Copywriting blogs you should be reading today

A few months ago on my Pro Copy Tips blog, I published a short list of copywriting blogs that offer sound and often entertaining advice.

That post got a fair number of comments and tweets, so I thought it would be worthwhile to re-post it here.

A few people emailed me and wondered why I didn’t include this or that blog. One or two people were insulted. But I assure you, this isn’t meant to be a list of the only copywriting blogs, just a list of some of my favorites which I think are worth reading.

So if you don’t see your blog of choice, don’t get your panties in a twist. This isn’t a contest. If there’s a particular blog you like, leave a comment and a link. Okay?

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5 copywriting cheats to write better and faster

Copywriters are not starving artists living in ivory towers slaving over delicate poetry. They are sales people with word processors.

If you’re a copywriter, you have to write copy that works and stick to schedules. And no matter how creative and energetic you are, you can’t just pull great copy out of thin air day after day.

What I’m getting at is that it helps to have a few “cheats” up your sleeve to help you get the job done, better and faster.

So here are a few copywriting cheats that I’ve found helpful.

Lift key ideas from existing promotional materials. No, this is not plagiarism. There is no such thing as plagiarizing your own company or client. Most existing businesses have brochures, sales letters, print ads, annual reports, a website, product sheets, trade show materials, and all sorts of information ready-to-go.

Not only should you study all this as background, you should take notes on some of the better copy. Often you can find buried copy that would make a great headline or theme. Look at testimonials especially, since these can be a gold mine of copy ideas.

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4 secrets of DM creative team success

In a recent Target Marketing webinar, Robert Lerose and William Fridrich discussed how clients can work successfully with DM copywriters and designers.

Target posted four of these ideas on their Web site:

1. The most precious thing you can give a copywriter is time. Hiring a copywriter at the last minute and then expecting him to turn around brilliant, well-conceived copy shortly thereafter is unreasonable, says Lerose. Plus, many of the quality copywriters will be booked! So make sure you hire early and set a reasonable deadline so the work comes in on time and in great shape.

2. The aim of design is clarity and involvement, not fancy-pants visuals. It’s very easy to go overboard with design, especially with the new tools available to designers. But restraint is necessary when the chief motivator is to get the copy read and keep readers involved until they respond, Fridrich asserts.

3. Make your key people available for interviews. This is an overlooked crucial step in helping a copywriter not only understand the company and product he’s writing about, but also in coming up with the right kind of copy, explains Lerose. Often, visiting the site where the product is made and talking to the people involved, such as a magazine and its editorial staff, will eventually produce copy that is accurate, inspired and effective.

4. All changes and corrections should be collected and communicated to the designer at one time. Depending on how many people have a say in the look and design of a particular mailer, it’s essential to first come to a consensus about the necessary revisions before asking the designer to make changes, says Fridrich. This results in a more efficient process and ultimately is a mutually satisfactory result.

I’d be happy if clients would just provide adequate time and forward changes in one document. They both have to do with time, and unfortunately many marketers simply don’t understand the time that can go into delivering good work.

What else would you like clients to do to make working with them easier?

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21 great headlines from trashy tabloids

headline secretsWant to read some great headlines? Check these out:

Man’s head explodes in barber’s chair.

Woman with 4 legs opens dance studio.

Skiing squirrel dies trying to break 196 m.p.h. speed record!

Cow crashes domino game.

Inflate-a-Boob. New breast implants take gals from flat to fabulous … in seconds!

And these are just the beginning. Alex Eckelberry from Sunbelt Blog turned me on to a collection of Weekly World News back issues preserved in all their eye-popping glory by Google Books.

This stuff is like a Barnum and Baily nightmare. But they hold a treasure of incredible headlines that, while weird and over-the-top, work like money machines. I mean, they certainly sell these publications.

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Spam scam copywriting secrets

I get them. You get them. We all get them. E-mail scam spam. And you probably just delete them like most people do.

But did you ever take a few minutes to read these messages and consider why some of them work?

There are some key copywriting lessons to be learned here. Let’s look at one short scam spam e-mail I received a few months after tax season a couple years back (I collect these things).

Subject Line:

IRS Notification – Tax refund (Internal Revenue Service)


After the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity we have determined that you are eligible to receive a tax refund of $249.30.

Please submit the tax refund request and allow us 3-6 days in order to process it.

A refund can be delayed for a variety of reasons. For example submitting invalid records or applying after the deadline.

To access the form for your tax refund, please click here

Note: For security reasons, we will record your ip-address, the date and time. Deliberate wrong inputs are criminally pursued and indicated.

Internal Revenue Service

Copyright 2007, Internal Revenue Service U.S.A. All rights reserved.

First, the subject line gets your attention. It says it’s from the IRS, which is a government department everyone is familiar with. There are no wild claims, just the suggestion that you may have a tax refund, something everyone wants.

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Quick online writing resources

writing resourcesI have an old, crumbling Roget’s Thesaurus on my desk along with a variety of other well-worn writing resources. A bookshelf on the other side of my office holds even more.

