Who doesn’t love a good pop culture reference? The idea of a single statement transporting you to a specific time and place, generating an emotional response, and tapping into something that is instantly familiar is incredibly powerful in copywriting.
We use pop culture references in our everyday language, but it is slowly becoming rare in the copywriting world, a sad injustice that I am looking to correct. In many ways, I am like Batman, without all of the money or cool gadgets, and my arch nemesis is boring text.
Using these writing flavor bombs isn’t as simple as copy and pasting. Each reference should serve a purpose and can detract from the article if they are not used properly. So when should you use pop culture references? How should they appear in the copy? How do you choose which reference to use?
Social media is the medium where you are most likely to encounter pop culture references. The use of memes and gifs is almost expected, after all, when was the last time you read through your aunt’s “copy this and share” post?
If you aren’t comfortable with using pop culture references in any other writing format, social media is a great place to start. Outside of LinkedIn, social media is much more of a relaxed atmosphere that encourages freedom of expression and creativity.
While a reference can be put anywhere in social media copy, it is most powerful in the first line of text. Why?
We have a bad case of shiny object syndrome, meaning you only have a few seconds to capture someone's attention before they have a “SQUIRREL!?” moment.
When you lead with a pop culture reference, it draws the reader's attention, increasing the likelihood that they will read the remainder of the post.
Technical writing is the yin to social media’s yang. It is much more grounded, and the likelihood that you will see pop culture references in this medium is rare. So how can you use an outside-the-box concept in a very inside-the-box form of copywriting?
The simple answer is — very selectively. The article that you are writing serves a very specific purpose and is targeted toward a very specific audience. Because of this, not just any reference will work, making it much more difficult to get right.
My advice is that you don’t go chasin’ waterfalls, stick to the rivers and lakes that you’re used to. TLC references aside, the point is that instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole find references that make sense in the context of the article that you are writing about. Even then, use them sparingly. Think of it as the cherry on top of the sundae.
Don’t think that there is room for pop culture references on a company website? Think again. As companies try to establish their brand and stand out in an ever-growing digital landscape, the use of pop culture references and a more relaxed tone increases.
Where this is most common is in the About Us section, as most companies feel that they have a little more latitude to let their flag fly. I would encourage you to use these references on other pages as they can break up the monotony and draw the site visitor in, increasing their time on the page.
Look for subsections on specific pages where it makes sense to spice things up. It might not be in your H1 headers but in the body of a piece of text. Similar to technical writing, you need to consider your audience. Ask these questions:
- Who is visiting your website?
- Why are they there?
- What action do you want them to take?
If your target demographic is men that are 40-50 years old, they might not understand a more recent pop culture reference. You may need to use the flux capacitor and go back and find references from the 1970s or 80s.
Make Copywriting Enjoyable
Whether you use pop culture references as a central theme in your writing, or as hidden gems for your readers, their power is undeniable. I have found that the use of pop culture in copywriting increases the joy of writing itself, while also providing an opportunity to instantly connect with the audience. You don’t have to jump off into the deep end, but take a swim, the water is fine.