What RuPaul’s Drag Race “reads” taught me about copywriting

RuPaul’s Queens are born copywriters. Here’s why.

Want to learn copywriting? Watch RuPaul’s Drag Race and pay close, hawk-like attention.

If you crane your neck just far enough, you won’t miss the Queens’ innate skill in motor-mouthing, jaw-dropping “reads” that are about as iconic as the best looks they put out.

To the uninitiated, reads are exaggerated insults that are usually meant to be funny on top of cutting a fellow Queen. Like much of the show, reading is lifted off of the seminal 1990 documentary, Paris is Burning, and has become a staple challenge in the show.

Image result for the library is open

From that, of course, spring some of the cleverest, extremely effective play in words you’ll ever know.

It got me thinking: it would do copywriters and marketers good if they looked at how these Drag Race Queens are essentially producing great copy.

On this post, I intend to break some of these great “reads” down for you.

Know your audience

All effective copy is relevant, but few copywriters take the time to make sure their work is. That extra thirty-minute to three-month research paired with expert wordsmithing determines whether your copy makes it or break it—so you best be trying to find out everything there is to know about your target audience.

There’s no other Queen in Drag Race herstory as singularly studious with reading as Katya Zalmodichkova, who dives deep into detail when it comes to dropping her reads.

What RuPaul’s Drag Race reads taught me about copywriting

For instance, her read to Roxxxy Andrews is a definite below-the-belt blow, with the impact coming from the fact that it’s rooted from a childhood trauma Andrews shared earlier on in the competition. Ouch.

‘Roxxxy Andrews, I think about you all the time. Especially in the morning. At the bus stop.’

A less extreme example is one she read to Violet Chachki, who’s known for squeezing herself in inhumanly tight corsets, where she cleverly ties it to an insult.

Copywriters are right to learn from Katya’s proactive furrowing deep into details about her prey. As is true with all types of writing, knowing as much as you can about your target audience, client, or customer will greatly inform your copy.

Take a look at Slack’s current web copy, for example:

What RuPaul’s Drag Race reads taught me about copywriting

Slack is smart enough that its audience wants one of if not all the things they list on the subheading, and they’re doubling down on that.

Here’s what I like to learn about my target audience, once I have a hyper-specific audience profile nailed down:

  • Problems/pain points they’re trying to solve.
  • Products they already use.
  • The language they use.
  • …and more.

This gives you a lot more to work with in order to convert more people.

The setup is as crucial as the actual copy

Reading is a lot like standup comedy, which makes the setup as important as the actual punchline.

Just listen to this stellar read from Alaska to Adore Delano:

“Adore Delano, these other girls are going to say you have terrible makeup skills, you have no fashion sense, and you’re dumb as a rock. But they’re wrong…You don’t have terrible makeup skills.”

That read is simple, clean, and just…lands.

What RuPaul’s Drag Race reads taught me about copywriting

Good copywriting does the same.

In fact, I use a somewhat similar approach to my Services page, where I talk about giving my clients’ websites a “boost”. The S.O.P. is to ramble on about this boost and sell them on the idea, but instead of doing that, I decided to drop the bomb and tell it to the reader straight: the boost they need is my writing services.

What RuPaul’s Drag Race reads taught me about copywriting

Keep it short but superb

You’ve read enough articles and watched enough Mad Men, so you know it’s true…

Keep your copy short but superb.

Latrice Royale, one of the filthiest readers in RuPaul’s stable, knows well when to flat-out nuke her fellow queens, as she expertly does Jiggly Caliente in Season 4. She had three letters to speak of:

Interestingly, for their homepage, Mozilla has three words in use: Fast for good.

What RuPaul’s Drag Race reads taught me about copywriting

That’s double entendre for their browser’s performance as well as the company’s mission statement, which is making the internet better.

Short, sweet, gosh-darn effective copy.

Don’t beat around the bush

Look. You have five seconds to get someone’s attention when they get to your site—and much, much less to land a read in RuPaul’s library.

So take a page from the Queens’ book: Don’t. 👏 Beat. 👏 Around. 👏 The. 👏 Bush. 👏

Drag queens don’t phone it in if they have something to say about your face, your smarts, or your body. You have one shot and about a few seconds to say what you have to say it. So say it.

Close.io does that. Just look at their homepage copy.

What RuPaul’s Drag Race reads taught me about copywriting

In less than five seconds, you’ll gather what their product is about and whether it’s for you. That’s super effective, because it easily filters out unqualified leads, boosting conversion rates.

Use wordplay—only if it’s truly epic

Wordplay is a huge part of the reading trade, but for conversion-focused copy, this is to be avoided like the plague.

That’s for good reason, too: you want smart but not too clever nor too cute copy. This is especially true for B2B copywriting, where your target audience is comprised of business owners, entrepreneurs, or professionals who have little time to spare.

But when used right, wordplay can yield some staggering results.

Maybe not as iconic as this moment when RuPaul himself salted the wounds of an eliminated queen with a frustratingly perfect Destiny’s Child reference:

Or this supremely quotable read from Jujubee:

“And you! Legendary, you think you are! Legendary? Looks like leg and dairy!”

Or this super-shady wordplay from Adore, who straight-up cuts Laganja Estranja, with her “drop dead” comment.

“The next time you do a death drop, reverse that and drop dead.”

You can’t get as iconic these, but you can still get staggering effects.

And if you’re going to play with words, make sure it’s damn well worth it. Like Lianna Patch’s work on her site, Punchline Copy.

What RuPaul’s Drag Race reads taught me about copywriting

The puns here are just pure gold and reinforce rather than murk down the clarity of her message. Great work!

Go write your own “sickening” copy…

This is the part where I urge you to apply what you’ve learned from this article, of which I hope there’s plenty.

Taking all these lessons to heart, I’m able to serve up my clients very well and build myself a perfectly awesome website.

Now, it’s YOUR turn!

In the words of RuPaul: “Good luck, and don’t f*ck it up!”