Product copy and ecommerce texts aren’t known for being particularly sexy, but from time to time, amongst the rubble, real gems can be found.
Take online record store Boomkat, which has editorialised its product pages, transforming space often used for cut-and-paste artist bios and album summaries into insightful reviews. Or there’s Palace, the irreverent skateboarding brand, which has still managed to sell its wares despite (or, more likely, because of) its eccentric product write-ups.
Palace’s take on product copy is being showcased in a new book authored by co-founder Lev Tanju – the person largely responsible for the brand’s unconventional tone of voice, which sits somewhere between brutish and existential.
The texts expose the redundant nature of most product descriptions – often written in such generic sales-speak that we don’t even miss them when they’re being bastardised by the likes of Palace. In the book’s introduction, writer, poet and literary critic Sam Buchan-Watts writes that there’s no “faux earnestness of a boutique brand’s targeted ad or the highfalutin pseudoscience of designer webstore prose”.
The beauty of Palace’s product copy is that it has shunned most copywriting conventions, but in doing so, it has generated a few new ones. One: Text must always be uppercase, making the voice shouty and unhinged. Two: Bullet points are essential, giving (an obscure) structure to the stream-of-consciousness. Three: Ridicule anyone involved in the Palace brand, its customers, and/or the products themselves. A few examples:
BASICALLY A POCKET LONGSLEEVE BLUE MARL
- BASICALLY TOO MUCH
FABRIC ON THE ARMS
- THEN A WEIRD POCKET ON THE
CHEST YOU DON’T NEED
KNITTY BUCKET WHITE
- I GET WHAT YOU ARE SAYING
- BUT YOU HAVE A SUIT WITH VANS ON
- SO UNFORTUNATELY I CANNOT
RESPECT YOUR OPINION
The book is organised by themes that are evocative of a pub quiz, like ‘Anatomy’, ‘History’, ‘Sport & Recreation’. Each section is introduced by an image from the brand’s archive – these are mostly a joke, too, but some are genuinely quite charming. For instance, Sam Ashley’s group portrait, or the photo by Alex Pires showing members of the brand’s cohort fawning over a baby in a pram.
All in all, though, it’s a hefty catalogue of description upon description (over 3,000 of them, often with no imagery). They’re all brought together into a small bible – one with an ornate, textured cover that suggests there’s something profound inside, rather than the wholly unserious writing actually contained within. As one example in the book says: “89% / OF PALACE / DESCRIPTIONS / COULD BE BETTER”.
The fact that this book has been made – all 300 odd pages of it – just goes to show the cult of Palace, which has been cultivated through the backwards approach on display in this very book.
Palace Product Descriptions: The Selected Archive by Lev Tanju is published by Phaidon; phaidon.com