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Borrowing Brilliance

A "swipe file" helps you generate good ideas.
- Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the July 2005 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

When you sit down to create a piece of advertising, the proverbial blank sheet of paper has been replaced by the blank document screen. But what still remains is the angst of what to write down that will resonate with prospects.

It's almost never easy. But don't make the job harder by just staring at the ceiling, trying to divine greatness. Use something to kick-start the creative process.

For many, that something is a swipe file--a collection of ads, direct mail, e-mail marketing letters and so on--that you clip and file because they grabbed your attention. They needn't be related to your own project. My swipe file is jammed with material on enterprise categories I've never worked on. I figure if they're catchy enough to stop me as I flip--or click--through editorial matter, they might one day trigger an attention-grabbing idea I can use. Author Edward Werz, in 1987's Letters That Sell, concurs that when you "review the file while thinking about [your project] . . . ideas will begin to flow fast and furiously."

This is not to advocate stealing words verbatim, even though the name suggests that. The idea is to fire up your own creativity by eyeballing other well-conceived ideas. And borrowing the kernel of another's concept--using other words--is no crime at all.


Jerry Fisher is a freelance advertising copywriter and author of Creating Successful Small Business Advertising.