Advertising Tips and Copywriting Basics

Updated on June 17, 2019
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Prachi is a freelance marketer and copywriter. She is actively involved in market research to help entrepreneurs with brand-building.

Advertising Versus Marketing

Before we get down to the practical aspects of advertising, we need to spend a little time looking at its role in the overall context of running a business.

This is important since as a copywriter you will be working almost entirely for businesses rather than private individuals. You must, therefore, have some understanding of how your work fits into 'the bigger picture' where your clients are concerned. And that means not only understanding how to create advertisements but also how your ads will fit into the business plans and strategies of the companies you work for.

Advertising aims to attract customers to a business and generate revenue in the form of sales. But advertising alone can never guarantee this. To see why that is so, we need to look at the larger concept of marketing, of which advertising is just a part.

In many people's minds, marketing is no more than a fancy name for selling. But in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Advertising, selling and other promotional activities are important aspects of marketing, but they are only a part of what marketing is about. To understand this, it is useful to consider a definition from the Institute of Marketing (IOM):

Marketing is the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.

It is easy to fall into the trap of seeing a business in terms of the products and services it provides, with advertising as the means by which the business persuades people to buy. However, no amount of advertising can persuade people to buy products they neither want nor need.

Marketing, as shown by the IOM definition above, starts from quite a different perspective. It begins not with the products or services, but with customers, who have a range of requirements they want satisfied. Marketing involves identifying what these requirements are and satisfying them by meeting as many of these requirements as possible.

The IOM definition includes the word 'anticipating', and this is also important, as customers' requirements change over time. For example, in the UK and many other industrial nations, the average age of the population is rising. This suggests that the demand for products and services for the elderly (e.g. spectacles, sheltered housing) is likely to increase, while the demand for products and services for young people (e.g. toys, schools) may fall. The long-term survival of a business may depend on its anticipating trends such as these and adapting to them.

The marketing approach—which most businesses nowadays have adopted—emphasizes that the most important ingredient of any business is its customers. Marketing is, therefore, more than just a function within an organization. It is a way of thinking, an approach or attitude that pervades (or at any rate is meant to pervade) every aspect of the business, from purchasing and production to sales and distribution.

Marketing is described in the IOM definition as a management process, and this is especially relevant where (as is usually the case) the business employs staff. There is little value in a proprietor being marketing-aware if his employees, who deal with customers on a day-to-day basis, couldn't care less. In truly marketing-led organizations, every operation is directed towards identifying customers' needs and fulfilling them. In such organizations, staff training and management constantly inculcate the message that 'In this business, the customer is King'.

However, we should emphasize that the marketing approach does NOT mean trying to be all things to all people. The IOM definition includes one other keyword, 'profitably'. In other words, as well as identifying or anticipating a requirement and satisfying it, the company must be able to make a reasonable profit by doing so.

We have already said that marketing is a process which extends through every aspect of a business, from production, through advertising, to delivery of the product to the customer, and beyond. This process is sometimes referred to as The Marketing Mix. A popular model used to describe this is the Four Ps: Product, Price, Place, and Promotion.

1. Product

This is the actual product or service the company is selling. It has qualities such as as design, appearance, technical features, quality, reliability, brand name, and packaging. As noted earlier, it is a mistake to think that you can sell anything by advertising. The marketing approach emphasizes researching what customers want, then setting out to provide it. In particular, it emphasizes the importance of finding out the benefits customers want, then ensuring that the product or service provides them.

2. Price

This includes not only specific prices, but also any discounts, easy payment terms, trade-in allowances, and so on. Pricing is, of course, partly an economic decision—the price charged must normally cover all the company's costs and make a contribution towards its profits. Beyond this, however, pricing is a marketing factor, and will be influenced by such things as what competitors charge ('the going rate') and what the company considers the best price for generating the largest profits (selling a large number of items at a low price may be more profitable than selling a small number at a higher price, or vice versa).

