The 7 Principles of Copy That Sells
A short copywriting 101 on ad copy themes, features, and benefits
A short copywriting 101 on ad copy themes, features, and benefits
The unsung hero of marketing is strong ad copy. It’s deployed once but often forgotten. You may think sales are bad because you’re not putting out enough ads, but it could equally be lifeless ad copy; customers aren’t connecting for whatever reason. Whilst writing a product page for a new release I co-created, I got excited about the words that hit the page. I was sold like a customer would be, but I already owned it. That’s a sign of great copywriting.
We all know there’s more than one way to skin a cat, so in this article, I’ll give themes that I apply to help me write ad copy for every product I’m hired to launch.
You will need:
In every example here, I’m going to be selling a watch. That way you can see how to consistently apply a theme across the same product and how it will vary when applied to products you are marketing.
Making It Sound Bigger Than It Is
The first theme of good ad copy is to make a product sound more complicated than it is. By using synonyms via thesaurus.com you’ll over-indulge on expressive language.
Don’t call it a glow-in-the-dark watch, it’s a luminous absorption timepiece.
It’s not a digital watch, it’s a tactical time decoder.
The more adjectives you can throw in, the better.
Is it grey? Or is it gun-metal grey? You already know.
It is pink, or is it a hot coral? The answer’s obvious.
Think about turning boring sentences like “made from steel,” into sentences like “smooth, brushed-steel forged in a 4,000-degree fire.” Selling this way is like speaking simple French. If they can get the gist of what you’re saying it’s exotic and sexy. They’ll hang off your every word. If you make it too complicated, the product feels inaccessible or unsuitable in the buyer’s mind. It’s a delicate balancing act to get it right.
Making It Sound As Obvious as Possible
Lets pivot and talk about the opposite theme. Selling complicated products usually requires a way to make it sound obvious to potential customers.
“A2 milk that’s easier to digest for people who get upset stomachs from milk,” is a mouthful, excuse the pun.
Instead, you could make it as simple for people to grasp as possible.
“Milk… but easier to digest,” is a great tagline.
You now know what A2 milk is and what makes it different from its competitors. You know who it’s for and why they need it. All in one line.
Keeping “milk” as one word at the beginning of that tagline, solitary, is telling the buyer that it’s just the milk they know and love. It’s just milk.
In the example of watches, you may want to simplify a mechanical timepiece that runs off the motion of your wrist as “No charging or batteries. Ever.” That headline lets customers know instantly that it’s not digital and won’t require them to charge or replace batteries for as long as they have this product.
Quick tip: Try using short sentences like this:
No charging. No batteries.
Milk. Made. Easy.
Whiskey meets fruit.
Short and simple is an art form in marketing and it usually entices the customer with its accessibility. We’ve all seen the famous 1960 “Lemon” ad for VW, right?
Making It Sound Inexpensive
If your product is a budget item then this theme is the one for you. Play on how inexpensive it is to competitors’ products. I’ve seen phone manufacturers market in this way.
“Does everything an iPhone does, for half the price.”
In the example of watches, you could say it’s an “affordable luxury watch.”
Use lines like:
Half the price of its high street counterparts.
More accessible than ever before.
Same rich quality, at a fraction of the price.
More for less.
When selling good quality, inexpensive items, you can use tag-lines like “Why pay more?” These bait the customer into advocating for your product if they happen to be price-conscious because it seems so obvious. Why would you pay more? Seriously. Can someone tell me?
Making It Sound High-Quality
Usually, if you’re selling a product with this approach, you’ll be focussing on the manufacturing process as a key driver for the product.
Constructed with 3, NASA-grade titanium pieces.
Each one, handmade in Paris by luxury horologist Geraint Clarke.
Zero-latency. Coupled with a 4mah lithium-ion battery, giving you the most power that can fit in a commercial watch.
Ask yourself these questions; where is your product made? How is it made? Is the person making them unique? Are there only four people in the world who can do it and you’ve found the best one? Remember best is subjective. What’s the sexiest part of manufacturing that product? By making the customer understand all that goes into this, they won’t question the price.
I’ve bought many expensive bourbons (whiskey) and when I see “Single Barrel” or “10 years” on the label I know that the more elaborate manufacturing process has resulted in a higher quality product, and thus, a higher price tag. It’s exclusive.
