Mad Men fans everywhere remember the pivotal first scene in which we learn how talented Don Draper is at the job.
Faced with an almost impossible task as a copywriter, he took the opportunity to solve a major problem for his client Lucky Strike. Despite research warning customers about the dangers of cigarettes, Draper provided the iconic “It’s Toasted” tagline to set the brand apart from its competitors.
Now we are definitely not in favor of smoking cigarettes (or many of Draper’s health choices). But fictional or not, you can’t deny the catchiness and catchiness of this slogan.
It’s easy to spot good copywriting when you see it, but there are actually several features that really set great writing apart from the rest of the package. Do you want to get to know her? Read on below to find out.
What is copywriting?
Copywriting is one of the most important elements of all forms of marketing and advertising. Copywriting is the written or spoken words marketers use to try to get people to take action after reading or hearing them.
Copywriting is like a call to action, but on a larger scale: copywriters try to get people to feel, think, or react – or ideally, give Google the tagline or brand to learn more about the campaign. And where a blog post like this one has the luxury of hundreds of words to take a case in, copywriters have few words to put their case on.
But short and sweet is not the only characteristic of good writing. Read on to learn more about the characteristics of a truly memorable copy.
6 characteristics of good copywriting
1) It tilts your perspective.
Sometimes a message just needs to break through a slight angle shift. We are so used to blocking out marketing messages that we don’t even see them anymore. One of the most powerful things a copywriter can do is break a reader’s guard with an unexpected approach. Every story has a variety of angles – your job as a copywriter is to find the one that resonates.
This ad from Sage Therapeutics, pointing out the importance of talking about postpartum depression, works because it’s not asking readers to care about something they don’t know, but rather being able to to experience the struggle that suffering mothers wage. Did you miss some readers who quickly passed the ad thinking it was for adult pacifiers? Certainly. But the ad got a lot more resonance from those who read it.
The next time you sit down to write, try this approach. Do not take up the topic directly. Instead, ask yourself why it matters. Every time you write down an answer, encourage yourself to take it forward. Find the bigger story behind your message.
2) It finds connections.
In 1996, Steve Jobs let the cat out of his pocket. Speaking to a Wired journalist about creativity, he said:
“Creativity only connects things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty for not actually doing it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”
Suppose you need to write an ad for a new pair of sneakers. You could do the job right away. You could write about the elasticity of the shoe sole or the lightweight design. In fact, many have. Or you could put all of that aside and instead make the connection between the product and the experience it evokes.
Two things happen in this ad. First, the copy realizes that for many, running is not about running at all – it’s about loneliness, peace, and restoring sanity to an otherwise hectic life. Second, Nike associates the ad not only with the running experience, but also with the sound these shoes make when they hit the sidewalk.
This ad is about the complexities of one’s life fading and being replaced with simplicity and clarity. As the copy progresses, the sentences simplify and the complexity of the copy is slowly replaced by the simple and rhythmic pounding of words: run, run, run, run. The same rhythm you hear when everyone but their steps are gone. That is connection.
3) It has a breathtaking head start.
The following are any headlines or guiding principles from Urban Daddy, an email-based magazine promoting new products, experiences, and restaurants.
- “Six days. That’s how long you have until 65% of your body is turkey.”
- “There are 8,760 hours in a year. And only one hour when a stand in Harvard Square gives out free latkes with homemade applesauce and sour cream. Yes, that’s not fair. But 60 minutes is 60 minutes.”
- “Ewoks. Talk about life.”
What do each of these leads have in common? They make us want to read the next line. I mean seriously, how much do you want to know where the Ewok thing is going?
There is a saying in copywriting that is loosely credited to copywriter and business owner Joe Sugarman that roughly goes that the purpose of the heading is to get you to read the first line. The purpose of the first line is to get you to read the second line, and so on. In short, if your first line doesn’t excite your readers, all is lost.
4) It comes from listening.
Given plans to open another gym in the greater Boston area, an outsider might have called the Harrington family a little bit crazy. The market was already full of gyms, including a new breed of luxury gyms that seemed to be in an arms war for the most noticeable benefits. Gyms in the area offered massages, smoothie bars, and fleets of personal trainers. And GymIt wouldn’t benefit from it.
What did GymIt have? An understanding of its core audience. Before the brand launched their new gym, they listened to their main market for athletes. For many in GymIt’s target market, the added perks associated with luxury gyms were nice, but they came with a lot of baggage – namely expensive tariffs and overly complex contracts.
GymIt decided to make the fitness experience easier for people who were primarily concerned with getting in and exercising. The copy in the launch campaign and marketing materials reflects this understanding.
In an older blog post, Robert Bruce at Copyblogger put this well. “Humble yourself and really serve your audience, listen to their needs and wants, listen to the language they are using,” he said. “Eventually, if you listen carefully, your audience can give you everything they need, including most of your copy. Avoid them.”
5) It avoids jargon and exaggeration.
Groundbreaking. Revolutionary. Business solutions. Targetable scale. Idea. Evidence-based approaches. Industry best practices.
Have i lost you yet?
When writers struggle to convey what’s really special about their company, product, or service, they sometimes resort to jargon or exaggeration to reinforce their point of view. The truth is, good copywriting doesn’t need to be disguised. Good writing should appeal to the reader in a human way.
This does not mean that you should never celebrate awards or achievements. Just be straightforward in the way you explain this achievement. This Basecamp homepage does a good job of specifically highlighting its popularity.
6) It cuts out excess.
Good writing gets to the point – and that means cutting out excessive phrases and making your sentences more direct. In an ad celebrating its “academic” readership, The Economist playfully demonstrates this below.
How can you remove excess words from your writing? It’s half practice, half knowing where to cut. This article from Daily Writing Tips is one of the most effective summaries I’ve found for accurate writing. Included in the tips:
- Reduce verb phrases: For example, turn “The results indicate the fact that” to “The results suggest”.
- Reduce wordy sentences to single words: You can change “to” to “to”. Another example: transform “Due to the fact that” to “Because”.
- Avoid vague nouns: Sentences that are formed around general nouns such as “in the area” or “on the subject”.
- Read the full list of quick tips here.
If you can afford to cut without losing the meaning of a sentence, generally do so. Push yourself to decrease your word count. Turn the 50 word homepage copy into 25, then press again to turn that 25 word phrase into 15 words. It’s less about brevity and more about making sure every word in your writing counts.
Since my last point was about getting to the point, I’ll be brief: words are important. Every time you sit down to write an ad, website, video script, or other piece of content for your business, there is an opportunity to share yourself with others. Find these opportunities in your marketing and make sure you get the most of them.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in November 2017 and has been updated for completeness.