A while back, I sat in a room together with a coworker, listening as our manager laid out the work he wanted from us.
When he was finished, my coworker leaned forward. “When do you want it by?”
“Hmm.” My manager paused for a sip of coffee. “This is a new project. Neither of you have done something like this before. I’d rather not set a timeframe that has you rush and do sloppy work.”
“Alright,” he said, and proceeded to ask one of the cleverest questions I’ve ever heard.
What makes great copy great? How do copywriters turn words on a page into a powerful copywriting message?
The answer is knowledge.
They know how to write copy that works.
And now, with this guide, so will you.
A while back, I stumbled across the following advertisement:
“Pina coladas are fresh. Your marketing isn’t.”
Which is an awful ad, but it got me thinking.
Comparisons are one of the most used tactics in copywriting. Take A, compare it to B, and voila! You’ve got copy.
So I figured I’d lay down the ground rules for what makes a great comparison—and what makes an absolutely awful one.
The setup is simple.
A family—mother, father and daughter—sit around a dinner table. The father reaches over and pushes a plate of broccoli to his daughter.
“Just have one broccoli.”
The daughter pushes it away.
A shove of war begins between father and daughter.
And then a stranger walks in; a woman in a red dress.
“The solution is here,” she says to the camera.
It’s happened to you before.
You’re talking to a client, explaining them how to do something, when they cut you off with a, “Yeah, yeah, I hear ya. But how about we try it this way.”
You close your eyes, grit your teeth. Outwardly, if you’re talking on the phone—inwardly if in person. As calmly as you can, you explain that you appreciate their input, but you’ve been doing this a long time. You’ve weighed the different options, and the way you’ve suggested is the best one.
Left unsaid—what you really wish you could say—is why on earth are you always stuck dealing with people who know nothing about copywriting.
Every so often, I look back over the last few years and see how far I’ve come.
From the days when I knew nothing about copywriting and just fumbled my way through some early projects without much clue as to what I was doing.
I didn’t get everything wrong in those early days. My instincts were usually correct, and I’ve been writing since I was a kid.
But I did get a lot of it wrong.
And when I think about how I was able to grow so much in such a short period of time, I realize it’s really due to one thing.
A lifetime ago, I sat in a career counselor’s office, explaining why I couldn’t imagine a job I would succeed at. I had no skills, I explained. I knew nothing about anything.
The counselor asked me to prove it. “List your skills,” he urged me.
I shrugged. “Very well,” I replied. I was intelligent. I was analytical. I was reasonably organized. I knew how to be patient and how to listen. But so was everybody else. I only had general skills; I didn’t know anything specific.
The counselor shook his head. Those skills, he said, that I had so derisively labeled as general skills—those were the most important skills I could ever learn. Anything else—marketing, design, data entry—were simply extra skills that I could learn.
But all the skills in the world wouldn’t get me anywhere if I didn’t have the basics.
Copywriting is a pretty broad field. It includes blogging, newsletters, social media, articles, emails, advertising, even screenwriting—but for my first year as a full-time copywriter, all I did was write product descriptions.
I’ve already written about my initial frustration with that job, and how I eventually came to see it as an opportunity to develop my writing voice, test new techniques, and fine-tune my style.
In this post, I’d like to share the 9 tactics I learned that guided my approach to writing product descriptions over that year—with some examples.
Here we go.
There are two jobs paths out there that tend to get confused. One is technical writing. The other is copywriting.
They are not the same.
If you were to ask me for my number one stance on copywriting, it’d be this:
Dry, boring, technical jargon has. No. Place. In. Copywriting.
Technical writing is about providing facts. It offers details but leaves the ultimate decision to the reader.
Copywriting is about persuasion. It does everything it can to prompt the reader to make the decision you want them to make.
And you can’t persuade if you don’t write in a communicate tone.
Why not? Well, I could tell you . . .
But I’d rather just show you.
The foundation of good copywriting is good storytelling.
There’s a reason John Caple’s article They Laughed When I sat Down By the Piano, But When I Started to Play! is still considered one of the most brilliant pieces of copywriting of all time.
Caples didn’t simply make a pitch. He told a story. A story that spoke to his readers—their desires, their hopes, their dreams. And that allowed him to turn those readers into customers far better than any pitch could.
And that, in short, is the essence of copywriting.
Eli Landes is one of those weird writers who just can't get enough. A marketing writer by day and a fiction writer whenever he can squeeze in the time, he spends his spare time working on his novel, writing short fiction, or daydreaming (I mean, researching). His main genre is Jewish fiction, but he's been known to dabble in the weird, the absurd, and the truly dark.