

The way these FAQs are written is the tone we’ve WANTED from DSC, the tone they HINTED at throughout this page, dangled, and then snatched away.

Oh, to savor this major tone shift now, in the expanded accordion FAQ section! So far down the page!

Why? If someone has read this far, chances are they’re open to copy that takes a few more risks in trying to get their attention. Plus, the extra-sassy copy in some spots will feel like a reward to careful readers. 


Throughout the page, Dollar Shave Club graaaadually introduces humor into its copy. It gets fully up to its normal, buoyant self by the very bottom. DSC takes the conservative approach to homepage humor, and I get that.

Unfortunately, the last CTA comes in like a wet fart, with an extra line that makes the ‘Club look more anxious than confident. But hey, sometimes all you need is a good editor.

What do y’all think of this page?

And whose copy should I tackle next?

FACE PUN(CH): You’ll Never Think About Puns the Same Way Again

Humor Copywriting and Puns

There is no sweeter sound in the world than the long, sighing groan that follows a truly magnificent pun.

You lay it down. You wait a millisecond (OK, sometimes longer).

And then you get the crinkled-up disgust face and the “AUUUUGHHH.”

Puns as aggression? Nahhh

Bret is disappointed in you.

But it turns out some humor theorists (one in particular) don’t find that sound so sweet.

Let me introduce you to Charles Gruner, who literally made it his life’s work to argue that fun actually = pain.

I’m oversimplifying a bit, but basically, Gruner’s theory of humor is that jokes are a form of “playful aggression”. With the exception of what he calls “good-natured play,” Gruner suggested that humor is a contest or competition. Meaning every joke results in a winner and a loser.

no waaaay brah

Basically, Gruner saw puns as a game of intellectual oneupmanship. In this light, a post-pun groan is actually the sound of your “opponent” (or in my case, victim) audibly admitting defeat.

YEP. Sounds like a real fun guy to invite to your birthday, right?

In his excellent textbook The Psychology of Humor, Rod A. Martin explains Gruner’s theory when it comes to a “duel of wits,” like a pun:

Puns in everyday conversation may be a way of “defeating” the listener, but canned jokes in which the punch line is based on a pun are seen as a way of enabling the listener to share feelings of mastery and superiority along with the joke-teller. The ability to “get the joke” gives the listener a feeling of superiority and victory, presumably over hypothetical others who might not be able to understand it, perhaps due to their lower intelligence. Thus, according to Gruner, all jokes, no matter how seemingly innocent, contain a contest, a winner, and a loser.”

Really makes you think about all the dad jokes you grew up with, right?

ice cold, dad

That was cold. Stone cold.

As interesting as it is, Gruner’s theory isn’t the prevailing school of thought among most modern-day psychologists studying humor.

Many theorists now agree that humor plays a huge number of roles in social interaction, cognition and understanding, and emotional experience —to name just a few of its many sparkly facets.

For levity, it sure does have a heavy job to do!


I heard you groan all the way over here. AND I LOVED IT.

I’ll be writing more about theories of humor and how it affects and influences us in the future. But for now, I just wanna know: What’s your favorite pun?