What is advertising?
Is it something to be regarded as a work of beauty or art? Is it clever
slogans or amusing prose? Is it workmanship to be judged for an
award or recognition?
It’s none of the above.
Advertising is salesmanship multiplied.
And advertising copy, or copywriting, is salesmanship in print.
The purpose of a copywriter’s job is to sell. Period.
The selling is accomplished by persuasion with the written word,
much like a television commercial sells (if done properly) by
persuading with visuals and audio.
As Claude Hopkins wrote in his timeless classic, Scientific Advertising:
“To properly understand advertising or to learn even its rudiments one must
start with the right conception. Advertising is salesmanship. Its principles
are the principles of salesmanship. Successes and failures in both lines are
due to like causes. Thus every advertising question should be answered by
the salesman's standards.
“Let us emphasize that point. The only purpose of advertising is to make
sales. It is profitable or unprofitable according to its actual sales.
“It is not for general effect. It is not to keep your name before the people. It
is not primarily to aid your other salesmen. Treat it as a salesman. Force it
to justify itself. Compare it with other salesmen. Figure its cost and result.
Accept no excuses which good salesmen do not make. Then you will not go
“The difference is only in degree. Advertising is multiplied salesmanship. It
may appeal to thousands while the salesman talks to one. It involves a
corresponding cost. Some people spend $10 per word on an average
advertisement. Therefore every ad should be a super-salesman.
“A salesman's mistake may cost little. An advertiser’s mistake may cost a
thousand times that much. Be more cautious, more exacting, therefore. A
mediocre salesman may affect a small part of your trade. Mediocre
advertising affects all of your trade.”
These points are as true today as they were when they were written
nearly one hundred years ago!
So the goal then becomes: how can we make our advertising as
effective as possible.
The answer is to test. Test again. And then test some more.
If ad “A” receives a two percent response rate, and ad “B” receives
three percent, then we can deduce that ad “B” will continue to
outperform ad “A” on a larger scale.
Testing takes time, however, and can be expensive if not kept in
check. Therefore, it’s ideal to start with some proven tested known
ideas and work from there.
For example, if testing has shown for decades or more that targeted
advertising significantly outperforms untargeted advertising (and it
does), then we can start with that assumption and go from there.
If we know based on test results that crafting an ad that speaks
directly to an individual performs better than addressing the masses
(again, it does), then it makes little sense to start testing with the
assumption that it does not. This is common sense.
So it stands to reason that knowing some basic rules or techniques
about writing effective copy is in order. Test results will always trump
everything, but it’s better to have a starting point before you test.
The ten tips expressed here have been generally time-tested and
known to be effective.
But I can’t emphasize enough that when using these
techniques, you should always test them before rolling out a
large (and expensive) campaign.
Sometimes a little tweak here or there is all that is needed to
increase response rates dramatically.
And with that, let’s move onward…
Focus on Them, Not You
When a prospect reads your ad, letter, brochure, etc., the one thing
he will be wondering from the start is: “what’s in it for me?”
And if your copy doesn’t tell him, it’ll land in the trash faster than he
can read the headline or lead.
A lot of advertisers make this mistake. They focus on them as a
company. How long they’ve been in business, who their biggest
customers are, how they’ve spent ten years of research and millions
of dollars on developing this product, blah, blah.
Actually, those points are important. But they should be expressed in
a way that matters to your potential customer. Remember, once he’s
thrown it in the garbage, the sale is lost!
When writing your copy, it helps to think of it as writing a letter to an
old friend. In fact, I often picture a friend of mine who most closely
fits my prospect’s profile. What would I say to convince this friend to
try my product? How would I target my friend’s objections and
beliefs to help my cause?
When you’re writing to a friend, you’ll use the pronouns “I” and
“you.” When trying to convince your friend, you might say: “Look, I
know you think you’ve tried every widget out there. But you should
And it goes beyond just writing in the second person. That is,
addressing your prospect as “you” within the copy. The fact of the
matter is there are many successful ads that weren’t written in the
second person. Some are written in the first person perspective,
where the writer uses “I.” Other times the third person is used, with
“she,” “he,” and “them.”
And even if you do write in the second person, it doesn’t necessarily
mean your copy is about them.
“As a real estate agent, you can take comfort in the fact that
I’ve sold over 10,000 homes and mastered the tricks of the
Although you’re writing in the second person, you’re really still
focusing on yourself.
So how can you focus on them? Glad you asked. One way is to…
Emphasize Benefits, Not Features
What are features? They are descriptions of what qualities a product
• The XYZ car delivers 55 miles per gallon in the city.
• Our ladder’s frame is made from a lightweight durable steel
• Our glue is protected by a patent.
• This database has a built-in data-mining system.
And what are benefits? They are what those features mean to your
• You’ll save money on gas and cut down on environmental
pollutants when you use our energy saving high-performance
hybrid car. Plus, you’ll feel the extra oomph when you’re
passing cars, courtesy of the efficient electric motor, which they
• Lightweight durable steel-alloy frame means you’ll be able to
take it with you with ease, and use it in places most other
ladders can’t go, while still supporting up to 800 pounds. No
more backaches lugging around that heavy ladder. And it’ll last
for 150 years, so you’ll never need to buy another ladder again!
• Patent-protected glue ensures you can use it on wood, plastic,
metal, ceramic, glass, and tile…without messy cleanup and
without ever having to re-glue it again—guaranteed!