Psychological factors can also come into play. One common marketing technique is to price just below a certain whole figure, e.g. $1.99 or $99. These prices look much cheaper, at first glance anyway than $2.00 or $100. On the other hand, there are dangers in goods appearing too cheap, especially if the quality is one of the main benefits the company is offering. People expect to pay a reasonable price for good products and may be suspicious if 'quality' goods are priced too cheaply.

3. Place

This relates to how products are transported from the producer to the end-user. Some businesses sell to wholesalers, who sell to retailers, who in turn finally sell to the actual consumers. Others sell direct to the public, perhaps via mail order advertising. Different methods are appropriate to different businesses, and every business has to decide the most appropriate channel of distribution for itself.

The place also relates to matters such as location and premises, and the number of competing businesses in the area. For retailers, in particular, having the right location is crucial. The main road shop will do more trade than one on a side street, even if it is only half the size. It is, therefore, better to have a small shop on the main road than a larger one on a side street – and even better to have a shop on the corner of two main roads! This is the reason you will almost never see a department store or branch of multiple shops on a side street. They are always on the main road, where thousands of people pass by every week. The store directors know it is worth paying the extra rent to secure a prime position.

4. Promotion

This is the activity which communicates knowledge of the product or service to its target customers by means of press advertising, personal selling, public relations, sales promotions, and so on. This is, of course, the aspect of marketing in which copywriters are principally involved. However, we hope our brief review of the marketing process has highlighted the fact that advertising is just one aspect of the overall picture. As a copywriter, your contribution is an important one, but cannot on its own guarantee success or profits for your clients. There are many aspects to marketing, and on occasion you may need to communicate (tactfully!) to a client that these other aspects (e.g. the product itself or the price) need attention as well, to ensure that their offer really does meet all their target customers' requirements.

The Purpose of Advertising

A simple definition of advertising is 'persuasive communication'. Most advertising aims to bring a product or service to the attention of potential customers, and persuade them – or start to persuade them – to buy. When spending money on advertising a company aims to recover its advertising costs and more – hopefully much more – from increased sales. Advertising is not a precise science, however, and results can never be guaranteed.

The alternative to advertising is to rely on word-of-mouth and personal recommendation to provide fresh customers. For some businesses, this can be sufficient on its own. Some independent financial advisers, for example, obtain new clients entirely via recommendations from existing ones. This can be a very effective – and cheap – way of generating new business for them. Another example might be a small building company that has enough work booked to keep them occupied for the next twelve months. There is little point in their advertising (now) because they will be unable to start any new jobs until the end of that time.

Most businesses, however, will need to advertise at least some of the time. And for this, they will need an advertising strategy. The key aim of their strategy will be to bring potential customers from a state of ignorance about the company's product or service to a desire to purchase it. It follows that advertising should:

  • Get customers' attention
  • Help them understand the product or service
  • Get them to believe in the benefits being offered
  • Make them want to buy
  • Get them to take action (e.g. fill in a coupon or make a phone call)
  • Improve the business's image and reputation

No single advertisement on its own can be expected to achieve all this. Rather, businesses have to use a mixture of forms of advertising over a period of time. The latter point is particularly important. People forget about adverts almost as soon as they have read them unless they happen to need the product or service in question at that particular moment. Most companies, therefore, if they use advertising at all, advertise regularly.

Regular advertising has other benefits as well. For one thing, if an individual sees an advertisement every week or month, the company name is more likely to come into his mind should he at some point have need of their services. For another, if a company advertises regularly, people will, in general, be more inclined to see the business as established and reliable, and unlikely to disappear overnight with their money. This is one reason you will sometimes see businesses advertising 'established 1954' (or whatever). It all helps give an impression of stability and reliability.

Companies have a huge range of choice over where to advertise. Some of the possibilities include:

  • Local newspapers
  • National newspapers
  • Consumer magazines
  • Trade magazines
  • TV
  • Radio
  • Cinema
  • Directories and Yearbooks
  • Handbills
  • Brochures
  • Inserts
  • Advertising cards
  • Posters
  • Direct mail
  • Exhibitions
  • Buses and coaches
  • Theatre and sports programs
  • Point-of-sale material
  • Packaging
  • Newsagents' windows
  • Websites
  • Email newsletters

The actual choice will depend on a range of factors, including the company's target audience and their total advertising budget. Companies will normally combine a number of different advertising methods to try to reach the largest possible proportion of their target market while keeping within their overall budget.

