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The Secret to Writing Fantastic Copy

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I’ve chosen this title deliberately – with a sense of great irony. Perhaps you’ve been lured here in the hope of finding tips to help you in your quest to become an A-list blogger. You saw the title and couldn’t resist. You want the tips and tricks that will send the masses to your blog. Well – don’t worry. I really will give you the secret to writing fantastic copy, but perhaps not in a way you expect. If I’m successful, you’ll know as much as anyone needs to know about writing good copy – but you’ll not want to use it. The essence of the secret itself will make you want to throw it away – and hopefully make you yearn for something deeper, something more profound.

The philosopher Wittgenstein is famous for offering a ladder of thought to his readers that he hoped they would climb and then throw away. This is a somewhat more modest attempt at the same.

So then – let’s begin. Fantastic Copy – here it comes.

The Title

First point you might be asking – why did I put so much thought into the title? Why did I rely on it so much to lure you here? Well that’s the first secret to fantastic copy: your choice of title. Brian Clark’s post over at copyblogger.com is to the point:

Your headline is a promise to prospective readers. Its job is to clearly communicate the benefit that you will deliver to the reader in exchange for their valuable time.

He goes on to argue that this is the reason why you should write your titles first. It forces you to make a promise and then deliver. But of course, this is not all you should consider when writing your title. It has to do a whole lot more than just make a promise. It has to grab the reader’s attention – totally captivate them at a glance and make them click that link. If that sounds too hard – don’t worry. Brian breaks it all down for us and gives us a set of templates to use for our titles. Some examples include:

The Lazy [blank�s] Way to [blank].

See How Easily You Can [desirable result].

Little Known Ways to [blank]

From: 10 Sure-Fire Headline Formulas That Work

As a matter of fact, I chose one of his templates for my headline. And see how effective it was? See how you couldn’t help yourself? But of course, Brian himself doesn’t have to expend himself in such a flurry of creativity – he sticks to his staple of the ‘how-to [blank]‘ and the ‘(5,7,10)ways to [blank]‘ templates. Take a look at his popular post list. It’s full of them.

He uses them because they work. And there’s no doubt that they do. I used the list headline template for my post on puzzles and paradoxes and as I write it’s currently sitting on the front page of delicious.com. But why do these sorts of headlines work? Brian explains:

The crazy thing about the popularity of �how to??? content is the fact that people don�t really want to learn how to do anything else.

They�ve got plenty to do already, thank you.

But it�s exactly due to the crazy busy lives we lead that prompts us to seek out tips, tricks, and methods to make things better, easier, and ultimately happier for ourselves. Focusing on the �better, easier, and happier??? is the key to great �how to??? headlines and content.

Notice the totally sceptical view of people contained in this quote? People don’t want to learn how to do anything else… is that right?

Well – now we’re getting to the heart of ‘the secret’.

What is Copy?

Let’s step back here for a moment and ask ourselves the question. What exactly is copy? Why do they call it ‘copy’? Well – ‘copy’ is content written by marketers. What’s the difference? Content is written by people whose main concern is to get across an idea or concept. Copy is written by those whose main concern is to manipulate you by appealing to your emotions and your innermost desires – manipulation that is motivated to drive traffic and sell products.

It’s funny that I should try to be finding information on how to write well and I find the internet absolutely awash with information about how to write good copy instead. While I was reading I kept thinking to myself – what’s all this about ‘copy’? Surely they just mean ‘writing’ right? Not at all. It’s almost a science in itself – how they can structure content in a way that panders to your emotional habituations. Every element of the presentation is dissected and re-cast in terms of the formula. Our friend Brian instructs us on the next most important part of the process – the first paragraph:

What�s the second most important part of your blog post after the title?

Master copywriter Eugene Schwartz often spent an entire week on the first 50 words of a sales piece � the headline and the opening paragraph.

From: 5 Simple Ways to Open Your Blog Post With a Bang

Predictably he then goes on to give us 5 formulaic ways to go about it. Remember the opening paragraph of this article? I didn’t spend as long on it as master copywriter Eugene Schwartz – but I did put some effort into it. The technique I used isn’t on Brian’s list – but I’m sure it would be considered worthy in any copywriting handbook – I tried to pique your curiosity. I’m promising to give you something unexpected, magical and precious. It was a little over the top and pretentious – but that was on purpose to make my point. Don’t worry – I still intend to deliver.

The point I’m getting at here is the general technique used in copywriting – the manipulation of desires and emotions. This has been the bread and butter of all marketing for generations. Copywriting is simply the application of that process to the art of writing.

Russell Kern explains the basic philosophy behind this – before I quote him however. Let me introduce you to his ‘success pyramid’.

