Mary writes copy for a wide range of clients and their products. She has a Masters' degree in English literature and is a prolific blogger.
Tempting the World With Words
Writing an advertisement, that is, using your word power to connect with people, the public or other businesses, and persuading them to part with money, is a balancing act, akin to an art.
You want to convey to your prospects the wonders of your product or service.
You want to fill your copy with enough emotion to arouse curiosity, and the right degree of technical nous to convince them of your expertise, and with sufficient persuasion to nudge the subject into action, but you do not want to sound smug, glib or gushy.
Supposing you want to tempt the paying public to purchase your wonderful, homemade hamburgers? A hungry crowd will always buy fresh, well-cooked food, of course, but supposing that you are running a stall in the High Street, and anxious for your burgers to stand out in contrast against the myriad of other, similar products on offer?
A Tale of Two Copies
Compare and contrast these two copies:
Our vegetarian and organic and additive-free burgers are served between two pieces of bread, baked in a low-energy oven. All ingredients are homegrown and our own workers have made the sauces. We serve them in biodegradable cartons with knives and forks that will not litter the environment. Come and taste today.
Sink your teeth into one of our tasty burgers, served in a freshly-baked bun and busting with our tongue-tingling, super-special sauce. We combine organic, homegrown ingredients to bring you the tastiest meals, straight from our low-energy kitchen. So, vanquish your hunger: Get online and order your favourite, flavoursome burger now.
On the surface, the advertisements are similar. Both contain the same number of words (50) and both are advertising the same product, vegetarian burgers made of organically-grown ingredients, cooked on premises and ordered online. But take a closer look at the language in Copy One.
Analysis of Copy One
“Our vegetarian and organic and additive-free burgers…”
Naturally, you want to put as much information as possible into your copy. But the gushy language and irrelevant nature of this text will alienate rather than engage, the hungry people.
“served between two pieces of bread, baked in a low-energy oven”
You would expect to find a burger between two pieces of bread, which has been baked in an oven – so why spell it out? And the low-energy clause is snide rather than informative. Like the gushy opening of the copy, it is showing off production technicalities rather than tempting customers to buy the food.
“All ingredients are home-grown and our own workers have made the sauces.”
In an attempt to sound folksy and grassroots, the copy comes across as smug and self-serving. A hungry customer will care little for the origin of the ingredients, nor the identity of the sauce makers.
“We serve them in biodegradable cartons with knives and forks that will not litter the environment.”
In these days of eco-awareness, it is tempting to lace advertising copy with details that merely mark you out as politically savvy, rather than paying attention to the quality of the product. Cartons, knives and forks won’t litter the environment if patrons place them respectfully in a trashcan – why make this responsibility yours?
“Come and taste today.”
A call-to-action is the usual way to wind up a piece of copy. But why tell customers to do the obvious; if they buy the burgers, they will taste them anyway. A call-to-action should deliver information on how to access the product – see the analysis of Copy Two.
Analysis of Copy Two
“Sink your teeth into one of our tasty burgers…”
In contrast to Copy One, the call-to-action is direct and immediate.
“served in a freshly-baked bun and busting with our tongue-tingling, super-special sauce..”
Here, the copywriter is appealing to the senses; you can almost smell the freshly-baked bread and taste the sauce. Note the alliteration in the text.
“We combine organic, home-grown ingredients to bring you the tastiest meals”
Now that you have engaged the attention of the customer, it is time to bring on board the details that will appeal to food purists “organic, home-grown ingredients” and the simply hungry “bring you the tastiest meals”.
“Straight from our low-energy kitchen…”
“Straight from” implies that the food is freshly cooked. And you can afford to play with environmental purism “low-energy kitchen” a little, once you have presented the significant details of the product.
“So, vanquish your hunger”
Repeating the call-to-action is always a good idea. Take note of the military connotations of “vanquish”.
“Get online and order your favourite, flavoursome burger now.”
I present the call-to-action once more and this time, it contains information on how to access the product. Here, you can substitute “get online” with a telephone number or a street address – or on the exterior of a premises or food van “take away today”. Compare this direct, dynamic appeal with the limp ending of Copy 1.
“Your favourite, flavoursome burger”
Here, I got lucky with two homonyms or similar-sounding words, which fitted appropriately into the overall message of the copy.
If you (think you) cannot finish your advert on the right note, do not despair.
Ending your copy without sounding glib is an art, indeed.
Some business owners practise for years, without ever hitting the mark.
Other business folk sound professional from day one.
The rule of thumb is that if the reader is interested enough to read through to the call to action, then a less-than-scintillating ending shouldn’t matter too much.
Copy One is an extreme example of poor advertising, of course, but even good advertisements often betray these flaws.
Points to Remember
Decide upon the exact purpose of your advert
This might seem obvious, but whereas the writer of Copy Two is intent on selling hot and tasty food, the writer of Copy One seems more concerned with informing the world of his eco-friendly business – or something like that.
Address the reader directly
Both Copy One and Copy Two seem to address the reader, but take a closer look.
Copy One begins “Our vegetarian and organic and additive-free burgers…”
By opening with the pronoun “our”, the copy comes across as self-referential, and fails to excite curiosity.
In Copy Two, dynamic lexes such as “sink your teeth” and “tongue-tingling” makes the reader want to act, to do something, i.e., buy the burger, if only to find out if your claim is true.
Imbue your text with emotion
Phrases such as “sink your teeth” and “vanquish your hunger” (Copy Two) are written to play upon the senses of consumers. “Our own workers have made the sauces” in Copy One evokes the reaction: so what?
Use positive lexis
“Tasty burger,” “freshly-baked bun,” and “super-special sauce” are good examples of positive lexis. Compare these premodifiers with “additive-free burgers” in Copy One.
Suggest the product is unique
The public loves a hint of the arcane. You could, for example, add the word “secret” between “super-special” and “sauce” in Copy Two.
Use scientific language carefully
If you are advertising a technical product, then scientific language is imperative. Otherwise, move carefully. Phrases such as “low-energy” and “biodegradable” are fine to use, but only after you have engaged the attention of the public.
Do engage in word play
As I have explained, this craft takes practice. Unfortunately, the most original advertising jingle or pun becomes, over time, glib and hackneyed.
For example, I was tempted to write the word “flavourite” instead of the phrase “favourite, flavoursome”.
But I have seen that word used too often lately, in too many contexts. The same is true of non-standard spelling, the prime examples being “lite” and “nite” instead of “light” and “night”.
If you have thought of a terrific pun, or a new way of spelling a familiar word that you simply must use, then by all means do,
But be aware that other advertisers will almost certainly copy what you do.
And never, ever lose sight of what you want your copy to achieve, most likely to win customers, increase your sales’ base - and your revenues.
Starting Up: A step-by-step guide to establishing and running your own business
by Colin Barrow and Terry Gibbs, CENTEC, 1992.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: What is an Advertisement?
Answer: An advertisement is a piece of text, often combined with an image or imagery, displayed on media (billboards, webpages, newspapers) persuading the readership of the benefit of a product or products, and urging them to buy that product.
Mary Phelan (author) from London on January 11, 2019:
RTalloni on January 10, 2019:
Good stuff here. It's a journey to learn and stay focused when writing. This on writing advertisements is helpful info for any writer.