As a copywriter, your role will be to write advertising copy for a purpose determined by your clients in accordance with their advertising strategy. As we noted earlier, a good product or service meets the requirements of its target audience in as many ways as possible. Your task as a copywriter will, therefore, be to bring your client's offer to the attention of those it is designed for and demonstrate to them as clearly as possible the benefits of buying it. We will take a closer look now at how you can go about doing this.

The AIDA Principle

As you will discover, the world of advertising is crammed with acronyms, but perhaps the most important of all is AIDA. This is a four-point formula for creating any advertisement or sales letter. The formula originates from the 1920s, and the fact that it is still widely used today shows its power and adaptability.

AIDA stands for ATTENTION, INTEREST, DESIRE, ACTION. In other words, the

AIDA formula states that any advertisement should:

  • Attract ATTENTION
  • Arouse INTEREST
  • Stimulate the DESIRE to purchase
  • Prompt the reader to take ACTION

Let's look at this in a bit more detail:

1. Attract Attention

Before you can get anyone to buy from you, you have to get their attention. In an advert, a striking image can do this, but in most cases (and certainly in sales letters and websites) it is the headline that performs this function.

One of the best ways to create an attention-grabbing headline is to focus on a problem experienced by people in your target audience. In a display advertisement, this might lead to 'question' headlines such as:

  • Trouble sleeping?
  • Is your English letting you down?
  • Need a loan today?

You can also take the problem as reading and offer a solution. In the case of someone needing more money, possible headlines might include:

  • Make money from home
  • Become a well-paid driving instructor
  • Write a novel in 28 days

The advantage of both these approaches is that not only do they attract attention, but they also zero in on those people who are realistic prospects for the product or service the company is offering. This is something an image alone is unlikely to be able to do.

The first sentence or paragraph of an advertisement will often act as an attention-grabber as well, building on the impact of the headline. You need to engage your prospects not only intellectually but emotionally (as buying is not just an intellectual but an emotional decision). A common technique is to play on people's fears and show how the client's product can overcome them. For example, if you used the heading 'Trouble Sleeping?' you might begin the paragraph below, 'Statistics show that if you sleep poorly, you're three times more likely to fall sick, have an accident or get divorced... ' And then, of course, you would go on to reveal how your client's product can help the reader avoid this unpleasant scenario.

Going the other way and emphasizing the positive can also be very effective (and often better). So after the heading 'Write a Novel in 28 Days' you might continue, 'It's true! You really can write a novel in a month, and enjoy all the fun and satisfaction being a successful author brings...'

Either way, the headline and first piece of copy must grab the reader's attention, by highlighting the main benefit your client is offering, be it curing sleep problems, getting a loan, or finding a new way to earn money. It should also, as mentioned above, engage the prospect's emotions. As a copywriter, you will need to use powerful, attention-grabbing words that paint a picture in the reader's mind, and virtually forced him to read whatever comes next.

2. Arouse Interest

Having assured yourself of the prospect's attention, the next step is to gain his interest. To achieve this, your advertisement must answer the question, 'What's in this for me?' People buy products or services because of the benefits they think they will obtain from owning or using them. Examples of possible benefits include:

  • increase income
  • save money
  • be healthier
  • live longer
  • be more attractive
  • improve career prospects
  • raise self-esteem
  • outdo others ('snob value')
  • protect one's home and possessions

At this point, you need to spell out to your prospect the advantages of buying from your client. Help them justify their buying decision by providing information about the benefits they will enjoy, always linking this to their emotions. Reassure them that this is a sound, rational decision. You might also want to remind them of the negative consequences of not buying, again linking that to their emotions.