Given the colour scheme and the purpose behind it – I prefer to think of it as a “Manipulate Your Audience Rainbow”. Mind you, I should in all fairness acknowledge that I should have no problems with many of the aspects of the rainbow. I’ve got nothing against things being informative or insightful. I don’t have anything against writing that is emotional for that matter. I show it here as Russell refers to it in this following quote:

We know from the study of psychology that humans typically act on their emotions while using logic to justify their behavior. This is a fundamental concept of brand advertising. For example, consumers buy Mercedes Benz automobiles for the prestige they confer, while pointing to the vehicles� superior engineering and safety to justify the purchase. We also know that humans always want to move from pain to pleasure. With all this in mind, let�s examine the second row of our pyramid, which focuses on tying into your target�s emotions and logic.

What disturbs me is the totally cynical view of human nature and the blatant admission of their desire to exploit it. Same goes for Brian above where he claims people aren’t interested in learning new things – but want to feel like they are.

And so we come to the true secret of fantastic copy – precisely as I’ve just stated it: a cynical view of human nature and a desire to exploit it. That is it’s heart and soul – as it’s the heart and soul of all marketing. Write with this in mind and there is no doubt you’ll rise to the heights of blogging success… and if you don’t believe me – then remember the rainbow!

The Cancer Spreads

So I’ve given you the secret – but certainly not in the way you expected. I hope that you are already deterred at least to some degree in your desire to become a copywriter of fantastic ability. But if the secret in itself doesn’t have enough intuitive force to keep you away, consider where all this is headed.

Despite the persistent effectiveness of the marketing process in our daily lives – still there was at least a kind of oppositional spirit within us all. It was the corporations who treated us in this way, corporations run by greedy executives that lived in mansions far away. It was the ‘they’ that followed the marketing messages – it was never ‘us’. We still had each other – we still remained immune and free. At least this was how it was in our hearts. The statistics and the flow of money to the marketers proved otherwise – but that was never the point. We never consciously opted into the game the corporations played with us.

But times have changed. It’s not just the corporations that control the media any more. It’s us. In our millions we’ve taken to our blogs to lodge our voices with the grand community of the world. We’ve monetised those blogs with adsense – we’ve sold our positive opinion for coin (the various review-me marketplaces that are springing up). And we’ve turned to the copywriters to tell us how to do it all the more effectively.

It’s no surprise then that Brians blog – Copyblogger – should be so popular. And it’s no surprise that the front pages of Digg, reddit and the like are being swamped by titles that match his formulae. We’ve learnt the rules of the game that the corporations for so long used on us – and we’re using them with just as much ruthlessness…. on ourselves.

There can be no innocense in this. None at all. We have to be clear about just what we’re giving up by entering into this game. We’re giving up belief in authentic – heartfelt expression. But we’re also condeming ourselves to dull, repetitive, formulaic content… that in time (once the rules become as familiar as the words that are framed by them) – will not be able to inform, inspire or delight. We’re already subjected to it in the cinema – we get given the same movies over and over and over… now we’re heading to a blogosphere that dishes it up to itself – endlessly.

Still want to write fantastic copy?

I’ve been quite candid about my use of these technique in this post. I made a promise with my title and I delivered. But I hope I’ve also given you more – as I also promised. I used these techniques – I made you climb the ladder – in the hope you’d see it for what it was and throw it away. Don’t leave here to write to a formula. Create something – make a real contribution. Inspire people with that which is unique and special to you. We all be a lot better for it.

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3 Comments

  1. Great post, Daniel.

    Posted on 14-Apr-07 at 4:51 am | Permalink
  2. Paul Turner wrote:

    Hear, hear!

    A thought…

    The “blogosphere”, as you so aptly put it, and the internet itself create an atmosphere of unprecedented instant intimacy with strangers around the world, something we struggle with enough within the snail-paced, limited, face-to-face encounters of our day-today non-wired existence. You think, feel it, imagine it and with a few keystrokes, blog it …to the faceless world. If we fear rejection in the relatively few interactions of our normal lives, imagine the insecurities and fear of rejection implicit in blogging where we are greatly more candid with our thoughts and to an exponentially vaster audience. Now imagine no-one clicks over to read that love-child, your blog. You’ve spilt your guts and been ignored, unnoticed, disregarded, deemed uninteresting or at least, unenticing…The formulaic, exploitive marketing tips and tricks to lure visitors are inevitably going to be highly tempting tools to seize and utilize in defense of your self-esteem…

    To my mind, it takes a certain kind of courage to shun those popularity quick-fixes. Here’s hoping that there will always be more than a few bloggers out there who make a point of letting their content speak for itself.

    Posted on 02-May-07 at 11:39 pm | Permalink
  3. admin wrote:

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head Paul – at least when it comes to looking at the motivation of the blogger. Beyond that there is also that dim hope for many that the blog may be a means to independence – of a sort – from various humdrum situations (boring jobs most of all).

    I guess for those who are using blogging as a way out of their current situation – the questions is whether adopting such a formulaic, souless approach is really an ‘out’ at all… or if they are just locking themselves into more humdrum. I know what I think.

    Posted on 03-May-07 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

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