Zooey Deschannel Syndrome: How To Avoid Writing Overly Cutesy Copy

I used to be a big fan of Zooey Deschannel. Why wouldn’t I be? She’s a talented actress with a fun sense of style. Even better, her band She & Him embraces some of my favorite, yet frequently overlooked, genre of music: old country. Not only was I a fan of her movies and cds, but I’d tell my friends about her too–every content creator’s dream!

Then I stopped. What happened?

Zooey Deschannel

In a word, “adorkable”.

Zooey Deschannel’s cutesy crafted persona outshined her music, acting and writing. Instead of adding  value to what she produced, her big rimmed glasses, weird-for-weird’s sake attitude and overly whimsical nature distracted me from everything I liked about her in the first place: her content!

Ironically, as the star of Fox’s New Girl, one of the three co-founders of the website HelloGiggles and frequent YouTube karaoke star, she has more content than ever that I would enjoy. More importantly, it’s pretty good! But instead of reading/viewing and sharing, I just roll my eyes.

What is Zooey Deschannel Syndrome? When quirk trumps content. 

Copywriters, bloggers and anyone who has had to fill out a 160 character description about themselves on Twitter knows the importance of finding that out-of-left-field reference that will make them sound more interesting and relatable to readers. That’s a good thing–especially when targeting millennials! I just wrote about how well we respond non-sequitur humor and the use of random references.

HOWEVER there’s a big difference between showing some personality and letting your tone take over your brand. All my fellow writers know how exciting it is to find the perfect metaphor, alliteration or adjective for exactly what you’re trying to say. But when is it distracting your audience from the actual message?

If you’re worried about the copy on your website, here’s some questions to ask yourself.

Symptoms of Zooey Deschannel Syndrome

  • Which part of the article is more memorable: what you’re saying or how you’re saying it?
  • How many crazy, random references or analogies (every time you do ____, it’s like killing a unicorn!) do you include per paragraph/article?
  • If a member of your audience were to share this article one week later with a fellow target reader, how would they describe it?
  • Read the article out loud. What parts sound like a real face-to-face conversation you’d actually have with an member of your target audience?

And finally:

  • Is there a simpler way to say what you’re saying?

Finding the right tone for your content without sounding cutesy or constructed isn’t always easy. As a recovering English major, it’s tempting to get overly flowery with phrases or constantly throw out metaphors and analogies. I think a part of me is still expecting a professor to look over my shoulder and say, “What a brilliant use of alliteration!” But superfluous sentence structures (couldn’t resist!) aren’t as valuable to my audience as having a point. At the end of the day, authentic quality content shines brightest.

Do you know any websites/content creators suffering from Zooey Deschannel Syndrome? How about copywriters doing “personality” right, like this post? I’d love to hear about them! In the mean time, thanks for reading. Lindsey Kirchoff

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4 thoughts on “Zooey Deschannel Syndrome: How To Avoid Writing Overly Cutesy Copy

  1. Lindsey, I really enjoyed this post-quirkiness loses its magic over time. It’s almost like a one trick pony when there are a billion other things pleading for your attention.

  2. Agreed! There’s something very inauthentic about it all. Weird for weird’s sake is very one-dimensional.

  3. Justin says:

    As much as I adore my future wife, Zooey, this is a pretty great observation. I work for a law firm and I can apply it in reverse. You should be professional, but need to avoid being too dry and stiff all the time. We have to bring some humor and fun into the copy once in awhile. It’s a fine line to ride.

  4. Hi Justin, thanks for stopping by. It is always difficult to find just the right balance. All the lawyers I know are from TV where they are always saying interesting dramatic things (Sandy Cohen from the OC anyone?).

    I would say being useful are the most important parts. If you have an interesting angle that helps communicate the point better than strict professionalism, do it! It will be much more valuable to all parties involved if you are communicating clearly. However, getting distracted with over-professionalism OR Zooey Deschannel Syndrome doesn’t help anyone.

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