It's important not to take too long over this, or assume that once you have a reader's attention it's easy to keep it. Stay focused on your reader and what he wants and needs, and avoid simply listing the features of your client's product. Keep sentences and paragraphs short, and use bullets and subheadings to improve readability and emphasize the main points you want to get over.

3. Stimulate the Desire to Buy

Having aroused your prospect's interest, you must now stimulate his desire to buy. To do this, you must appeal to his emotions and get him excited. Your aim is to make your offer irresistible so that your client is (you hope) almost literally panting to place his order.

There are various ways you can do this. One very effective technique is to bring in real-life examples and case studies if you have them. But don't over-exaggerate or make things up, as this can seriously damage your client's reputation if it is discovered, and may also land you in hot water with the Advertising Standards Authority.

Testimonials, money-back guarantees, independent reviews, quotes from experts, official statistics and so on can also help reassure your prospect that your client's offer is genuine and the product or service really will meet their needs. This can all help stimulate the desire to buy.

4. Prompt the Reader to Take Action

At the end of the advertisement, you must include a clear call to action. Make it clear what the reader should do next: phone to place an order, visit your client's showroom, send for a free information pack, or whatever.

It is a good idea to give your reader a reason to act immediately. This may be a special discount for a limited period, or a free gift if they reply within 14 days. The aim is to get your prospect to respond now. If they decide to leave it for another day, there is a good chance that your offer will be forgotten about.

You can – and probably should - also appeal again to their emotions here. The sooner they order, the sooner they will be earning an extra income. Paint them a picture of all the benefits they will enjoy from this: a new car, luxury holidays abroad, first-class travel, and so on. Remind them too of the likely consequences of not taking action, such as having to cancel the family holiday, put off essential house repairs for another year, and so on.

Remember to be clear about exactly what action you want the reader to take, such as visit this website, click on that button, call this number. If you want them to buy, say so. If you want them to call, say so. Probably the worst mistake you can make as a copywriter is to leave the reader uncertain what he should do next.

5. Optional: Convince and Satisfy

The basic AIDA formula is sometimes extended. These are two of the most common adaptations:

AIDCA adds the C step, where 'C' stands for CONVINCE. This is really a reminder that, in these cynical times, it is very important to convince your prospect that the product or service really does work. As mentioned above, you can do this via case studies, testimonials, quotes from independent reviews, and so on.

AIDAS adds an 'S' at the end, which stands for SERVICE or SATISFACTION. The idea here is that once the customer has taken the desired action, they should be satisfied with the service they get so that they become repeat customers and recommend the service to others. As a copywriter this is largely out of your hands; though if you are writing for a website, you may need to ensure that once a customer has clicked to buy, he is taken to a suitable sales page.

The AIDA formula is not the whole answer to creating advertising copy, but it gives you a good framework for getting started. Next, however, we need to look at another concept we have already touched on, the importance of focusing on benefits rather than features. Or, to put it another way, why you must always try to 'sell the sizzle'...

Sell the Sizzle

'Sell the sizzle, not the steak' is a well-known saying in the advertising profession. What it means is that, rather than focusing on the features of the product (the steak), you should always try to focus on its benefits to the customer (the sizzle).

The adage also illustrates that, for your advertisement to sell successfully, you must paint a picture in your reader's mind. Fiction writers are frequently advised that they should 'show, not tell' and that advice applies with at least as much force to copywriters.

So in the case of our hypothetical steak, a good copywriter wouldn't waste much time describing its features (size, price, etc). Rather, he would aim to use words to paint a picture in the reader's mind of a fat, juicy steak sizzling on the grill, then being brought fresh to his table, accompanied by fried mushrooms, onion rings, French fries, and so on. The reader should almost be able to see that delicious steak in front of him, breathe its appetizing aroma, taste its warm juices on his tongue. Can you start to see now why 'sell the sizzle' is such a widely-quoted maxim for copywriters?

Of course, selling the sizzle isn't the whole story. It's an important principle, but it does beg the question of what makes a product or service attractive enough to a customer that they will want to buy it. Or, in other words...

Why Do People Buy?