Remember, you need to match expectations to reality, so if your product isn’t high-quality, don’t market it with this underlying theme, or it won’t sell long term. Your goal is the most bucks, not the quick buck.
Making It Sound First or Best
The beauty of Guinness World Records is that it could come out with a new book each year, as the parameters for deciding a record were created by them.
The same can apply to ad copy:
The world’s first <insert product>.
The best <product type> in its class.
Winner of six awards at the <relevant ceremony>.
As you’re the one framing the parameters, you’ll always be able to make it sound flawless. You see this a lot with cars. “The fastest 0–60 car in its class” and that class just happens to be SUV and its slower than a Ford Focus on the track. It’s not a lie, it’s clever semantics.
“Award-winning strawberry jam” could be true, but the award could be from the county fair in Nowheresville. I have sold thousands of a product that I gave laughably stringent parameters. to.
My copy was: “THE WORLD’S FIRST ULTRA VISUAL, SUPER PRACTICAL, NO PALMING, NO EXTRA PIECES, EASY, 360 DEGREE TORN AND RESTORED… THAT’S SIGNED!”
It wasn’t the first in any single class, but it was the first product to apply to all of those stated. Clever wording, but it worked. Revive was the best-seller that year. As Guy Ritchie says “You need to be the master of your own kingdom.” By being the one to set the parameters in which your product is judged, it can always be awesome.
Making It Something They Can Relate To
One of my favourite selling tactics is to use a story that people can relate to, that doesn’t feel like selling initially and then swing it back to the product towards the end.
“Ever wonder why millions of gym memberships go to waste and diets always start “next” Monday? People are busy and the lowest task on their priority list gets kicked to the curb. They keep telling themselves they will, but they won’t.
In the UK alone, seven million people are clinically obese and according to polls 3/5 say they don’t get the amount of exercise they’d like to. Jobs, kids, family’s, Tiger King and that ***** Carole Baskin. You’re getting pulled all day long, like a rubber band trying not to snap.
You’re spinning plates and putting our fires. One more complicated responsibility will probably push something else important away. So your diet becomes your first victim.
That’s where <insert product> comes in. At <company name> we’ve developed a daily guilt-free, effort-free, sugar-free milkshake that’s delicious and won’t cost the earth.
yada, yada yada…”
You see how I circled back to the product?
Classic “problem & solution” marketing
Give them the problem they have.
Introduce your product as the solution to that problem.
If I was selling a watch in this way, I’d bring it up as a problem they didn’t know they had.
“The word commodity comes from the French word commodit, meaning “benefit” or “profit.” So why is it that our phone, smart watch, laptop & tablets all need replacing within 2 years? Doesn’t sound like a benefit to us. There’s a reason for this. Thanks to Moores Law, electronics depreciate so fast, that they lose their profitability within one year of manufacturing or within one day of use.
If you’re reading this on a brand new iPhone screen, the device in your hand lost 20% of its retail value as soon as you opened the box. What about checking the time? That smart watch on your wrist costs 595 times more than the electricity it takes to charge it this year, but after you’re done, it’ll be worth half what you invested into it on the resale market. There must be another way, and there is.
<insert product name> is a luxury timepiece handcrafted with NASA-grade materials and encased in dense, real gold. Powered by mechanical motion, it never needs charging, pairing, updating, or upgrading.
yada yada yada…”
That’s how it’s done… Tell them a problem they can relate to, then offer your product as the solution. It’s easy.
Bonus: Features & Benefits
We will go into this in more detail in an upcoming article, but after you’ve picked the theme of the language you’ll use to sell your product, you need to make a list of features and benefits. Put simply a feature is something the product is or does. A benefit is a by-product of that feature.
For example, “made from NASA-grade titanium” is a feature, “making it the world’s strongest, most durable watch you’ll ever wear,” is a benefit.
“Charges quickly,” is a feature.
“Spend less time disconnected,” is the benefit of that feature.
Once you break down the features and benefits of your product within the theme you’re going to frame it in, the ad copy writes itself. It will flow through you, because perhaps for the first time, you’ll understand why customers should connect to your specific product. Not many companies make unique products anymore, but you don’t have to be unique to win. You just need better marketing than your competitors.