Time and again firms get it wrong. Yet I believe it’s possible to deliver amazing copywriting by listening to the fundamental principles laid down by these fore-fathers and fore-mothers of the industry.
If these are new to you then bookmark this page, and re-read whenever you are thinking of writing any sort of marketing materials. They really are gold.
“The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife. You insult her intelligence if you assume that a mere slogan and a few vapid adjectives will persuade her to buy anything.”
– David Ogilvy
Despite his sexist assumption that the advertisers he was talking about would all be men, Ogilvy’s opinion is still entirely valid. The idea that consumers are to be somehow tricked or ‘persuaded’ into buying your product was out of date when Ogilvy headed Ogilvy and Mather in the post-war years. The consumer isn’t a moron: he is your husband, brother and friend. She is your mother, lawyer, bus driver or manicurist; he or she, ultimately, is you. Putting yourself in the shoes of the consumer will make your copy ring truer and appeal more, and the ability to generate a genuine conversation has never been more valuable.
“Sell a good night’s sleep – not the mattress.”
– Instructor at Academy of Art University, Advertising Program
While the consumer isn’t going to fall for a mere vapid slogan, a slogan that tells the reader why he or she should care about the product is a winner. A new mattress is a means, not an end – in the same way, connecting your product (the means) to the benefit (the end) is the way to win customers. As Leo Burnett put it, “don’t tell me how good you make it; tell me how good it makes me when I use it.”
“Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them. Sometimes it’s an ad.”
– Howard Gossage
From the point of view of marketers, a lot of ‘old’ media, like newspapers, magazines and even TV, exist to carry ads. But readers don’t buy these products to read the ads. Nobody reads ads on purpose – but they do read what catches their eye, speaks to their interests or appeals to their curiosity. If your ad campaign can match speeds with the questions people are asking or click with their moods, you’re onto a winner.
“The most powerful element in advertising is the truth.”
– William Bernbach
This goes back to the first point, that the consumer is smart and worthy of being treated with respect. Great products speak for themselves – but only if people are close enough to hear them. For those who’ve never experienced the greatness of your or your client’s products, advertising copy communicates it. But the job still largely consists of drawing prospects’ attention to the obvious. As Leo Burnett put it, ‘the greatest thing to be achieved in advertising, in my opinion, is believability, and nothing is more believable than the truth.’
“Copy is a direct conversation with the consumer.”
– Shirley Polykoff
Nothing could be a better illustration of how long ago Mrs. Polykoff wrote those words, than the fact that she deliberately asked her company to keep down her salary so that it wouldn’t exceed her husband’s. And yet, doesn’t it sound like the latest word from any online marketing instructions post? That’s because it’s always been true. From attempts to create readymade subcultures (‘Ovalteenies’?) to ads that roll up to conversations that already exist and ask to be included, a genuine conversation with the consumer has always been the holy grail of advertising and marketing.
What’s changed, more than anything, is the sheer volume of conversations that prospects and consumers are already having, and the platforms they’re having them on. Focus on making your copy read and feel like a contribution to a conversation, rather than a lecture or a stranger butting in with something irrelevant.
“Great ideas need landing gear as well as wings.”
– C. D. Jackson
A great campaign is one that results in sales. That can mean a great creative program and superb copy; but if you have creativity and copy and no sales, you’re (literally) missing the point. When you’re writing copy, write it ‘from the wheels up’ – start with what you want the reader to do after reading it, and then build from there to your ‘wings’ and the rest of your copy. That way you’ll never come down with a crash!
The Bottom Line
Writing great copy doesn’t depend on being a ‘great writer’ – it has more to do with being a great salesman. If you can put one foot in the shoes of the client who’s enthusiastic and excited about what his product can do, and the other in the shoes of the consumer, so that your copy speaks to their ideas, worries and desires, you can make great copy do a great job of selling. This truth will never change.
Kevin Dooley is the Marketing Manager of Wireless Communication Specialists Westbase Technology.
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