There are really two separate questions here. First, why do people buy a product or service at all? And second, why do they buy from one particular supplier rather than their competitor?

So far as the second question is concerned, one of the most important considerations is, of course, price. Other things being equal, if the same product is available at a lower price from supplier A than supplier B, the customer will go to A every time. Even with highly price-sensitive products such as petrol, however, other considerations are frequently operating as well. For example, with the petrol purchaser, an equally important factor may be convenience (is the petrol station on his usual route to work?) Indeed, if the petrol is paid for by his employer, convenience may be much more important to him.

With a little thought, you will soon see that people may have a wide range of reasons for buying. Other than price, they may include:

  • Appearance (including color, shape, design, etc.)
  • Reliability
  • Quality
  • Performance
  • Delivery time
  • Safety
  • Reputation/recommendation of others
  • Convenience
  • Habit
  • And more

For your ads to be effective, you need to know–or intelligently guess–what a prospect's most important considerations are in deciding whether (and where) to buy. Getting this wrong can be costly. If, for example, a company's reputation for quality is a major factor in bringing customers to them, advertising that emphasizes the low cost of their services could have the opposite effect from what was intended, by implying to people that the company is going 'down market'. On the other hand, if your client's main selling point is that they are cheaper than their competitors, you emphasize other aspects of their offer at your peril.

A further point to remember is that the reasons people have for buying one product rather than another are not always the obvious, logical ones. Sometimes, even in trade and industrial markets, emotional factors come into play as well. These include such things as:

  • Wanting to be liked
  • Wanting to appear stylish
  • Wanting to appear decisive
  • Wanting to appear fashionable
  • Wanting to be different
  • Wanting to conform

Much of this comes down to one word – image. People buy a product or service not simply for its features, but for the image which goes with it. Ford cars, for example, have a safe, traditional image, while the image associated with Porsche is glamorous and exciting. People like to buy into a product which complements the image they have of themselves. If you are aiming to sell to young, professional people, for example, you may wish to present an image that is dynamic and thrusting. On the other hand, if you are aiming at older people, a friendly, traditional image may be more appropriate. Once you have a picture in your mind of the kind of people you hope to sell to, you will be much better placed to target your advertising at them. This is a topic we will return to in our next module.


Features Vs. Benefits

We have seen that people may have any of a wide range of reasons for making a purchase. In general, however, buying decisions are made because of the benefits customers think they will obtain from their purchase. Effective advertising, therefore, highlights the benefits the customer will enjoy through owning or using a product – rather than its features, which are mainly of interest to the manufacturer.

This is a very important distinction. Features are things you incorporate in your product or service, such as energy-saving controls or a five-year guarantee; benefits are the advantages that accrue for the customer as a result (lower power bills, added peace of mind). It is the benefits they will receive, rather than the features that are included, which will be uppermost in customers' minds when they are deciding what and where to buy. Always remember the five-word question that any reader will be thinking as they read your advertising copy: 'What's in this for me?'

How to Make Your Sales Copy 'FAB'

Sometimes it can be hard for newcomers to this profession to work out what is a feature and what is a benefit. The little acronym FAB can make this easier to understand.

FAB stands for Features, Advantages, Benefits. A feature, as mentioned above, is something you incorporate into a product or service. An advantage is what makes this feature superior. And a benefit is the difference that advantage makes to the reader's life. Here's an example:

This laptop includes a built-in webcam (FEATURE)

It allows you to make video phone calls via the Internet (ADVANTAGE)

You can see and talk to your loved ones even when you're away from home (BENEFIT)

A benefit is anything the reader perceives as valuable or worthwhile. If a reader can see that your client's product or service will offer him benefits, he is more likely to purchase it. The more benefits he can see in it – and the more important and relevant these benefits are to him personally – the greater the likelihood he will buy. Here are just a few possible benefits:

  • Make money
  • Become more attractive to the opposite sex
  • Save money
  • Lose weight
  • Overcome stress
  • Get a better job
  • Enjoy life more
  • Be respected
  • Get promoted
  • Enjoy a dream holiday
  • Beat arthritis
  • Improve your eyesight
  • Save time
  • Keep your family safe
  • Save your marriage
  • Improve your conversational skills
  • Pay off your debts
  • Help your children learn
  • Beat shyness
  • Sleep better

One test of whether something is a feature or a benefit is to put yourself in the shoes of a reader. If you can imagine him saying 'So what?' it is a feature. But if they would feel stupid saying 'So what?' you know that you are looking at a benefit.

