by Chelsea Clarey.
(TangoPig Jewelry Creations)
In this business, most of us serve as our own advertising department. What better reason to learn to be better copywriters? For this reason, it’s wise to consider our language with care.
Therefore in this multi-part series we’ll be picking up an overused word or term with each entry and exploring how to use it better.
This time, we’re playing with
the word “authentic”
The concept of authenticity is important in the social sciences, as we’ll hint at a little below. It’s also remarkably common in online marketing.
Of course, authenticity is a household word, not just a foggy technical term. A quick Etsy search tosses up thousands of handmade items tagged with it.
Online sellers of goods
seem to be using the word “authentic”
in the following ways:
* this really is from the place, brand or manufacturer claimed; it is not an imitation
* this really is the stone or other material I advertise; it is not an imitation
* this piece genuinely resembles the style or era referred to in its description
* this piece is made with the appropriate crafter’s mindset to be considered authentic
Those last two are a little problematic, aren’t they?
In anthropology and sociology, “authentic” is a word subject to a lot of scrutiny precisely because we think it means something and it really doesn’t.
When it does, what it ends up meaning is often not what those who use it want it to evoke. For lengthy and vitriolic proof of this, visit your nearest university with a Department of Anthropology. Seek out a Hawaiianist – or, for that matter, a Hawaiian. Now ask their opinion of “authentic hula dancing” at luau parties.
“Authentic” is a vastly overused term –
and with overuse,
words become meaningless
“Authentic” is well on its way to being as vague as “pretty.”
Consider how it’s used in the larger culture. You might see any of the following any day of the week:
* “Authentic Mexican food, Authentic Thai cuisine.”
Does this mean the ingredients have to come from Mexico or Thailand? Be prepared by a Mexican or Thai chef? Be made according to Mexican or Thai recipes? Do the recipes have to be old or just written in Mexico or Thailand at some point? What if my Thai friend says it’s tasty, is that enough?
* “Authentic silk dress.”
What’s authentic, the dress or the silk? To be authentic, does it have to authentically come from silkworms? Do they have to be authentic pedigree silkworms or will any old silkworm do? Authentically be hand-sewn by a left-handed ninja monk who eats only whole grains? Authentically exist in essential dressness, rather than being an ephemeral creation like certain radioactive elements?
* “Authentic nineteenth-century reproduction furnishings, Authentic Impressionist style watercolors.”
Were the furnishings reproduced from nineteenth-century works or are they reproduction works from the nineteenth century? Can you even have an authentic reproduction? How about those watercolors? Is an Impressionist-style painting authentic if I paint it indoors? Does it have to be of high quality to be authentic? Is there a spring somewhere of Extra-Genuine Authentic Water for painting authentic watercolors with?
* “Authentic Russian ballet performance.”
Is imitating the steps of a dance enough to make it authentic? If I’m reinterpreting the steps, is it authentic? Do I get extra authenticity if I dance in a freezing garret? If I eschew stage makeup? If I get hurt dancing am I rewarded with Authenticity Points? How about if I print the advertisements with artistically arranged obscenities in Cyrillic letters?
* “I’m living the authentic life.”
What does that involve, exactly? Should I wake up every morning and make a pact over coffee with myself to be authentic?
“Is this authentic?” is just as slippery a question as “Is this art?” Or perhaps “Do I look good in this, honey?”
So what’s a better way to use it? With specificity.
Consider solutions like this
in your jewelry descriptions:
* Instead of “authentic designer beads and silver wire,”
try “I purchase the beads used in this design from Sue Shinyjewels, an independent artist in South Carolina. I also use wire that has been drawn by professional silverworkers for maximum quality.” More meaningful!
* Instead of “authentic turquoise ring,”
try “This ring is made with real turquoise that is mined in Nevada. Except for a clear stabilizer that vastly improves the durability of this otherwise fragile stone, it is unaltered and its color is just as it was found.” More informative!
* Instead of “authentic island design,”
try “My necklaces are crafted to reflect design principles and motifs found in the traditional jewelry of the Pacific Islands.” More accurate and more evocative!
