Q&A Whensday: You wanna know when it's cool to get all poppy in your copy

Ever wonder when it’s appropriate to infuse pop culture in to your copy? When is it too much? Can it be done without looking like you’re copying everyone else? I got a great reader question that I’m answering on the blog for a Q&A Whensday.

Last week, I put out a call for questions on social media.

(By social media, I mean Instagram because, as much as I gripe about it, I’d rather spend time there than on Facebook. Which I also gripe about but whatevs.)

Some folks were kind enough to play along. Tucked away in the standard getting-to-know-you type questions was a real gem. Seriously. This question spoke to my heart. It was equal parts hilarious and irreverent. It was as if I had written it myself. Minus the Game of Thrones reference. Because, and I might be the only one, I don’t get that show. I tried. I tried for a whole season. And then I stopped trying. 

(Although I do think Khaleesi is kickass. That’s the extent of my GoT knowledge right there.)

The poster and I have since become BFFs. Not kidding. We were already kind of on a magic carpet ride to Bestfriendville, but this question totally sealed the deal. 

But that’s, of course, beside the point. 

Without further ado, here’s the most awesomest question we’re tackling today:

When is it appropriate to infuse pop culture into copy...without seeming *me too*...and is speaking in Dothraki or Sindarin or Parseltongue too freak flag? #askingforafriend 🤣

Before we dive in to this, I feel like it’s appropriate to define some terminology up front here:*

  • Dothraki = the language the Dothraki speak on GoT. It sounds an awful lot like a combo of Russian and an Arabic language to my untrained ears.

  • Sindarin = the language *some* of the elves in MiddleEarth (of Tolkien creation) speak. Apparently influenced by Welsh…who knew.

  • Parseltongue = the language spoken by serpents. Oh, and Harry Potter. And Lord Voldemort. Okay, fine, He Who Must Not Be Named aka The Dark Lord. 

*Note: I totally googled. 

Now that we’ve gotten that bit of necessary nerdiness out of the way, we can safely move on. 

I’m feeling like we need to break this question up in to three parts. You down? I’m down.

When is it appropriate to infuse pop culture into copy?

My answer: When is it not?!?!

In all seriousness (or at least as serious as things get around here…by the way, now I’m singing Counting Crows…’round here…), your brand and your audience will determine the appropriateness of infusing pop culture in to your copy.

If your peeps are a little more of the I-don’t-own-a-TV type, loading up your copy with references to Star Trek and not-so-subtle hints at your allegiance to Team Edward probably isn’t going to resonate.

However, if your ideal clients know the difference between a wookiee and an ewok and would get pissed and probably start a riot if you confused the two, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice if you show up all…non-Trekkie.

Maybe you’re a career coach, and your client list is made up of some CEO types who don’t mess around. They might not appreciate a lighthearted vibe that’s all hip-hop lyrics and reality TV fandom. They could very well want some straightforward, bare-bones copy that’s to the point, just like them. 

(On the flip, if they’re looking to destress, a good laugh over the latest adorable animal video on BuzzFeed might be exactly what they need.)

Also, keep in mind, if your audience skews a bit older and grew up rocking out to the Beatles and Creedence Clearwater Revival, they won’t get your Ri-Ri and Swifty references. Ahem, know your audience.

Now…this isn’t to say that you can’t infuse some pop culture into your copy if your audience isn’t here for it. It doesn’t mean you can never ever ever slide in a nod to something pop culture-y that you love. It just means you have to be a little more…selective.

Your copy might not feature tons of quotes from the latest Netflix documentary or Adult Swim cartoons. But you might make a subtle reference to your favorite episode of Bob’s Burgers.

Your references might not be as explicit (not talking about colorful language here) or in-your-face. They might be hidden or something so quick that it’s easy to miss if you’re not reading carefully. 

Good places to sneak in some pop culture references, you ask? The pre-S on your weekly newsletter. A shoutout in your bio. A quick aside in your blog post. On your about page. In your “fun facts about me.” Social media, especially on more personal posts. It can be done, friend, it can be done.

Also worth noting: Some brands aren’t pop culture friendly. Totally okay. If your brand is all corporate looking and your headshot reeks of #pictureday, you might not get to bask in the glow of a well-timed pop culture reference.

You created your brand that way for a reason, right? If you’re all, “But why can’t I name my coaching package Let’s Talk About Sex?” even though you’ve branded yourself as a very serious sex scientist with extensive training and credentials…You might wanna rethink your branding and your direction. Just sayin’. 

Pop culture FOMO, yo.

...without seeming *me too*

Okay, Part 2! 

This portion of the question is some mindset stuff, if you ask my non-professional-mindset-coach brain. 

Because you’re telling yourself, “Ugh, but everyone else is comparing finding the right nutritionist to The Bachelor and I don’t wanna look all, Hey, is there room on that bandwagon for one more?”

Infusing pop culture into your copy is about your personality. And there’s nothing *me too* about your personality. Even if someone else is bringing all the Disney references that doesn’t mean you’re going to do it the exact same way.

No one’s got the market on Disney cornered. 

Last time I checked, more than one person’s allowed to like the live action remake of the Lion King and Aladdin, to talk about it, to share their opinion. I mean, just check Twitter.

(Unless you’re being a plagiaristic douchewaffle experiment…then, it’s a problem.)

But I’m about 99.9995 percent sure no one else is going to drop 90s Kidz Bop lyrics in quite the same way as you. No one else is going to have the exact same take on choker necklaces…or express it using the exact same words.

It’s like the Bad Guy Pledge from Wreck-It Ralph: “You’re you. And that’s good. You will never be someone else. And that’s not bad. There’s no one else who can be as you as you.”

Eh. It doesn’t have the same ring as the original, but I think I made my point: Even if you’re obsessed with the same Tuesday-night-must-see TV as everyone else doesn’t mean you can’t lace your copy with all the inside jokes. Because you’re going to do it in the way only you can.

Maybe all the kid cools are doing it, but you’re the coolest kid of them all. 

...and is speaking in Dothraki or Sindarin or Parseltongue too freak flag?

Listen, in the world of online business (or, you know, life) there’s no such thing as “too freak flag.” You like what you like.

(Unless you’re a stinky barnacle wanker who hurts other people…or animals…)

And the people who get that are going to like you. They’re going to respect you for being you. For being honest. For being vulnerable. For being the only person still watching Glee. 

They’re going to see you’re a relatable AF human being. Who’s fun, approachable, and not afraid to be yourself. In a world of Plastics, people are looking for more Janis Ians.

Be your flawed, freak-flag flying self. It’s like the good doctor (that would be Seuss) said: “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”


Also: Not to be all circular and shit, but please refer to Part #1 of this question. If your clients totally don’t get your insistence on including memes in your emails, either you’ve got the wrong audience (it happens) or you’re talking to them wrong (it happens). Meet them where they are.

And this: Don’t be so preoccupied with infusing pop culture and what have you in to your copy that your message gets lost. Never sacrifice readability for personality. 

Okay, one more: If you’re feeling like you could unfurl your freak flag a little more, let me help you run it up the flagpole and see. (Ahh, a Harvey Danger reference that most people will take for a catchphrase throwback.) Check out Spice Rack and let’s fly that flag with so. much. pride.