I will never give up these beat-up books because when I’m in serious need of a synonym, grammar rule, or other tidbit, these loyal references never let me down.

But when I’m in the heat of writing, I often don’t have time to peruse my reference library. I need something quick. That’s when I turn to a variety of handy online writing resources that can give me what I need in a minute or two.

Here are a few of the best. Bookmark these sites, especially, which is so fast and simple I find myself visiting it nearly every day.

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Semantic noise: the copywriter’s curse

“Semantic noise” is the term communication professors use to describe what happens when words mean different things to different people.

Here’s one notorious example. A copywriter wrote the following slogan for a cough syrup company:

“Try our cough syrup. You will never get any better.”

You can see what the poor copywriter meant to say, but his slogan can be understood in two ways. It creates major semantic noise and you are left wondering why anyone would buy a product that promises to NOT work.

Here are other examples of semantic noise caused by writers from around the world.

Sign in Norwegian cocktail lounge: “Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar.”

Detour sign in Japan: “Stop. Drive Sideways.”

Hotel in Vienna: “In case of fire, do your utmost to alarm the hotel porter.”

Elevator in Germany: “Do not enter the lift backwards, and only when lit up.”

Dry cleaner window in Bangkok: “Drop your pants here for best results.”

And my favorite from a Japanese hotel: “You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid.”

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Do customers see what you see in your ads?

Is the woman turning to the right or to the left? That depends. Some will see her turning one way while others will see the opposite.

This animation is a visual trick, but it illustrates the idea that two people can look at the same thing and see something entirely different.

Selling is largely about perception. And everyone’s perception is a bit different. To be successful at writing or designing direct mail, ads, or other selling tools, you must grasp this simple idea.

Every person comes to your advertising with different experiences, knowledge, language skills, attitudes, preferences, and prejudices. Even something as simple as a headline can create a totally different response for two people. Read more

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The 6-word copywriting challenge

Six-Word MemoirsRecently, in a four-way e-mail conversation with friends, someone mentioned talking to a teacher from our high school days. When my name came up, the teacher described his memory of me in six words: “wavy hair, glasses, big into theater.”

Wow. I didn’t know how to take that – the very core of who I am, or was, compressed into six highly descriptive words. When I shared my dismay, one of my friends referred me to a book that dealt with this very idea.

It’s called Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure.

Here are some excerpts from the book, which I’m quoting from

Some writers tell their stories with humor and self-deprecation:

>> Woman Seeks Men–High Pain Threshold.
>> My first concert: Zappa. Explains everything.
>> Aging late bloomer yearns for do-over.

As you would expect, there are many bitter or bittersweet references to relationships gone bad:

>> Girlfriend is pregnant, my husband said.
>> Just in: boyfriend’s gay. Merry Christmas.
>> Let’s just be friends, she said.

Some lucky people sent memoirs that radiate contentment.

>> Alone at home, cat on lap.
>> Hope my obituary spells “debonair” correctly.
>> Wasn’t born a redhead; fixed that.

There is the contingent who describe themselves without judgment:

>> Gave commencement address, became sex columnist.
>> Mormon economist marries feminist. Worlds collide.
>> Still lost on road less traveled.

And last but not least, the philosophers who distill life experience into a greater truth:

>> Palindromic novels fall apart halfway through.
>> Cheese is the essence of life.
>> Wandering imagination opens doors to paradise.

I occurred to me that this would be a top-notch copywriting exercise. No, I won’t ask you to write about yourself. That’s just too hard. Instead, pick a product, any product, and try to describe it in exactly six words.

Here’s one for beer: “Low carbs. Makes date look great.”

You can do this on your own, but I’d really like to see what you come up with. Post your six-word masterpiece below.

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How to write the “classic direct mail package”

Advertising direct mail takes many forms: envelope packages, self-mailers, catalogs, magalogs, flyers, postcards, and more.

That’s one of the advantages of direct mail. You don’t have the format restrictions of magazine print ads, the time restrictions of radio or TV ads, or the technical restrictions of e-mail and Web site advertising.

As long as you comply with basic postal guidelines, you can send pretty much anything through the mail. This is good for products and services that require a lot of information to convince people to buy or try. But it can be a challenge for copywriters and designers without significant experience in creating ad mail.

direct mail package exampleLet’s take a quick look at how to write and design the granddaddy of all direct mail formats, the classic direct mail package.

The most important principle to understand is “divide and conquer.” That means that when you’re creating a direct mail package, you should understand the purpose of each element and allow that element to do its particular job.

Outer Envelope. This is the distinctive feature of the classic direct mail package: an envelope that carries all the other elements through the mail. It’s called the “outer envelope” or OE to distinguish it from the “reply envelope.”

The appearance of the OE can be anywhere on a scale from plain, with little or no copy or graphics, to bold, with lots of “teaser” copy and images. Plain or bold is a strategic choice based on what you believe will get the most people to open the envelope and read the contents. Read more

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