* Instead of “this jewelry is authentic,”
try “I design this jewelry personally, at my dining room table, with a process that takes about an hour per bracelet, give or take a few minutes for complexity. I always use materials that I myself love to wear, because I believe in beauty and utility. I’m inspired by the patterns in the glass beads I use, and I like to echo those in the piece’s overall shape.” Lengthy, but with more insight!
* Instead of “authentic handmade pendants,”
try “Each of these pendants is handmade with simple tools and a lot of self-critique.” Pithy, but with more personality!
See how much more information you’ve given? It’s unambiguous. It’s interesting. The eye doesn’t skate past it the way it does over “authentic,” which is too common and too vague to be widely used. And best of all, it makes your jewelry sound just as special, unique and – yes! – authentic as it truly is.
This series on writing product descriptions and copy for your jewelry will continue with some terms I’ve selected from my own authentic item descriptions that I vastly overuse myself, but I’d also like to address anything you – the community here – want to see discussed.
for us to look at
by leaving an authentic comment below!
Author Chelsea Clarey of TangoPig Jewelry Creations is a jewelry designer who gravitates toward bead and wire jewelry because the simple techniques have infinite artistic applications. She specializes in reusing vintage components in stylish one-of-a-kind designs. When not creating, she thinks much too much about word choice in jewelry descriptions. Be sure to keep up with Chelsea on her TangoPig Jewelry Creations blog.
Writing Product Descriptions – Fantastic!
Chelsea, thank you so much for this great info on writing product descriptions for jewelry! This is so helpful.
I loved your breakdown of the word “authentic”, showing that although we know what we want it to mean – it really doesn’t.
Also extremely helpful are your examples of “instead of this, try this” for writing much better jewelry descriptions.
I’m really looking forward to the rest of this series, Chelsea!
And for anyone who hasn’t “met” Chelsea Clarey yet: In addition to being a jewelry artist, she is also an anthropology major and an English composition tutor, so she has a uniquely ideal background for writing this series for us! :o)
You may also want to read another of her articles that’s helpful when writing up your jewelry product descriptions – What Does “Tribal Jewelry” Really Mean? – about using the words “tribal” and “ethnic” in describing your jewelry.
Lots of food for thought
Thank you Chelsea, you’ve given me so much to think about. I never feel completely comfortable writing my jewelry descriptions and I think it’s because I don’t want to sound silly and self satisfied or vague and meaningless. It’s hard to write about your own jewelry.
For a word you can talk about in a future installment, what about “designer?” I’ve seen “designer cabochons” and other “designer” things, but wonder what that really means, and when it should be used. After all, everything has been designed in someway. (I don’t mean “designer” as a person, I understand the meaning of “jewelry designer”)
Anyway, thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge and ideas about this. I’m glad to learn anything I can about writing better jewelry descriptions.
Thanks, Rena and Sarah, for your compliments!
And thanks also for your suggestion, I will definitely do an installment about “designer” a little down the road! It really is hard to talk about your own work without feeling like you’re tooting your own horn to some extent. Honestly, I always pretend I’m writing for one of the catalogues that start piling up around this time of year. :p
Rarely use “authentic”
by: Sharon Fullen
As a freelance writer, I have a distinct advantage when writing descriptions for my jewelry. I never feel embarrased about bragging and try to tell the personal story behind each piece.
Rarely have I ever used the word “authentic” to describe beads and components. The last exception to that was in describing some magnificent ornate Bali made fine silver beads which I have had in inventory for over 8 years. These are from a certified resellers and are actually made by Bali citizens. The workmanship is of exceptional rare quality and I wanted my customers to know that was the case and would be reflected in the pricing. With a thorough explanation, it made sense.
I think a lot of problems have risen over the past decade as imported knock-offs and mislabeled products have flooded U.S. markets. It can be difficult to actually authenticate anything as the resale channel wanders around the world.
Hope my 4-cents (for inflation) helps the conversation.
Rose of Sharon Jewelry
The description and title are always difficult for me. I is so nice to have some guidelines!
… for the example, Sharon! That’s exactly the problem — as mislabeling increases and the supply channels spread around the world, we redefine authenticity downward until, even if we know what we’re talking about, our customers don’t! It sounds like you know exactly what you mean when you use the word, so kudos.
