The Art of Copywriting

I remember being in college and being so moved by the words of advertising writers. Inspired! Encouraged! Challenged, even! Some of my favorite quotes were typed up and posted on my desk so I would see them daily.

“I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information. When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.”
— David Ogilvy

“There is no such thing as a Mass Mind. The Mass Audience is made up of individuals, and good advertising is written always from one person to another. When it is aimed at millions it rarely moves anyone.” - Fairfax Cone

I have learned that any fool can write a bad ad, but it takes a real genius to keep his hands off a good one. - Leo Burnett

“You can say the right thing about a product and nobody will listen. You've got to say it in such a way that people will feel it in their gut. because if they don't feel it, nothing will happen. - Bill Bernbach

These four are just a few - but they all present or reinforce the fundamental truth about copywriting - our job is not to simply tell, but to sell. We need to engage, entice, incite, persuade and inspire.

A lot of the copywriting I see today is blech. Common. Uninspired. Boring. From banner ads to bus ads to tv spots, there is so much bad writing. Even worse is when you see a really great idea with really bad copy.

It seems as if too many writers have forgotten the back half of their job. First - the idea, yes. But then, the execution. I used to write a hundred headline iterations before I found the perfect one. And even then I would play with it until I got it right, or ran out of time.

Direct mail letters used to pile up with various openings and closings, different voices and styles. I would imagine myself having a conversation with the recipient - how would I talk to them if I could? What would I say?

Even my early banner ads were struggled over. What to say when. How to let the story unfold.

I'm convinced that many writers today have fallen in love with the idea of the big idea, and aren't true lovers of the craft. I would even bet that most write only a handful of headlines before picking one. Perhaps one or two attempts at email copy before sending it on its way.

Here is a email I just received about air filters I purchased for the furnace:

I blacked out any identifying information, as you can see. Now, I don't consider this a terrible email at all. Strategically, it's a great idea. But a few things really stand out.

First of all, they know exactly what filters I bought, so why tell me how long different kinds of filters last. Why not tell me that the HUAA35A AprilAire filter I bought lasts 90-120 days, so it's time to get a new one.

But even beyond that, the copy feels a bit uninspired. So how might I improve it? Ay - there's the rub. Well, I might do something a little more like this:

Hi Janet!

I just wanted to remind you that the
HUAA35A AprilAire filter you received 3 months back is due for a checkup. You'll want to take a quick look at it and make sure it's still working properly. (Click here for info on how to check the filter and what you need to watch out for!)

Generally your filter should last 3-6 months, depending on use, so it might be time to replace it. Did you know regular filter maintenance not only keeps your air cleaner, but can also extend the life of your furnace by as much as 3 years? In today's economy - that's nothing to sneeze at! (Sorry for the bad pun!)

If you do need to replace the filter, I also wanted to pass along a $3 discount to you - simply click here to reorder your filter and the $3 discount will be automatically applied. I went ahead and prefilled in the coupon code for you. (You can always enter it manually if you prefer - the coupon code is XXXX.)

And feel free to pass this email, and the coupon code above, to any of your family or friends who might need to replace their air filters. They can save $3, too, just for being your friend! :)

Thanks for being a great customer!


P.S. By the way -
we also carry refrigerator filters, so please let me know if you need one. Nothing tastes worse than poorly filtered refrigerated water!

So that might not be my best effort, but I think it's better. I'd love to hear from any of you with YOUR rewrites of this email. I'll post the best replies!

2010 is the YEAR OF BETTER COPY for me and for my team. Any suggestions or advice from other passionate writers and creatives out there are welcome, indeed!