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Whether he was writing copy for direct mail or print advertising, advertising legend David Ogilvy had some tricks up his sleeve that worked well for influencing people to buy the product he was selling. These seven techniques can work for any kind of promotional writing today, offline or online and will help you write more effectively and get a bigger response.
Related: 8 Laws for Writing Copy That Sells
1. Readers read ads as individuals, usually while they’re by themselves. So don’t address them as though they were a crowd in a stadium. It makes you seem cold and distant, when your aim is to be seen as a trusted friend. It also makes the reader’s attention flag. As you write your copy, think about the one person you’re “talking” to. Pretend you’re in a one-on-one conversation with that single reader, presenting information on what you’re offering, “one human being to another, and second person singular.”
2. You can’t bore people into doing what you want them to do. You can only interest them into doing it. So hold their interest by writing short sentences arranged in brief paragraphs. Don’t use difficult words. If you’re not sure whether a word is too difficult for the average person, Ogilvy suggested you take a bus trip to Iowa, talk to a farmer for a week, then come back by train and talk to your fellow passengers. And then, at the end of that time, see if you still want to use that word. There may be something dated in the way Ogilvy described this fact-finding adventure, but the advice is still valuable today. Listen to the people you want to appeal to, and then address them in language they understand and can relate to.
3. Don’t write essays. That means don’t wax philosophic or get too theoretical. Your copy should tell your readers exactly what your product or service will do for them and how it will improve their lives. Make sure your copy is filled with specifics that make it easy for readers to picture how they’ll personally benefit from using what you’re offering them.
4. It’s always a great advantage to be able to write copy in the form of a story. An example Ogilvy gave was the hugely popular ad for Zippo lighters that used the headline: "The Amazing Story of a Zippo That Worked After Being Taken from the Belly of a Fish."
And, of course, there’s that classic John Caples ad with the headline: "They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano But When I Started to Play!"
Not only do stories like these grab your prospects’ interest, but people also remember stories, which can carry the influence of the ad (or the website copy or the blog) beyond the initial reading. Just make sure there’s a strong connection between the story and the product so that remembering the story automatically brings up an image of the product.
5. Avoid using analogies and superlatives. People often misunderstand analogies, especially if you don’t have their undivided attention. For example, if you show a picture of a Rembrandt and say, “Just as a Rembrandt portrait is a masterpiece, so too is our product,” many readers will think you’re selling Rembrandt prints. If they’re not interested in buying a Rembrandt, they may not even read the rest of the piece. And superlatives (“We’re simply the best in the world!”) convince nobody.
6. If you have testimonials from happy customers, be sure to include them. Many great ads are built around a heartfelt testimonial, but be careful because testimonials from celebrities have been known to backfire. People will often remember the celebrity but forget the product. If you get a great testimonial from someone similar to your target audience, it can do a good job of strengthening your sales pitch.
7. In general, longer copy is more effective than shorter copy. Split-run tests invariably find that longer copy outsells shorter copy. But again, you must make sure the copy is interesting or no one will read it.
Ogilvy was a master copywriter with many successful campaigns, so if you’re looking to judge the quality of the marketing information you’re about to send out, be sure to look at it from the perspective of his advice. Ultimately, however, the final determination of the quality of your copy is how well it sells your product to your target audience, and you’ll only know that once you get it out into the marketplace.