Thanks for the feedback!
Keep ’em coming! I look forward to reading all of them. I particularly liked the description of turquoise, as I am frequently getting slammed by lookie-loos who know everything.
Suggestion for a future column: “very unique”.
by: Jewels2LiveBy – Tracy Carothers
This is a terrific piece and so welcome in a world of ‘word overuse’.
My pet peeve is the term ‘one-of-a-kind’.
All handmade jewelry is by virtue one-of-a-kind. Granted some things look similar but if making something by hand – it is unique, at least to that maker.
I think the term one-of-a-kind has totally saturated the hand-crafted industry to the point where it doesn’t mean much.
Would like to hear how others feel on this term.
Thank you for the comments! Would you find it useful if I were to do an entry considering “unique,” “unusual,” “one-of-a-kind” and other ways to express that idea?
by: Sharon Fullen
I do use one-of-a-kind in my descriptions to clarify that this design is not going to be repeated.
I started doing this when I opened our Etsy store to offset the people who create the same design over and over again. When people say they relisted an item – they are telling potential customers that they made more than one in the same design/style.
I agree that the handmade includes variations so everything is one of a kind; however, the Etsy sellers (especially those marketing in the under $40 range) often repeat items that sell quickly.
If there is a better way to get that across, I’d love to incorporate it. I just haven’t found the solution.
Also remember that writing for the web means that we need to include keywords for search engines. This means that some times I’m using words and/or terms that meet SEO requirements.
Loving this discussion.
Rose of Sharon Jewelry
Continuing the talk…
I use OOAK that way a lot too, so if there’s a better way it’ll be a learning experience for me too! I’ll start hunting.
I’m not an SEO expert, which I mention a bit in the article upcoming, but my instinct is to continue tagging with the most common word possible to garner as many search hits as possible.
Can someone let me know — does including a word in both the description and tags improve its optimization?
I enjoyed the article and look forward to reading of them.
However would you kindly explain what OOAK and SEO stand for? I know about a CEO! Thanks I find that all these abbreviations make me feel left out of the group.
Abbreviations – OOAK, SEO
Thanks so much for asking! OOAK stands for “one of a kind”. It’s mainly used in the handmade / crafting industry, since many artists make each of their designs just once.
SEO stands for “search engine optimization”. It’s a web-geek term that means you do various things to your Internet content to make it rank better in the search engines (such as Google). You “optimize” your content for the search engines.
I hope this helps, and please let us know if any of it is still confusing.
SEO stands for search-engine optimization. OOAK stands for “one of a kind.”
… you beat me to it, Rena! 🙂
I wondered if we might be typing the same answer at the same time, Chelsea! :o)
The problem with One-Of-A-Kind is similar to “authentic”–it’s become so over-used as to be less meaningful. In addition, the nuances of repetition and replication are different in the modern era, when more people seem to be “assembling pre-made components” than crafting from raw materials.
However, remember that Monet painted multiples of his “Haystacks,” “Waterlilies” and “Rouen Cathedrals.” Durer made multiple impressions of his etchings. And Picasso made sculptures of “found objects” like his Head of a Bull (1942).
Repetition, even replication, is not per se “bad”–Intentionally misrepresenting the degree of uniqueness to jack up the price is.
Assemblage can be a legitimate design aesthetic as well as a follow-the-instructions mechanical task.
Inspired by Nature
Oh am I glad I read this,before uploading my profile.
I rea d thru it and yes you have guessed it, Inspired by Nature,all though this is true and I did mention I grew up in the countryside,but,I am worried it would make my profile to long to explain fully,especially as I am a bit of a Rambler,I get carried away with my passion.
What would you suggest please.
by: Patricia C Vener
This word has become another buzz word and, now, every time I see it I want to make a rude noise. In academia there is now something called “Authentic Assessment.” Are the powers that be trying to tell us that we weren’t actually assessing our students’ progress before?
So while I haven’t myself used this word, the examples of good descriptions are nonetheless very useful to me as by the time I’m writing descriptions in a listing process, I find myself bound up in tediousness.
