Whether you’re in ads or marketing, copy is your industry’s lifeblood. In the modern era of Twitter and Facebook, if you can’t write then you can’t sell. While we’d all like to be scribbling copy like Apple, sometimes producing that elusive ‘perfect post’ proves harder than it looks.
Here’s a run-down of some essential copywriting rules that will help you nail your online presence – with quotes from some golden oldies to help you on your way.
Observe The Commitment: Length Ratio
The more commitment your proposition requires of the reader, the more you have to write. The reason for this is simple: more complex actions raise more complex objections. In order to bypass these concerns, you need to address them – via copy.
If all you want from someone is an email in a box, there are few objections they can make. Your copy can consist of a few sentences, tops.
But if you want them to buy a robot to do their dish-washing, expect the questions to come thick and fast. How much does it cost? How quickly can it perform the task? How well does it do it? What other tasks can it perform? Will the technology need much upkeep? Is it a valuable investment?
If you’re unsure how much column space your product deserves, have a look at this guide. In general, the more you tell, the more you sell. And whichever you go for, remember to make it grabbing. As Howard Gossage once said: “Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them. Sometimes it’s an ad.”
Harness The ‘Power Of One’
Story sells. The best copy takes a single idea and communicates it to the reader above all else. This is what we call the ‘power of one’ rule.
What were the US presidential campaign slogans but the effective communication of one powerful idea? “Stronger together,” Hillary said – and we all knew that her angle was inclusion and modernity. “Make American great again”, on the other hand, called upon stirrings of patriotism and nostalgia in the US electorate. Both were strong messages that appealed to specific target markets.
In the same way, good copy aims for a particular audience with a single, often moving angle. “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion,” said Dale Carnegie, writer of How To Win Friends And Influence People. Quite.
Prioritise Your Call To Action
The primary objective of all copy should be to engender a response in the reader. Your best tool for this is the ‘call to action’ – the bit at the end where you tell people what to do next.
Calls to action can involve clicking a link, sharing a post or signing up to a mailing list – but they should all be bold, obvious and irresistible. The more tempting your call to action is, the more response you will get from the post/ad, and the more successful your campaign will be.
When you write copy, never forget what you are actually trying to sell. At all times, make it clear what the next step will be. Prioritise your call to action.
Dumb It Down
Advertising legend Shirley Polykoff once said: “Copy is a direct conversation with the consumer.” Would you use the word ‘lugubrious’ in a casual chat over lunch? No? Then don’t use it in your copy.
Great copy is readable. Readable copy is accessible. Accessible copy gets clicks, sales, tweets – whatever. Sentences should be short and your points sharp; readers aren’t interested in your views on electroencephalography.
Father of advertising David Ogilvy supposedly agreed. “If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think.”
So write colloquially, in the present tense and in the 2nd person. And get to the bloody point already.
Drop The Hype
Choo-choo! All aboard the hype train! Overstatement and bluster have long been part and parcel with the advertising industry. But does it actually work?
No according to Ogilvy. “The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife,” goes another great quote from the master. “You insult her intelligence if you assume that a mere slogan and a few vapid adjectives will persuade her to buy anything.”
There are plenty of examples of fact misuse in advertising. While 59% of statistics are made up on the spot, that doesn’t mean you can serve up actual lies to your audience, no matter how well it worked for Trump and Brexit. Readers can spot bad info a mile off. Don’t take their attention for granted; you won’t get a second chance to earn it back.
As William Bernbach, one of the founders of Doyle Dane Bernbach, once quipped: “The most powerful element in advertising is the truth.” Be honest, use the best studies you have available to you, and leave that hype train to burn itself out.
Susanna Quirke writes for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and giving out graduate career advice. To hire graduates or browse graduate jobs London, visit their website.