“Bite the wax tadpole,” said the copywriter.

wax tadpoleWriting clear copy is hard.

One reason is that everyone speaks a different language. Something that seems clear to you may not be clear to someone else. Let me give you a few extreme examples:

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AH-HA! Break though creative block in 4 steps

lightbulbYou’ve just been handed an assignment to write a direct mail package for a new product your client is introducing. It’s an important launch. You’ve been asked to be fresh, dynamic, and creative.

So, you pour yourself a cup of steaming coffee, turn on your computer, and settle in to give birth to an epic campaign. However, when your fingers hit the keyboard … nothing happens.


You write a few words. Delete. Then write a few more. Nothing. You try again and again to piece together a complete sentence, but you begin to realize that you have no idea what to say. You have no ideas. You’re dry.

Now you start to sweat and find yourself glancing frantically at the clock every five minutes. You can feel that deadline creeping up on you. Your stomach turns and you begin to wonder why you ever took on this assignment. You wonder why you’re even in this business.

And still the clock is ticking ….

Sound familiar? It has happened to all of us in the creative business. Some call it creative block. Others call it a slump. But whatever the term, the result is the same: frustration, stress, missed deadlines, or poor quality work.

The problem here is more than a tight deadline. It’s our society’s concept of creativity. Generally, we think of creativity as that mysterious “AH-HA” experience, where an idea seems to leap magically into our head in a bright flash of inspiration. But this “AH-HA” feeling is just a synapse firing in our brain. It’s an electro-chemical event over which we have no control.

However, what we CAN control are the events that lead up to and follow that sudden spark. Creativity isn’t just a moment. It’s a process. And despite what you might think, the process isn’t disorganized at all. In fact, it follows definite steps that you can apply to your everyday work to help free your mind and unleash your creative powers. Read more

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B2B copywriting vs. B2C copywriting

Recently, I ran across a short interview I did with Inside Direct Mail several years ago about the difference between copywriting for business to business advertising (B2B) and business to consumer advertising (B2C).

Given the growth in B2B, and the fact that I came off sounding reasonably intelligent, I thought I should reprint the interview here on my blog.


What is one of the key differences between B2B and consumer writing?

Business buyers often aren’t spending their own money. That’s good and bad. Good because they’re more open to big-ticket purchases. Bad because they usually have to get approval from others. In fact, you must sometimes talk to many layers of a company before making a sale – decision makers, buyers, and end users. All of which means you have to provide more purchase justification than you do for consumers.

Two other challenges also face the B2B marketer:

First, the buying process is often complicated, following a formal, rigid pattern of bids, budgets, bargaining, and analysis.

Second, you often have to get past a ruthless mail room or secretary before your message reaches your prospect.

However, these differences too often overshadow the similarities. Remember, business buyers are people with the same basic problems, fears, feelings, and dreams as everyone else. They just have those problems, fears, feelings, and dreams at work instead of at home. So while your products may be less sexy than in consumer marketing, you must never separate the sizzle from the steak. Read more

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Learn to write headlines at the grocery store!

Glamour MagazineYou can read books, attend seminars, and study famous ads to learn how to write headlines.

Or you can just go to the grocery store.

Standing in the checkout line, you will see some of the best examples of headline writing on the covers of popular magazines. Why? Because these publishers know that to sell magazines, they have to capture your attention fast. So the top magazines have become very, very good at writing headlines.

Now for the record, I don’t read these magazines. But my wife does. And she squirrels them away all over the house. So I have a massive collection to dive into when I’m looking for some inspiration.

Here are some good examples from two Glamour magazine covers:

PSSST! Why guys love your body exactly as is – Read their head-to-toe lust list on p. 220


Find your best birth control – Intimate advice you’ll never hear from your doctor

Men’s new sexual needs – Thanks for sharing, guys!


Major beauty miracles! All the skin and hair secrets you’ve been begging us for

10 things no woman should feel guilty about

Most of these are “fascinations,” a type of headline that acts as a teaser. Each headline promises interesting information, but reveals nothing about the content. Notice the specifics, alliteration, and rhythm.

Also notice the double whammy of headlines such as “Major beauty miracles! All the skin and hair secrets you’ve been begging us for.” This is typeset as a two-part headline, the first part to grab your attention and the second part to give you more detail.

Not all headlines should be written like this. There are many other approaches. But when you’re looking for ideas and inspiration, go shopping. Major magazine editors have turned provocative headline writing into an art form.

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Ad copywriting tip: Tell an interesting story

Some of the best advertisements are built around a story.

This is an advanced copywriting technique and takes a deft hand to pull off, so I don’t recommend it to novice copywriters. But when you can do it convincingly, it’s a thing of beauty.

Here’s an ad I ran across while rifling through some folders this morning. This is probably too small to read, but you can click on it to download a PDF image of the entire ad.

print ad copywriting

Let’s take a look at a few things that make this ad work. Read more

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Boost response by positioning your offer

In direct marketing, everything is built around offers. In fact, to create a true direct response ad in any medium, you must do 3 specific things:

  1. Make an offer.
  2. Provide sufficient information to accept the offer.
  3. Provide an easy means of responding to the offer.