Naming and describing jewelry is difficult!
It’s the hardest part for me, I can whip a piece together with little or no hessitation or challange.. but then when I have to name it and describe it… I kind of fall apart so… thank you for these tips.
Donalee – make writing easier
Donalee, maybe for a starting place for naming and writing about your pieces, you could show your jewelry items to a friend or family member and ask for their impressions. You could ask things like,
What does this bracelet make you think of?
What’s your first thought when you see these earrings?
What are the first words that pop into your head when you look at this necklace?
If you had to describe this pendant to someone over the phone, what adjectives would you use?
If you named this ring, what name would you give it?
Of course, you would ask these questions of a friend who appreciates jewelry, not one who runs and hides every time you talk about beads. :o)
Or even better, do an informal “mastermind” group with one or more other jewelry artists. Each artist takes photos of their newest pieces, and via email / Flickr / Facebook / etc., you can look at each other’s photos and share your first impressions and naming ideas for each other’s pieces. It’s always much easier to name, describe, and analyze other artists’ work than our own!
I have read the article and all the comments which has been very helpful. I am always lost for words and don’t now what to write. I use “one-of-a-kind” and “hand-crafted” a lot. My jewelry pieces are all one-of-a-kind because I use natural stones and shells for my jewelry and each one looks different. My designs are all different from each other but they are also similar.
If not OOAK, then what?
@ Christa: I like words, and I like playing with words. One thing I try when I’m feeling blocked is to look up a word in the thesaurus (Merriam –Webster has an online one at www.m-w.com), and then click a synonym, and click on of its synonyms, and so on. If you do it 5-6 times, you get a pretty decent pool of words. You can use the dictionary feature to look up any you don’t know or see how the word is used in a sentence.
One-of-a-kind>unique>distinctive (also eccentric, idiosyncratic)>different>discriminable (discriminiating?)>discerning
Someone with discerning taste or a high level of discernment may be the customer you want. The discriminating customer choose your work because of the distinctive style you use. I also *like* being idiosyncratic, eccentric, and personal—those are good words to me. They might not be what you are aiming for, and that’s OK. You get to choose how you want to come across to your customers.
One of the classics in marketing, much imitated, was the product descriptions in the J. Peterman catalog. They were little mini stories: “She walks into the bar in Luxor, Egypt, swathed in this silk shirt, eyes aglow…” You may not want to go so over-the-top, but it’s an interesting exercise to try writing this way. Picture what you customer is doing, what she’s feeling, when she’s wearing your jewelry.
“Underdressed for a garden party with the queen, but perfectly at home in a Seattle coffee shop, this eccentric necklace complements lampwork blues with copper to give you a confident boost.”
You might avoid OOAK altogether! 😉
I can do no better than Jehanni’s done! That’s just how a thesaurus is meant to be used and the final example balances information with story without being cheesy. I salute you!
Thank You so much for your info on this word. I am in the process of building a web page. I have never done anything like this before,so the whole jewelry world is new to me. My,I have so so much to learn. I spend so many hours on the internet trying to learn as much as I can. Besides making my jewelry and being a homemaker. Busy Busy. But what about the word UNIQUE, I see that word all the time and notice I have been using it also. Again Thank You I have learn’t so much from your site.
The most recently published entry in the series is actually all about “unique,” and there are some great discussions there, too! Best of luck to you!
Authentic – Thank you!
by: Vicki – Vicki Es Designs
Felicia, I am with you. I have just started making jewelry in March and have purchased my website so I am now in the process of photographing, pricing and labeling my jewelry. BOY!! This is really tough and I feel overwhelmed so often!
This article was so very informative and loved all the comments. Thank you all so very much!
Rena – I am SO glad that I have found you! You have helped me tremendously with such wonderful thoughts, knoweldge and inspirations!
Thank you Jehanni for your excellent advice.
I sell my jewelry from my website and have no two pieces alike. I try to let my customers know that I have no duplicate items, e.g. I have only one of that particular item available.
AUP (authentic pedigree silkworms)
“Do they have to be authentic pedigree silkworms or will any old silkworm do?” that’s what finally got me to crack up