Wednesday 6 March 2019

The experts speak: five writing tips from the latest edition of 'The Copy Book'

This may be a book about advertising copy, but there’s no shortage of great copywriting tips contained within its pages. We’ve pulled out our favourite five.

1. Make an emotional connection

Your job is to forge an emotional connection that motivates people to engage with a brand. John Bevins, founder of John Bevins Pty. Limited, advises us to find your brand’s truth, then connect it in your own way to an essential human truth. Ask yourself; is it honest? Reliable? Amusing? Trustworthy? These are some of the main emotional hooks when it comes to copy.

Brand advertising should explain you, to you. Writing shouldn’t sound like it’s about your product: it should sound like it’s about the reader’s life. So use your own life experiences to animate your copy. Lead with an insight into an everyday human issue your consumer might face.

To pull this off, your tone needs to sound like the audience’s in real life. And to be distinctive, you need an attitude.

Charles Saatchi once said that you must find the right tone and stick with it. Own that attitude, and people will start associating your brand with certain emotions.

Surprisingly insightful: The Economist ToV

2. Grab your audience’s attention immediately

Don’t spend time clearing your throat. Sometimes the opening line of your body copy can be even more important than the headline – the best stories don’t hook you with their title, but with their introduction. Ensure you start as you mean to go on, and the consumer will stay for the ride.

Attention, interest, desire, action

3. Be relentless - ‘good’ ideas come to the dedicated

Generate lots of ideas. That means research. More research. Edits. More edits.

Achieve good ideas through the sheer act of doing. Dig relentlessly for nuggets in the most unlikely of places until you’re blue in the face. Once you start writing, you’ll be fine. It’s the bit before that kills you.

Be prepared to rewrite. The late David Abbott, copywriting legend and co-founder of AMV BBDO, would rework a headline 50 or 60 times before he was happy with it. Each one he'd read it out in a mid-Atlantic voice to check it flowed. Try writing a headline for all the words in the thesaurus relating to the product. Collect inspiration constantly. And then, for goodness sake, get soemone to proofraed your work.

4. Keep it simple

A headline that needs a subheader needs more work. The Copy Book’s Jim Durfee and Malcolm Gluck champion the phrase “kill your darlings”. It means getting rid of the things you love most - perhaps too many puns, or rhyming. Keep it simple and straight talking. Nobody liked lectures at school, so leave them there and don’t draw out your copy. After all, there’s no room for wasting time anymore.

Copy is being squashed into a corner, and crafting long copy has become less of a requirement. Write short sentences; use shorter words, and fewer adjectives. Today, the beauty of copy is in the simplicity. Mike Boles tells us “don’t be afraid to use no words”.

Ad copy hasn’t got long to make an impression these days

5. Create a suitable work environment

Most writers like a quiet spot. If you work in an agency, this can be tricky. Sean Doyle recommends getting into work early. ‘Psychologically, physically, literally, you’ve got a head start on others.’ There’s no noise. Agencies seem like a different planet when they’re empty.

And don’t feel you have to stay put in an office or at home. Environments change over time, but changing your own environment is instantaneous. Dan Germain of Innocent recommends taking a train or a plane somewhere. Not being anywhere helps him to write. Get outside and stare at the sky. Remember how little you matter, and perhaps it’ll take the strain from your writing.

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