Product Description Archetypes: The Shortcut to Selling Damn Near Anything
If you haven’t checked out the first part of this two part series, go read it now.
In this article, we’re going to go over some of the product description gems of the internet that really nail some of the ‘archetypes’ of product description storytelling.
Much like there are movie story archetypes like the “Drama”, “Tragedy”, “Rags to Riches”, “Voyage and Return”, etc.
There are product description archetypes as well.
One of the best breadths of examples of e-commerce copywriting is JPeterman.com.
Their descriptions breathe life into their products and sell you the romance of the story behind them or owning them.
Real World Proof
At its peak, The J. Peterman Company was raking in $75 million dollars in catalog sales and was even so popular in the 90’s that it was parodied in an episode of Seinfeld (the most popular US TV show at the time).
But like all businesses, they’ve had their ups and downs and they overstretched themselves by expanding too fast which caused them to go bust in 1999.
Fortunately, they’re on their feet again and already hitting north of $20 million dollars a year in revenue. And I have no doubt that this is largely due to their product descriptions which are each copywriting masterpieces…
Why It Matters
Like I said in Part 1 of this article, no one is compelled to buy by a bunch of dull and lifeless product characteristics.
What they buy is a story.
Study any of J Peterman’s product pages and you’ll quickly see that every product takes on a personality of its own.
Of course, they mention the product’s features and characteristics but the stories they weave around the fundamentals are all about shared values, beliefs, nostalgia, adventure and dreams.
When you buy from J Peterman, you’re buying an experience and a story you can identify with and tell your friends about.
Now this may sound romantic, but don’t be fooled, this is 100% strategic. Because it all leads to fiercely loyal customers and an avalanche of sales.
Let’s Dive In
So here’s a crash course on how to write J Peterman style product descriptions…
To shortcut you being able to model this style of copywriting for your own Shopify store, I’ve identified 7 core product description types that are routinely used by J Peterman:
Now here are 7 different types of product description archetypes similar to the J. Peterman style that you can model after as soon as tonight if you wanted.
Product Description Method #1 The “Hero Who Wears This” Story
J Peterman paints a vivid picture of a hero-esque character that wears this garment.
They romanticize how they were better, stronger or faster than the average man.
You’ll also notice how there’s no mention of product features until you’re lured in by the story and they have created the desire to be just like the hero…
Another great example are these Blade Runner whiskey glasses.
Do they look similar to any other whiskey glasses you could find at a thrift store? Absolutely.
But these are styled exactly like the ones that Rick Deckard drinks out of in Blade Runner.
Don’t you want to be like the hero?
How to make your products better with the “Hero Who Wears This” method
- Who did those people aspire to be?
- What are their favorite movie characters?
- Who did they look up to as a kid?
- What would be their superpower?
- What is their personality type?
Product Description Method #2: Identify A Problem & Solve It
What’s clever about this product description method is that it identifies the problem the customer needs to solve while demonstrating that the product solves a problem that man has been facing since time began.
A great example are these “slackies” pants by Betabrand.
Everyone wants to look professional with khakis but sometimes they just aren’t the most comfortable pants to wear.
Well, you shouldn’t have to sacrifice comfort for professionalism.
So thus a new product is born, the Khaki Slackies!
How inconvenienced is your target prospect? How much pain are they in? The more relief your product can provide, the better. What is currently driving them nuts?
Drill into that. Agitate it. Remind them how much that problem pisses them off.
What could they gain (or eliminate) by using your product?
That really resonates with the Beard Buddy. Every guy who has grown a beard and trimmed it knows the pains of cleaning up stray hairs in their bathroom. That’s a problem.
Here’s the beard buddy’s first bullet point:
“No more stray hairs down the sink, on the soap, in your toothbrush”
This product is saying,
“Hey! No more! You don’t have to be bothered with that anymore! You had a problem. Here I am to fix it.”
What’s even more powerful? When you combine this with the fork in the road.
Show them their options.
Show what they could be doing that’s easier, faster, better versus what they are going to have to do to continue doing what is painful, tedious or difficult.
How to make your products better with the Problem/Solution method
- What obvious problem does your product solve?
- What situations does your product become the obvious choice?
- What will happen if your target prospect keeps doing what they have been doing?
- What’s the number one benefit of your product?
Product Description Method #3: The “World’s Most Interesting Person” Story
This is an interesting type of product description because what really defines if something is interesting?
It piques our interest. It leaves an itch that needs to be scratched. There’s something that makes us want to dig further into our quest.
A “radical” example is “The Face Melter” by Shinesty.
I mean, just look at it.
The product description is priceless:
“If you are looking to blend in, why the fugg are you reading this product description. This is for standing out. This is for giving the finger to conventional style. This is for sending it. You may be a good skier, you may be a bad skier, just don’t be a boring skier. Zip it up, tuck it tight, and get ready to have yourself a friggin day.”
How could a ski suit make someone not boring?
We get a heads up that we’re going to have a “friggin day”.
And honestly, with this color scheme, you can’t help but nod your head in agreement as you hit the add to cart button.
How to make your products better with the “World’s Most Interesting Person” method
- What qualities about your product seem “out of this world”?
- Does your product naturally pique someone’s curiosity?
- What about your product makes the buyer seem more sophisticated when they are using/wearing your product?
- Who or what character can you draw a comparison to that the buyer would recognize?
- Who would be using your product? Fictional or nonfictional.
Product Description Method #4: The “Discovery” Story
For as long as humans have been able to tell stories, there’s always been an item of power, mystery, and allure.
