You need to know about writing in the 2nd person.

With a tip of the hat to Geoff Pope, writing for the NYT’s Grammar Girl Column.

 (If you’d like to read about writing in the 1st person, take a look at this earlier blog post.)

“Class, you need to be in your seats when the bell goes.”

“Grandma, before you go to London, remember to leave your keys under the mat. I’ll miss you. Love, Charlie”

Writing in the 2nd person is typically used for instruction. 

But sometimes, also, by bad copywriters who want to create a sense of speaking one-on-one with the reader. To be able to point the finger when you’re addressing someone requires there to be someone behind the finger – and requires the finger to be pointed at a specific group.

It often fails because the reader sits and thinks, “This brochure was sent to 120,000 people. You’re not really talking to me, you bogus, pot smoking hack. I hope the cheque you’re being paid to write for this magnificent brand is worth it considering your premature baldness.”

We know our audience. We like to think they know us.

But sometimes it works out quite well. This ad from Pan Am is a master-class:

Books written in 2nd person are rare. But for our money the best example is Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City. McInerney uses 2nd person to create an intimate bond between the reader and his narrator. But this intimate perspective dissociates the reader from the rest of the world, emphasising our powerlessness to prevent what we’re “seeing”.

Next up, the advantages of writing copy for people in the 3rd Person. Oh yes, they love it.