A good exercise for learning to distinguish between features and benefits is to choose an everyday household object. Draw a line down the middle of a sheet of paper and in the left-hand column list the product's features. Once you have done this, turn each feature into a benefit in the right-hand column (think of the advantage that the feature offers, then translate this into how it would make the user's life easier). Here's an example using a rubber band.

No need to pay extra postage when you use it to keep papers together
You can insert as many items into the bundle as you need
Helps preserve natural resources
Available in bags of 200
Won't run out just as you need one
Won't scratch or damage your possessions
Choice of colours
Makes filing and retrieval easier
Long life
Will still be working in a year's time
Available in different sizes
Can be used with large items or small
Can be used with food products or next to your skin

Try this exercise yourself with one (or more) of the following items: a paperclip, a drawing pin, sticky tape, a stapler, a box of matches.

Be Specific

One other important aspect of selling benefits is that, wherever possible, you need to be specific. People today are (probably quite rightly) skeptical of the claims made by salesmen and copywriters. If you want to convince them to buy, it will help a lot if you can offer specific benefits.

So rather than 'Save money', a better headline for an advertisement might be 'Save $1,000 a year on your household bills'. Again, this really comes down to painting a picture in your reader's mind. 'Save money' is just a two-word phrase that your reader has seen thousands of times before. But if you say 'Save $1,000 a year on household bills', he can immediately visualize that $1,000 and what better uses he might be able to put it to. If you can achieve this, there is a much better chance he will go on to read the rest of your copy, and hopefully make a purchase.


'You Copy' Versus 'We Copy'

Effective advertising copy typically uses the word ‘you' and ‘your' a lot. And it uses the word 'we' (or 'us') and 'our' less often. Why should this be? Think about this question for a moment before you read on...

The answer is that this is yet another aspect of the importance of writing about benefits rather than features. Good copy focuses on the reader. It plays on his hopes and fears and shows him how the product or service in question will address them for him. It highlights the benefits the prospect will enjoy as a result of purchasing the product in question.

When you write about 'you', you are focusing on the reader. When you write about 'we' or 'us', however, the focus switches away from the prospect to the business itself. All of a sudden, you are talking about the features WE (the company) are providing rather than the benefits YOU (the prospect) will enjoy as a purchaser.

Obviously, you can't cut out the words 'we' or 'us' completely – for example, you may want to ask the prospect at the end to 'Phone us today' or such like. However, you should monitor your use of these terms carefully. A good test is to add up all the times you use the self-focused words 'I', 'me', 'we', 'us', 'our' and the business name, and compare this with the number of times you use the customer-focused words 'you' and 'your'.

You can then work out a customer-focus ratio using the formula below:

where C is the number of customer-focused words in the copy and S is the number of self-focused words.

So if you use 30 customer-focused words and 20 self-focused words, the ratio is 30/50 x 100 = 60%. As a general guide, the ratio of customer-focused to self-focused words should be at least 60% (and preferably 70%). If the figure is below 50%, your copy is too self-focused, and you need to rework it focusing more on benefits rather than features.


Another term you will often hear in copywriting circles is USP. This stands for either a unique selling point or unique selling proposition.

Strictly speaking, a USP is something offered by a business that none of their competitors offers (that's what makes it 'unique', of course). For example, Domino's Pizza had the following genuine USP when it launched:

You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less – or it's free.

Of course, nowadays many other pizza delivery companies also offer this, which means it is no longer unique. And that is really the problem with the USP concept: if a benefit is genuinely unique (and attractive to customers), in a very short time a company's competitors will usually adopt it as well.

