How To Write Better Ad Copy

by J. F. (Jim) Straw

How do you write good ad copy? Not by copying other people's ads.

Nearly 20 years ago, I was a guest panelist at a seminar about “Writing for Profit.” All day long, the speakers told the attendees all about how to submit their written works to editors and publishers: what to expect in a publisher’s contract, how to prepare a writer’s proposal, primarily focusing on how to “sell” what the attendees had written.

At the end of the seminar, a panel of five “successful writers,” including me, was introduced with a list of each writer’s works and their individual accomplishments given.

The first few questions from the audience were nothing more than a rehash of some of the information provided during the day. Then, a young man stood-up in the back and said, “All day long, you’ve been telling us how to sell our written works. But how do you learn how to write to begin with?”

After the other panelists finished recommending English composition classes, espousing the merits of good grammar and syntax, and advising him to “just keep writing, you’ll get better,” it was my turn.

My answer was, as usual, short and to the point: “Read!”

Then, I had to explain what I meant.

If you want to be a Science Fiction writer, read every science fiction short story and novel you can find. Immerse yourself in the type of writing you want to do. Spend 80% of your time reading and 20% of your time writing “sequels” to the stories you have read.

Today, the young man who asked the question is a highly-paid writer with a host of articles and books to his credit. Last time I spoke to him, he thanked me again for my simple advice.

With that said, I am now going to answer those of you who have persisted in asking me...



How To Write Better Ad-Copy

Right now, you’re probably thinking, “Now he’s gonna tell us to read all the books we can find on copywriting.”

Wrong, paperback-breathe! The first thing I’m gonna tell you is, after you’ve read all those copywriting books for general knowledge, like learning English composition, grammar and syntax, throw away those books and...

Read The Ads!

That’s right. If you are going to write an ad to sell your “fancy-dancy fishhooks,” gather together every ad you can find that offers fishhooks, fishing lures, fishing poles, or, even, fishing boats. Read them, reread them, and read them some more. Don’t even try to do any writing. Just read the ads!

Again, you’re probably thinking, “That’s old hat. Everybody tells us to keep a swipe-file of ads offering products similar to our own, then use those ads to write our own ads.”

Wrong, again, copycat-litter-breathe! If you only use your swipe-file to makeup copycat ads, you will be committing...

The Biggest Mistake Made By Beginning Ad Copywriters!

Unfortunately, most beginning ad-copywriters take a successful ad offering a product similar to their own and simply change a few words in the headline, rewrite and rearrange the paragraphs, maybe put in an extra “bonus” of some kind, and try to use it to sell their product.

Think about it! That would be like copying “Moby Dick” by changing the whale to a great-white buffalo, moving the action from the ocean to the great plkains and making Captain Ahab a Buffalo Hunter with a missing arm. (Don’t laugh. It’s been done... starring Charles Bronson, if memory serves.) No matter how well done, it would still only be an imperfect imitation.

In the business opportunity field, one of the most successful ads of all time was Joe Karbo’s “Lazy Man’s Way To Riches” ad. Can you imagine how many times that ad has been adapted, rearranged and enhanced to sell someone else’s opportunity information? Some of the adaptations may have had some success but, just a few weeks before he died, Joe Karbo himself lamented to me that none of his copycat-ads, copycatting his own ad, had ever been successful.

Do the same thing I told the young would-be writer to do to learn to write, spend 80% of your time “reading” ads offering products similar to your own. Then ...

Spend 20% of your time writing “sequels” to those ads.

The dictionary says a “sequel” is “A literary work complete in itself but continuing the narrative of an earlier work.”

Where most of the ads that just copycatted Joe Karbo’s “Lazy Man’s Way To Riches” ad were failures, or only had limited success, over the years I have written no less than five “sequel” ads that produced significant revenue for me. (One of them is the ad for my “How To STRIKE IT RICH” book.) I never tried to ‘copy’ Joe’s ad, just continued his narrative to a different conclusion: my product.

Use your swipe-file the same way. Read and reread those ads until you have a complete story of the similar products being sold. Set those ads aside and don’t even think about looking at them while you write your own ad. Don’t try to ‘copy’ the ads you’ve read...

Write a “sequel.”

Let your ad-copy continue from where the other ads ended.

If you aren’t happy with your first results, do it all over again, read the ads again, set them aside again and write your “sequel” again. Keep looking for more and more ads offering similar products to add to your story line, immerse yourself in those kinds of ads to the point of drowning in ad copy. Then, lay those ads aside and write your “sequel” ads.

As your “sequels” get better and better, your income will get bigger and bigger.

Now, I’m gonna tell you...

The Greatest Unwritten Secret to Successful Ad-Copywriting!

Although I have read literally thousands of books, booklets, reports and articles about ad-copywriting, I don’t recall ever reading the "secret" I am about to tell you.

When you write your “sequel” ads...

Use The Words In Your Ad To Attract The Kind Of Customers You Want To Keep

The best way to explain what I mean is by illustration. Here are two different headlines for an “opportunity” ad:

Earn $10,000 Per Month
Get $10,000 Per Month

It may appear, at first reading, that both headlines offer the same type of opportunity, but read them closely.

The first headline begins with the word “Earn.” To the reader, that means some “job” or “work” must be performed in order to “earn” the $10,000 promised.

Compare that to the second headline which starts with the word “Get.” That leads the reader to believe that little, if any, “work” is involved in “getting” the $10,000.

Believe it or don’t. The readers don’t even realize that they are making that subtle distinction. Their reaction to the headline is ingrained in their “subconscious.”

Using the word “Earn” you will attract the kind of customers who don’t have a subconscious aversion to work. Using the word “Get” you will attract more people who are looking for something for nothing by “getting” their share of the “free lunch” that might just exist.

Which brings me to an observation about ...

Ad Copywriting Books

Over the past 20 years, I have watched an ever-increasing proliferation of books about ad-copywriting. Unfortunately, all too many of those books are just compiled from older, well-written books on the subject, but with one BIG difference.

The compilers of those books believe that, in order to “sell” something, you have to “trick” the buyer into buying. So, they take legitimate advertising techniques and read into them an implied deception. In effect, the assorted fools who compile books corrupting viable advertising principals lend credence to the journalistic attitude that advertising, by its very nature, is evil.

Although I am adamantly opposed to book burning, any book about ad-writing that espouses any use of misleading words, deceptive phrasing, fictitious or nebulous testimonials, meaningless hype, or the egregious use of meritless guarantees belongs in your backyard incinerator, not in your business library.

If you have to “trick” your customers into buying from you, neither you nor your product deserve anything other than my contempt.

Copyright 2000 - PHLANDER Company.

J. F. (Jim) Straw is the publisher of the "Business Lyceum e-Letter" - a monthly "how-to" e-Letter Visit him at http://www.BusinessLyceum.com

 
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