So, in any direct mail piece or ad, the offer is the heart of the message. But while a rose may be a rose, an offer is not an offer.

An offer is more than a fixed monetary exchange. A 50% discount is not the same as “buy one widget, get the second widget free.” In dollar terms, these are identical. But how you position this deal creates different perceptions and different response rates.

Offer positioning is a vital step in the copywriting process. And businesses should be open to suggestions for more powerful ways to position offers.

Let’s look at an example.

Imagine you have a magazine subscription offer. The magazine sells for $3 an issue and 12 monthly issues are $36. The publisher wants to test a price reduction of 50%. Here are a few ways you can position this offer:

This is more than wordsmithing. Buyers perceive each of these offer positions differently, each with a unique perceived value.

And what’s the value of testing different ways to position your offer? Better response. For example, most tests show that a “buy one get one free” offer will beat a “half off offer.” Why? Greater perceived value. Getting something free carries more psychological weight than saving money, even when the monetary value is identical. “Free” is easier to understand and more tangible that a percentage savings, which is an intellectual mathematical concept.

The takeaway? Don’t accept your offer at face value. Try different ways to position the offer to make it feel more valuable.

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Is it junk mail if you say it ain’t so?

What should you do if you’re worried about people thinking your mailer is junk mail? How about just telling them it’s not junk mail?

The copywriter for one hearing aid company simply used a teaser that said “THIS IS NOT JUNK MAIL!!!”

not junk mail

Is this an effective way to get people to read your mailer? I think not.

First, what objection is this intended to address? Surveys show people actually like direct mail and respond to it. Assuming you’re mailing to a targeted list of likely customers and that you have a compelling message and strong offer, recipients should be open to learning more about your product.

Second, telling people your mailing is not junk mail doesn’t convince them it’s not junk mail. It simply introduces a negative idea that probably wasn’t there to begin with. If you walk up to someone you don’t know and say, “I’m not a liar.” What idea will that person remember about you? The idea of “liar.” People don’t think in negatives.

Third, assuming that your target audience is thinking “junk mail” when they open their mailbox, will a teaser on a piece of that junk mail convince them otherwise? Imagine a mailer from a politician you consider dishonest. It won’t help the politician’s case to put a teaser on the envelope that reads, “I’m not the sneaky, cheating bastard you think I am.”

Introducing a negative idea in this way is counterproductive.

Effective copy is not only about what you say. It’s also about what you don’t say. Every word should have a purpose and avoid unnecessary or distracting information.

What’s a better way to assure people will read your mailer? I’ve already said it: send your mailer to a targeted list of likely customers and present a compelling message and strong offer.

People search for relevance. If your message is relevent, people will read it.

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Be bossy in your copy!

If you want to improve your copywriting, read this article now.

I’m going to give you one of the most powerful secrets for making your words work harder in any promotion. And it’s about as simple as copywriting tips get. Ready?

Tell people what to do.

That’s it.

I told you it was simple. But it works. You see, for the most part, people do what you tell them to do. You can’t make people do what they don’t want to do, but if the request is reasonable they’ll comply.

Do a little experiment. At the grocery store, walk up to someone and tell them to hand you something off the shelf. “Excuse me, sir. Hand me that box of Cheerios.” You can soften it if you like. “Excuse me, sir. Will you hand me that box of Cheerios?”

Every now and then, you’ll get a cantacerous old fart who will tell you to “buzz off,” but most of the time the person will do what you tell them to do. People respond to commands. Read more

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5 tips for more creative copywriting

Have you ever noticed that some copywriters are forever coming up with new ideas while others write the same thing in the same way over and over? It’s true of any group in any industry. You’ll have a few innovators and a lot of followers.

As I write this, I’m creating a postcard for one of my clients. I’ve written and designed many postcards for this client, but on this one I wanted the front to look more like a print ad with a lot of copy.

It struck me that the standard horizontal orientation wouldn’t work well, so I decided to turn it 90 degrees and have the front oriented vertically. There won’t be any problems in the mail since the address side will still be horizontal.

Okay, it’s not a world-shaking idea. It’s just an upended postcard. But it’s a nice little twist that could help the card stand out for this promotion. And that’s copywriting creativity in a nutshell. Doing one thing different that gives you an edge for boosting response.

How do you become more creative? There are lots of ways, but here are 5 quick ideas to get you started. Read more

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Speedwriting: 12 tips for writing faster

Some writers have the gift of “speedwriting.” They are naturally blessed with the ability to write fast and turn out solid work without agonizing or extensive rewriting or editing.

Unfortunately, I’m not one of those people.

It’s not that I’m slow. I can move through projects at a good pace when I have to. But I simply can’t dash off copy with lightning speed and walk away as some do. Like this sentence, for example: I just now wrote and deleted three or four other sentences before typing these words.

Obviously it’s better to be a good writer than a fast writer. However, I think that just as you can learn to read quickly and maintain comprehension, you should also be able to write quickly and maintain quality. So I’ve been on a mission recently to boost my writing speed. This can help me be more productive, earn more, and have more time for other activities.

I’ve analyzed my writing habits and come up with solutions to boost my productivity. Here are a few of my ideas. Read more

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