Writing Copy that Sells

Better Copy Writing

In most cases the headline is written first; then the copywriter turns his attention to the body copy.  Although many critics of advertising will claim that copy is dashed off on a typewriter by the copywriter with machine-like ease, this is hardly the case.  Good copy requires careful and painstaking’ thought and knowledge.  Only when these have been brought to bear does the sheer ability to write come into play.

Back in 1925, J. George Frederick wrote the following remarks about copy, which have well stood the test of time:

Copy is the soul of advertising.  Picture and type may appeal to instincts, to the senses, but copy has no other entry – way into the reader except through his or her intelligence.  And yet copy is more potent perhaps than type or picture to reach, if -desired, either instincts or senses, or language has power to create an infinitely greater  variety of images, symbols, and associations than any other medium of communication. Copy is, therefore, a supreme consideration.

Getting the facts

Good copy is not written in a vacuum, but only after the copywriter has thoroughly digested all the facts about the product, the-marketing objectives, and the nature of the consumer. The copywriter should become as familiar as possible with the  product.  If possible he should use it himself. He  should make comparisons with competitive products, determine the product’s merits, and believe in the product.  It is virtually impossible to convince other people to use a product that you yourself would not use.

Know your audience

The writer must learn all he can about the consumer.  He or she should know who the consumer is, what their attitude is and how they buy.  A complete target market profile should be available – in detail and way beyond limited demographic descriptions.

With a knowledge of the product and the consumer and a complete understanding of the marketing objectives, the copywriter can begin to identify what appeals she can use most effectively to persuade the consumer to buy.

It is during this stage, getting the facts, that he can use marketing research to find  some  of  the  key answers.  Even   with   all  the   facts   at his command, however, he is in danger of failing to understand the consumer properly because he may tend to lose perspective as he becomes more expert.  He must avoid assuming that he is a typical consumer, for he has, by the nature of his role, a distorted point of view. However,  if the copywriter avails himself or herself of the marketing research and the techniques of behavioural science research, he can at least partly overcome this problem.

See it from the consumer viewpoint

A well written advertisement direct marketing letter or brochure should seem to the reader to have been written to him alone.  You cannot write to a groupThis effect depends upon what is frequently referred to as the “you” attitude.  The copywriter should never refer to “they.” Furthermore, he should avoid “I” or “we.” The consumer is rather self-centred and is most concerned with his own problems.

Should copy be simple?

Yes and No Only simple according to the audience.  There is no point in writing in a kiddy style to a medical person.

The copywriter will communicate better if she writes in the language of the reader.  The reader can appreciate best those situations and circumstances that are similar to his own.  The writer need to recognise that the target market – the buyer/ consumer has his or her own unique problems and their own language. Writes from the viewpoint of the consumer, this problem is fixed.

Copywriting is “Applied Writing”

Applied writing is writing for a specif purpose – not to entertain you or your audience

Promotional writing is not an end in itself prose for prose’s sake-it is written to achieve specific objectives – usually to sell Products (both goods and services)

Charles F. Adams (Common Sense in Advertising)  makes this point :

“Many highly creative, articulate, and intellectual admen make one terrible mistake: they confuse their own world with America.  They are often just out of the mainstream of American life.  Theirs is a tight little island.  Culturally, they often look East from New York, instead of West.  They’re too hip, too up-to-date and too contemporary for the rest of the country.  These admakers tend to move in a narrow world.  They talk to themselves, they write for themselves, and they give awards to one another.  They know too much about what’s new and what’s In and what’s out and where it’s at.  They’re ahead of everybody else.  They develop their own little ways of saying things that are largely foreign to the rest of the nation.”

“They don’t travel, except to hide out.  Their infrequent sallies from the bosom of the world of creative advertising usually involve them with artists, intellectuals and theatre people.  This kind of admaker can’t any more talk to a farmer in Iowa than a rabbit can make love to a chicken.  Whenever I see an ad in the Reader’s Digest with wild Pop Art graphics, I know another admaker has lost touch.  Whenever I read one of those sharp, hip, clever-funny headlines with a bright play on words-I smell a writer who’s forgotten America.”

“  you will be reminded that the world, despite its growing intellectual affluence, is still filled with squares-nice, solid, hardworking, capable, worried people Who have no idea what you’re talking about when you get too clever.  The typical reader of your work is probably not sharp, hep, and brilliant.  And if you dont aim right at his midsection, you’re likely to go completely over his head.’

