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Developing Outstanding Marketing Copy

At the dawn of the twentieth century, advertisers worked on the premise that customers were more likely to do business with a “known entity.” Therefore, companies used advertising simply to keep a company in the public eye. Then along came Claude Hopkins, a young man with a novel idea. He believed that advertising should actually sell a product and wrote copy that contained memorable slogans such as “Schlitz, the beer that made Milwaukee famous.” As a result, he was soon hired by the Lord and Thomas Agency at the unheard of salary of $185,000 in 1908. Copywriting took on a new importance in the marketing world and advertising would never again be the same.

Hopkins clearly knew how to appeal to the consumers of a century ago, but the question is whether he would succeed in today’s text message and Blackberry world? Modern consumers are bombarded by unprecedented levels of visual and audio stimulation. The truth is that, in this environment, the basics of good copywriting espoused by Hopkins are more important than ever before. To be heard in the din of the marketplace and motivate the consumer to take the next step in the sales process, copy must have sufficient color, texture and emotion.

Headlines: Get Their Attention

You know what they say about first impressions. Well, the headline is where the copywriter can instantly create or suppress readership. Studies have shown that people are more likely to read shorter headlines and those that contain certain words and messages. People respond especially favorable to headlines that promise personal benefits, announce something new or arouse curiosity. A study conducted by the Yale University Psychology Department a number of years ago concluded that the ten most influential words in advertising are: discovery; free; guarantee; health; love; money; new; safety; save; and you.

Body Copy

Copywriting is an art, not a science. There is no right or wrong, no firm rules that guarantee success. However, there are guidelines that can help a creative idea find expression. For starters, it is important to have a powerful opening that will grab the readers’ attention and get them involved. Thereafter, the copy must build a strong case for the superiority of its product or service. Each sentence and paragraph should lead inevitably to the next and ultimately to the call to action. The copy should speak directly and personally to the reader using simple words and short sentences and paragraphs. Like any other art form, good copywriting is entirely dependent on the skill of the creator. To quote one successful copywriter: “If you want to be a well paid copywriter, please your client. If you want to be an award winning copywriter, please yourself. If you want to be a great copywriter, please your reader.”

Long vs. Short

A recurring question is whether copy should be long or short. Again, there is no “right” answer. Both long copy and short copy have tested well—and poorly. It all depends on the situation and the skill of the copywriter. An old copywriters’ adage from years gone by advises that “Copy is like a young lady’s skirt. It should be long enough to cover all the essentials and short enough to make it interesting.”

Looks Matter

The graphic presentation of an ad plays an important role in creating interest and readership. Graphic elements, like the copy they seek to enhance should be simple, direct and striking and create immediate interest. The selection of color, font, font size, illustrations and photographs will determine if the copy whispers or shouts, asks or demands.

The Bottom Line

A good copywriter, much like a good lawyer, is an advocate who builds a persuasive case for the client. Hard working copy is the nucleus of effective marketing initiatives. It gets the readers’ attention by relating to their wants and needs, makes a compelling case for the superiority of its subject product or service, and motivates the readers to take the carefully defined “next step.” Copy comes in all shapes, sizes and approaches. There is no right or wrong approach, just those that work and those that don’t. That’s why most successful copywriters employ a “ready, aim, fire” process. Ready takes only a few minutes. Fire takes a bit longer. However, it’s the aim part that is most critical, takes the most time and is essential to the creation of great copy.