Nowadays the term USP is normally used to refer to the key benefit a company is offering through its advertising in an attempt to differentiate it from its competitors. Generally speaking, your client will tell you what this is in his brief – you won't be expected to invent it yourself. In many cases, the USP will be based on the client's brand or slogan and may have been developed over many years of advertising. Some well-known products that have clearly-defined USPs include the following:

  • Head & Shoulders shampoo - Get rid of dandruff
  • Olay - Get younger-looking skin
  • M&Ms - Melt in your mouth, not in your hand
  • Ronseal - Does exactly what it says on the tin

Of course, none of these is strictly speaking a 'unique' benefit – many other shampoos will get rid of dandruff, for example, and any product you buy should do what it says on the label. What you are really talking about here are the key sales points a client wants to be emphasized in his advertising; and, indeed, you will find that sometimes clients use the terms 'benefit' and 'USP' interchangeably. There's no doubt this can get confusing at times. But at least if a client starts talking to you about his company's USPs now, you will know (more or less) what he means by this.


The WAYS Principle

WAYS stands for Write As You Speak. It is not as well known as some of the other acronyms we have discussed here, but we believe that it is just as important.

A lot of writers (and we're not just talking about copywriters here) appear to believe that written English has to be presented in quite a different way from the spoken version. So they make a point of using long, 'difficult' words they would never use in speech and write in convoluted sentences and paragraphs that require effort and concentration to understand.

But here's the news. The average reader doesn't want to be dazzled by your literary style, amazed by your massive vocabulary, or stunned by your daring experiments in syntax (sentence construction). Rather, he wants to know the facts you have to impart (in the case of non-fiction) or to immerse himself in your story (in the case of novels and screenplays). In each case, a simple, conversational style is by far the best way of giving him what he wants.

And this applies with particular force in copywriting. You have literally only seconds to grab your prospect's attention and ensure that he keeps on reading. If your copy is difficult or off-putting on first reading, most prospects will go no further. A simple, conversational style is by far the most likely to draw them in and keep them reading.

Writing in a conversational style is important in another respect as well. In copywriting, as we have emphasized throughout this module, you must bear in mind all the time the unspoken question, 'What's in this for me?' It's important that your copy works from the reader's perspective. It must address his concerns, show him the benefits he will enjoy as a purchaser, engage his emotions and paint pictures in his mind. And by far the best way to achieve this is to talk to the prospect one to one, as though you are having a friendly conversation with him.

Of course, this ties in very much with our discussion of 'you copy' and 'we copy'. 'You copy' is, almost by definition, conversational in tone and directed personally at the reader. 'We copy', by contrast, is the language of news stories and propaganda. It has its place – but that place is not, in most cases, ineffective sales copy.

How to make your copy conversational in tone is a topic we will examine in more detail later in the course. We should perhaps add, though, that we are not suggesting you should write exactly as you speak in real life. Most of us, when speaking off the cuff, are guilty of repeating ourselves and using um's and ah's and throat-clearing expressions such as 'you know' or 'as I say' to buy a little thinking time. And, of course, we use the first words that come to mind, which aren't always the best ones for the meaning we want to express.

So what we are really saying here is that you should write as you speak, but without the repetitions, redundancies and imprecisions most casual conversations entail. So maybe instead of 'Write as you speak' we should say, 'Write as you would ideally speak'. But of course, that wouldn't create nearly as memorable an acronym!


We discussed advertising and in particular its role in the so-called Marketing Mix, the combination of factors by which companies attempt to generate profits. We went on to discuss a number of fundamental principles that all advertising copywriters must be aware of. These included the all-important AIDA guideline, and why copywriters must try to 'sell the sizzle'. We looked at the crucial differences between features and benefits and revealed the FAB formula for turning features into benefits in your copy. The module examined the difference between 'you copy' and 'we copy', and set out a formula you can use to check if you are getting this balance right. We discussed the meaning of the term USP and emphasized the value of being specific in your copywriting. And finally, we discussed the WAYS principle, otherwise known as Write As You Speak.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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