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Who reads copy, anyway?

Copy is king. We’re seeing lots of emphasis on images these days. Facebook is full of pictures (though most of them need to have text on them to make sense of them). Pinterest and Instagram are all the rage. And we haven’t forgotten about Flickr. It seems as if our culture has suddenly grasped the power of pictures. But at the end of the day, copy is still king.

Copy alone, even with no graphics or music to embellish it, can have a huge impact. It can make you laugh out loud. It can bring tears of sorrow. It can make you pick up the phone and dial a number with your credit card in hand. Good copy interrupts whatever thought process you were involved in and holds you spellbound. Good copy anticipates questions and objections, raising and answering them before you even thought of them. Good copy sells.

Good copy is hard to write.

Who reads copy? I often hear people say they never read copy. Sometimes they’ll say this while holding a newspaper or magazine! They read books, don’t they? You’re reading this. One of the world’s greatest advertising and copywriting gurus, David Ogilvy, liked to point out that anyone will read an entire page of copy if it matters to them. If your name is Jane Doe and you saw the headline, “This Ad is All About Jane Doe” you would likely read every word.

What matters is not how much copy there is, but how relevant it is to you and how well it’s written.

If you recently bought a car, you probably won’t notice most car ads. But if you’re trying to decide between two models, chances are you can’t find enough information to help you make the final decision. Ogilvy says, “you can’t bore people into buying your product. You can only interest them in buying it.”

So how do you create interesting copy? Here are a few tips.

Present a powerful headline or audio/visual impact

84% of the effectiveness of any ad is that initial two-second impression that keeps people on the page or channel. Remember to mix a bent headline with a straight picture, or a bent picture with a straight headline. Never use both a bent picture and a bent headline together.

Tell a story

Some people think this approach is no longer fashionable. Nonsense. Stories are more important than they’ve ever been. People always have and always will respond to stories. There’s something in how we’re built that makes us love storytelling.

Talk to one person at a time

The word “you” is so important in advertising. As much as you think you’re talking to a large target audience, you can’t appeal to a group. People read copy one person at a time. Even in television or video you can communicate to each individual by showing that you understand their unique feelings about a subject. Write your copy as if you are talking to one person, with nobody else around.

Forget comparisons with other products

Comparing your product or service with something else that the reader or viewer understands is fine, but don’t compare against a competing product. This will only confuse people and may end up elevating the competitor instead of your client. And be very careful with silly metaphors. We’ve grown past that and they rarely work anymore.

Be careful who represents you

Testimonials are great, but they work best if they come from the person next door, not some celebrity. Especially if that celebrity does something unseemly. We’ve all seen plenty of examples of that lately, haven’t we?

Don’t be clever for the sake of being clever

Most attempts to write clever ads are embarrassing failures. Clever or funny ads are very difficult to write in a way that makes them effective.

Try not to make your ad look like an ad

That seems obvious, but way too many people don’t get this. The reason a person is reading a newspaper or magazine or online article is because of the content they paid for (even if they didn’t pay for it). The more your ad fits in with that content the more effective it’s likely to be. And don’t apologize for being an ad, either. If your ad is relevant and meaningful, what’s there to apologize for?

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George Pytlik

George Pytlik has been involved in the advertising industry for over 30 years and designed his first website when the Internet was one year old. He was an internationally recognized speaker on advertising and branding and served on a number of communication committees at various times throughout his career, as well as writing a regular column for Marketing magazine.

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