Writing style

Perhaps no phase of copywriting is as subject to dispute as writing style.  Some advertising men warn copywriters to avoid cliches and corn.  Some insist that writing should be simple and to the point-but there are examples of great advertisements that are highly literary and verbose.

Critics of advertising, however, attack all copy as being generally illiterate.  They point to grammatical murder, as in “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should”; or coined words such as “flavour-ific” chewing gum, “flavor buds” for instant coffee, and “secure-ance” for insurance; They are shocked at what has been described as the “floating” comparative-faster, deeper better, longer, with no mention of what the product is faster, deeper, better, or longer than.’ I They question the use and abuse and tremendous frequency of words like “finest,” “world’s best,”:

The purpose of Promotional copy is to persuade by communicating.  The test of copy is not grammar, but communication. 

Still, there are some general rules that should be kept in mind.

  • The copywriter should write to the reader, not to the client.
  • Copy should be factual, not vague.
  • The message should be comprehensible to the reader, for he will not take the time to study copy that is not immediately clear.
  • The copy should be believable, not just true for truth which is beyond the realm of believability will result in disbelief on the part of the reader.
  • Promotional copy is not meant to be literature; it is designed to persuade the reader

People don’t read advertisements

People do not read advertisements, but they do read things that interest them.

Length of copy

How much should a copywriter write? There is little question that he has to capture and hold his audience; and the longer he has to hold them, the more likely he is to lose them.  Yet the rule, “the shorter the copy the better,” is not necessarily sound.  There are advertisements that contain’ very lengthy copy and still get high readership.  Perhaps a sounder rule is that copy should be as long as is necessary to tell your story but without unnecessary verbiage.

Some take-away

In the final analysis copywriting is an art – not a science.  There have been many great copywriters, and each has had his own philosophy of copywriting.  Each copywriter will want to develop his own philosophy, for if he simply adopts someone else’s he will not ever bring out his own creative talents.

The novice looking for a creative philosophy of his own could do well to examine those of others.  Here is one creative philosophy; from Irwin Roll.

1 .        Don’t approach the typewriter until you’re saturated with the facts.  Make sure you know the product, the people to whom you’re talking, and the motivations involved.  This takes, and deserves, a good measure of your time.  The more you know about the account you’re writing for, the easier your creative task will be.

2.         Seek one idea, but a good one.  Probe deep.  Fondle each possible idea in your mind.  Find the one good central selling point that sparkies.  Refine.  Strengthen.  Embellish.  Simplify.  You’ll know when an idea is right.  When the idea is right you’ll feel it.

3.         Shun the obvious.  Make it look and talk different-somehow.  Nothing kills an ad like a “We too” illustration and headline, and a dull piece of copy.  Don’t rewrite.  Reconceive.

4.         Make your message talk to one lone person, never to a crowd.  And talk.  Don’t shout.  He’ll listen if you catch his eye and talk sense.

5.         Say it simple.  Talk plain.  Not necessarily in language, but in logic of though, and unity of theme.  Make very element say the same thing.  Make the illustration say it as well as the copy.  Make it one single piece of communication.  Visualise your ad.  Don’t just write it.

7.         Don’t louse up a good ad.  Resist the temptation to add a little art element here or there, or just one more sentence “to cover us,” or one more point that someone somewhere, might want to know.  Forget it.  Keep it simple.  Say just enough to support your central idea.  Delete every word that doesn’t advance the message.  And end when you’ve made your point.

8.         Read it over again for sense.  Forget the words.  Just read it for what it says.  Read it aloud to yourself.  See if everything you say follows logically, tells the reader what you want him to do and why it makes sense for him to do it.  And says it like you were his own brother.

9.         Pray that everyone along the approval procedure is as smart as you.  But if they aren’t (and who could be that lucky?) don’t let them kill the ad by inserting useless words.  Make them put down the pencil.  Let them tell you their thoughts, out loud.  If it adds to the central idea, fine.  You add it where it fits.  If it doesn’t, fight ! Offer to start the ad all over.  Don’t be a prima donna, don’t be an automatic compromiser, either.  Don’t hesitate to defend your ad as submitted.  Above all, retain the initiative, the authority, and the ultimate right of judgment.

10.       Be your own most severe critic.  Give your assignment the best you have.  That way, you’ll have more fun, take more pride in the results, sleep better, and make more money for everyone concerned-including you.


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