• You can instantly see the “big picture” hidden in your data, and
pull the most arcane statistics on demand. Watch your business
do a “180” in no time flat, when you instantly know why it’s
failing in the first place! It’s all done with our built-in datamining
system that’s so easy to use, my twelve year-old son
used it successfully right out of the box.
I just made up those examples, but I think you understand my point.
By the way, did you notice in the list of features where I wrote “steel
alloy?” But in the benefits I wrote “steel-alloy” (with a hyphen). Not
sure off-hand which one is correct, but I know which one I’d use.
Here’s why: you are not writing to impress your English teacher or
win any awards. The only award you’re after is your copy beating the
control (control being the best-selling copy so far), so take some
liberty in grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. You want it
to be read and acted upon, not read and admired!
But—back to benefits…
If you were selling an expensive watch, you wouldn’t tell your reader
that the face is 2 inches in diameter and the band is made of leather.
You show him how the extra-large face will tell him the time at a
glance. No sir! He won’t have to squint and look foolish to everyone
around him trying to read this magnificent timepiece. And how about
the way he’ll project success and charisma when he wears the
beautiful gold watch with its handcrafted custom leather band? How
his lover will find him irresistible when he’s all dressed up to go out,
wearing the watch. Or how the watch’s status and beauty will attract
Incidentally, did you notice how I brought up not squinting as a
benefit? Does that sound like a silly benefit? Not if you are selling to
affluent baby boomers suffering from degrading vision. They
probably hate it when someone they’re trying to impress sees them
squint in order to read something. It’s all part of their inner desire,
which you need to discover. And which even they may not know
about. That is, until you show them a better way.
The point is to address the benefits of the product, not its features.
And when you do that, you’re focusing on your reader and his
interests, his desires. The trick is to highlight those specific benefits
(and word them correctly) that push your reader’s emotional hot
How do you do that? Read on!
Push Their Emotional Hot Buttons
This is where research really pays off. Because in order to push those
buttons, you need to first know what they are.
Listen to this story first, and I’ll tell you what I mean: Once upon a
time a young man walked into a Chevrolet dealer’s showroom to
check out a Chevy Camaro. He had the money, and he was ready to
make a buying decision. But he couldn’t decide if he wanted to buy
the Camaro or the Ford Mustang up the road at the Ford dealer.
A salesman approached him and soon discovered the man’s dilemma.
“Tell me what you like best about the Camaro,” said the salesman.
“It’s a fast car. I like it for its speed.”
After some more discussion, the salesman learned the man had just
started dating a cute college cheerleader. So what did the salesman
Simple. He changed his pitch accordingly, to push the hot buttons he
knew would help advance the sale. He told the man about how
impressed his new girlfriend would be when he came home with this
car! He placed the mental image in the man’s mind of he and his
girlfriend cruising to the beach in the Camaro. How all of his friends
will be envious when they see him riding around with a beautiful girl
in a beautiful car.
And suddenly the man saw it. He got it. And the salesman recognized
this and piled it on even more. Before you know it, the man wrote a
nice fat check to the Chevy dealership, because he was sold!
The salesman found those hot buttons and pushed them like never
before until the man realized he wanted the Camaro more than he
wanted his money.
I know what you’re thinking…the man said he liked the car because it
was fast, didn’t he?
Yes, he did. But subconsciously, what he really desired was a car that
would impress his girlfriend, his friends, and in his mind make them
love him more! In his mind he equated speed with thrill. Not because
he wanted an endless supply of speeding tickets, but because he
thought that thrill would make him more attractive, more likeable.
Perhaps the man didn’t even realize this fact himself. But the
salesman sure did. And he knew which emotional hot buttons to
press to get the sale.
Now, where does the research pay off?
Well, a good salesman knows how to ask the kinds of questions that
will tell him which buttons to press on the fly. When you’re writing
copy, you don’t have that luxury. It’s therefore very important to
know upfront the wants, needs, and desires of your prospects for
that very reason. If you haven’t done your homework, your prospect
is going to decide that he’d rather keep his money than buy your
product. Remember, copywriting is salesmanship in print!
It’s been said many times: People don’t like to be sold.
But they do like to buy.
And they buy based on emotion first and foremost. Then they justify
their decision with logic, even after they are already sold emotionally.
So be sure to back up your emotional pitch with logic to nurture that
justification at the end.
And while we’re on the subject, let’s talk a moment about perceived
“hype” in a sales letter. A lot of more “conservative” advertisers have
decided that they don’t like hype, because they consider hype to be
old news, been-there-and-done-that, my customers won’t fall for
hype, it’s not believable anymore.
What they should realize is that hype itself does not sell well. Some
less experienced copywriters often try to compensate for their lack of
research or not fully understanding their target market or the product
itself by adding tons of adjectives and adverbs and exclamation
points and big bold type.
Whew! If you do your job right, it’s just not needed.
That’s not to say some adverbs or adjectives don’t have their
place…only if they’re used sparingly, and only if they advance the
But I think you’d agree that backing up your copy with proof and
believability will go a lot farther in convincing your prospects than
“power words” alone. I say power words, because there are certain
adverbs and adjectives that have been proven to make a difference
when they’re included. This by itself is not hype. But repeated too
often, they become less effective, and they take away (at least in
your prospect’s mind) from the proof.
This post first appeared on Home Worker, please read the originial post: here