Writing ad copy: How to talk to your reader
In recent posts, I have provided tips for designers wishing to take on copywriting assignments, in addition to their usual design projects.
So far we have covered the preliminary briefing meeting with the client, what to bear in mind when conceptualizing the general format of your promo item, how to start drafting your copy, and how to grab the reader's attention.
This week we'll look at how to make your body copy engaging.
If you’re not a born writer you may find the prospect of writing continuous prose a little daunting. But don’t worry. The following tips reveal a few tricks-of-the-trade for writing in an engaging style and an appropriate tone.
Write like you are talking to a friend—address the reader as ‘you’.
Friendly-sounding copy really makes people want to read on. The easiest way to make your copy friendly is to address the reader personally. Pretend you are talking to just one person, someone you know who fits the description of your target audience.
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Avoid passive statements.
Being direct isn’t just about using the word you, it’s also about using the words we and us. Publicity that speaks in the first person can make the brand or company feel accessible and welcoming.
Your reservation has been booked.
We have booked your reservation.
A free bottle of wine will be given to everyone who opens an account.
Open an account with us and we’ll give you a free bottle of wine.
Direct the reader—use commands.
Command verbs are direct. They urge the reader to take action, and they also help you to get straight into the product’s benefits.
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Write the way the product would speak.
Imagine your client’s brand is a person. Would it be male or female? Sophisticated or no-nonsense? Understated or extroverted? Wise or enthusiastic? Once you’ve established who your product is, try writing the way it would speak.
Seductive: With 34% cocoa in each piece, one is almost enough on its own. Almost.
Understated: Quality speaks for itself
Fun-loving: Pop a pack in your pocket
No-nonsense male: It does exactly what it says on the tin
No-nonsense female: Models wanted for fashion shoots. Must be visible when standing side-on. Please contact She magazine.
Get straight to the point.
Your reader will give your copy around 5 seconds before deciding whether to read on or put your publicity down. Your first few lines must introduce the product and get into your sales pitch. A common mistake made by copywriters is spending too long ‘warming up’ the reader before attempting to sell the product. Take a look at this example for a polythene printer:
Today’s packaging floors handle far greater numbers of machines including baggers, sealers, labellers and printers.
So many machines need constant check-ups and on-going maintenance. Urgent orders may need to be waved off if one machine in the line goes down.
Today’s small packaging companies work under the constant threat of new, international competition, and need to think about how to integrate all areas of their business into one manageable floor space. Enter the new T-900 table top machine...
All this maybe true, but the person reading the copy will already know this. The ‘threat of international competition’ informs their daily activities, so reading statements like these is a waste of time. Chances are, the publicity will be trashed before the reader even gets to the product. This is what the copy should say:
The new T-900 is a table-top machine that will increase your output and cut labor costs at the same time. It can pack, seal, and label products in one simple operation—all at the touch of a screen panel—guaranteeing the most accurate packing and printing.
Address your reader as an intelligent individual.
Flattery is a good way to engage your readers, but it doesn't have to be overt. All good copy subtly makes the reader feel special. Your copy should address the reader as intelligent, important, honest, popular, or shrewd, so your reader feels confident in their decision to buy the product.
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Give the reader a reason to read on.
You need to sell your reader the benefits of reading your copy in order to complete your sales pitch and sell the product. That’s why one of the goals of each sentence is to persuade the reader to read the next. There are three common ways copywriters do this:
Throw in teaser questions.
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Promise an interesting nugget of information.
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Whet the reader's appetite for the following material.
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Focus the reader’s attention on the product, not your writing style.
If you are writing ad copy, always remember that you are writing to sell, not to be clever, funny, zany, or entertaining. Humorous concepts can work very well if the humor is consistent with your message. But as a general rule, avoid writing your entire copy in a humorous style. Funny copy is only appropriate if:
• The humor reflects the product’s brand image.
• Your target audience will identify with the content and style of the humor.
• The humor is not likely to offend.
Adapted from 100 Copywriting Tips for Designers.
© Shaun Crowley 2008
Shaun Crowley has worked as a freelance copywriter and marketing consultant. He currently works as a communications manager for a major UK publishing company and is the author of The Freelance Designer's Self-Marketing Handbook and 100 Copywriting Tips for Designers and Other Freelance Artists.