The ancient relic. The pirate’s treasure. The wizard’s spell-book.
When you can apply that to your own product, the results are just as magical.
A majestic use of this principle is the Unicorn Tears Gin Liqueur at Firebox.com
The language the product uses embodies this principle completely:
“This gin liqueur contains real Unicorn tears. Created by Firebox in a secret location…”
“You too can now embody the purity, power and potency of nature’s most sacred steed.
To unleash their magical powers: Swirl the bottle. Behold its shimmering majesty. Consume the mythical spirit.”
Is this just your grandpa’s gin? With some edible glitter flakes? And a unicorn stamped on the bottle? You betcha.
But for a little while, you can believe it’s really unicorn tears. Long enough to add it to your cart and buy it. It taps into the storytelling belief that this product is something that is unique in how it was created or discovered.
And hey, after a few drinks, you won’t even care.
How to make your products better with the “Discovery” method
- Try to paint a picture in your mind of where would your product most likely be “discovered”? Fictional or nonfictional.
- Every superhero has an origin story, what would your product’s origin story?
- What about your product makes the buyer seem more sophisticated when they are using/wearing your product?
- How could your average product be spun into something unique to your industry?
Product Description Method #5: The “Only For People Like Us” Story
Some products aren’t made for everyone.
Some products carry their own barrier to entry.
What is the biggest barrier to just anyone buying a product? Price.
Who does this best? Well, there are great examples in each industry. Where the brand name is built around their price.
Watches? Rolex. Cars? Rolls Royce.
The entire premise of this archetype is to create a sense of scarcity and belonging. A status symbol.
Usually, the product quality is not correlated to the price. Are Rolexes good watches? I’m sure they are. But are they that much better than Casio? I don’t think so.
But to simply be one of the few that owns the product is the entire allure of this product archetype.
Another example you see this is in the environmentally conscious friends and products.
This one is more of a moral “high ground” than of price. “Only people who care about the earth and environment buy our products. So if you buy the other guy’s product, you must hate the environment because XYZ”
How to make your products better with the “People Like Us” method
- What product of yours is of a higher quality or a perceived higher quality that you can market to a subset of your customers?
- What other companies in your market use this approach?
- Who are they targeting with this high-end product?
- What qualities of the product make this so attractive to this subset of prospects?
Product Description Method #6: The “Core Trigger” Story
A core trigger relies on a deep desire that humans feel.
Drew Eric Whitman, the author of Ca$hvertising, labels core triggers as the “Life Force 8”.
The Life Force 8 are the eight basic human instincts hardwired into every person:
- Survival, enjoyment of life, life extension
- Enjoyment of food and beverages
- Freedom from fear, pain, and danger
- Sexual companionship
- Comfortable living conditions
- To be superior, winning, keeping up with the Joneses
- Care and protection of loved ones
- Social approval
A product using the “Core Trigger” method aims to nail down as many of these traits into their product as possible.
For this dress from BetaBrand and for most women, it’s to be sexy (#4 Sexual companionship). To be desired (#6 To be superior). To be flattered (#8 Social approval).
The description calls it out best, “The Shapeline Sweatshirt Dress has a flattering fit-and-flare style.”
What woman would NOT want a product that makes them instantly sexier and more desirable?
If a product can promise to create sex appeal out of thin air then it’s much more likely to be a winning sale.
How to make your products better with the “Core Trigger” method?
- How many of the “Life Force 8” does your product appeal to?
- Does your product address an emotional need? Directly or indirectly?
Product Description Method #7: The “Comparison” Story
The quickest shortcut to helping someone understand something is to make a comparison.
If I were trying to explain to you something highly technical, it could get highly confusing.
So instead of using technical jargon, I may draw a comparison.
“Your computer is slow because XYZ is like a garden hose with a clamp on it”
“Oh wow, that makes perfect sense”
A comparison works because it builds understanding on a framework in the mind that already exists. Teachers use this all the time because it helps students learn new concepts fast.
And guess what, it works for your buyers too.
An ironclad example of this is the LC Ripstop Shirt from JPeterman.
It starts out by saying:
“When Failure Isn’t an Option.”
A nice attention grabber for letting me know this shirt is TOUGH.
The 2nd line of their product:
“Ripstop material was invented for parachutes during WWII.”
In an instant, I know that this shirt means business.
In a matter of 8 words, JPeterson has explained to me that this shirt is made of the same fabric that was invented to be tough enough for soldiers jumping out of airplanes nearly 8 decades ago.
Now, my explanation has some impact, but look what they do next…
They go on further to give you comparison proof:
“It’s still used for parachutes, sails, hot air balloons, Nomex fire suits and other things that can’t afford to fail during crunch time.”
So not only do they leave us with comparing this shirt to the amazing quality of a parachute, they mention other items that have a bigger need for durability.
How to make your products better with the “Comparison” method?
- What feature is unique about your product that cannot be explained easily?
- How is that feature a benefit for the compared product? For your product?
In a world where more and more competition seeps into the marketplace daily, you have to stand out. One of the easiest ways is with your words and how you sell yourself, your brand, AND your products.
With applying just a few of these product description tips, you are going to be miles ahead of other stores out there who are pushing the same product.
And remember, whether you are just starting out or if you already have tons of traffic, anyone can benefit from the increased sales of writing better product descriptions that stand out and stick in a buyer’s mind.
P.S. – If you want a good example of a real live swipe-worthy product page filled with good copy, check out Athletic Origins Crew Shirt