The poetry of Palace product copy

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Product and e-commerce copy copy aren’t known to be particularly sexy, but every once in a while, among the rubble, some real gems can be found.

Take online record store Boomkat, which has editorialized its product pages, turning the space often used to cut-and-paste artist biographies and album summaries into insightful reviews. Or there’s Palace, the irreverent skateboard brand, which still managed to sell its products despite (or, more likely, because of) its quirky product descriptions.

Palace’s take on product copy is featured in a new book written by co-founder Lev Tanju – the person largely responsible for the brand’s unconventional tone of voice, which falls somewhere between gruff and existential.

The texts expose the redundant nature of most product descriptions – often written in sales language so generic that we don’t even miss them when bastardized by the likes of Palace. In the book’s introduction, writer, poet and literary critic Sam Buchan-Watts writes that there is no “fake seriousness of targeted boutique brand advertising or highfalutin pseudoscience of prose designer online stores.

The beauty of Palace’s product copy is that it avoided most editorial conventions, but in doing so, it generated a few new ones. One: the text must always be in capitals, which makes the voice loud and unbalanced. Two: chips are essential, giving (obscure) structure to the stream of consciousness. Three: ridicule anyone involved with the Palace brand, its customers and/or the products themselves. Some examples :

IN BRIEF A MELANGE BLUE LONG SLEEVE POCKET

  • REALLY TOO MUCH
    FABRIC ON THE ARMS
  • THEN A WEIRD POCKET ON THE
    CHEST YOU DON’T NEED

WHITE KNIT BUCKET

  • I UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU SAY
  • BUT YOU HAVE A SUIT WITH VANS ON
  • SO UNFORTUNATELY I CANNOT
    RESPECT YOUR OPINION

The book is organized by themes that evoke a pub quiz, such as “Anatomy”, “History”, “Sport and leisure”. Each section is introduced by an image from the brand’s archives – most of them are also a joke, but some are really very charming. For example, Sam Ashley’s group portrait, or Alex Pires’ photo showing members of the brand’s cohort petting a baby in a pram.

Overall, though, it’s a big catalog of description upon description (over 3,000 of them, often without images). They’re all wrapped up in a small bible – one with an ornate, textured cover that suggests there’s something deep inside, rather than the totally unserious writing it contains. As an example in the book puts it: “89% / OF THE PALATE / OF THE DESCRIPTIONS / COULD BE BETTER”.

The fact that this book was made – the 300 odd pages of it – only shows the cult of the palace, which was cultivated through the backwards approach laid out in this very book.

Descriptions of Palace Products: Selected Archives of Lev Tanju are published by Phaidon; phaidon.com

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