12 Tips on How to Write Great Copy for Your Product
Or how to write text that sells by David Ogilvy
Once upon a time, in 1911 a kid was born in the West Horsley, England. He spent almost all his childhood there. After a while, he moved to Paris and started his career as an apprentice chef in the Hotel Majestic. He went on from Paris to sell stoves in Scotland. And later he emigrated to America.
Fast forward some time, he enrolled into the army during the World War II. After the end of the war, he opened an advertising agency that left its mark in the history.
So why am I giving you all these historical facts? Well, there is someone I want to tell you about, and it is David Ogilvy — the founding father of modern advertising.
After WWII he opened Ogilvy & Mather with only $6000 in his bank account. Fast forward 60 years, it is one of the most prominent and successful advertising agencies on the planet.
Besides the fact that he was a great businessman and leader, Ogilvy knew that a well-written text would sell anything. This breaks one of the most known stereotypes — to be a great salesman you have to be charming, look great, with perfect white teeth and have a radio voice.
What can a well-written text do? Anything.
Wether you need a raise to your salary, introduce a new product, seal a job or a contract, a well written copy can bring you to the next level.
- It can sell your product;
- Save your life;
- Get you a deal;
- Get you a promotion;
- Get you a date;
- Say a memorable speech;
- Win a pitch;
- Shall I continue?
Great copy will only add up to your user experience, design or product. It is an investment worth pursuing and not cutting budgets for.
Remember how many times you ended up on a website with flashy illustrations, smooth animations, only to scroll through and not understand what the heck they are doing? Or what does the product do? Welcome to the club.
Recently I had to work on a project without my copywriter and do the copy for a client’s website. I will have to admit: it was scary.
Being afraid I will make wording mistakes, people will laugh at my grammar, the story won’t be so good, and many other doubts that flew into my head. But recently I went through one of David Ogilvy’s books Confessions of an Advertising Man and suddenly it felt much easier to write. Because, from what I learned, good writing is always about clarity (from his principles). And it stood with me and made my job easier. In his book you can find the principles for an excellent copy that are still relevant now and will be in the future.
Even though they are related to advertising, I handpicked those that you can apply to any industry or project. I used these principles for the copy I was working on my project and realised that a great copy is everything. It should be the beginning and the end of everything you do in business or design. It brings clarity and trust to the table.
So let’s get down to business and see what are the principles:
1. The headline is the most important part
The headline is the most critical part because it will help your reader decide if he is interested enough to go into further details or not. We all love to scan first and see if there is anything for us. Once we grasp something that suits us, we read the details. So don’t say anything in your headline which is likely to exclude any readers who might be potential customers of your product. Thus, if you are advertising a product which can be used by men and women, don’t focus your headline on women only. It would frighten men away.
If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself. ~ Albert Einstein
2. Write your headlines as there’s no body
Five times as many people read the headline as they read the body copy. So it is important to appeal to the glancers. If they don’t read the body, they should at least leave with a feeling of what your product does.
3. The headline should appeal to the readers self-interest
For example if it is a skin care product, it should promise her a benefit. Ogilvy gave an example here of his own headline he wrote: “How women over 35 can look younger”.
4. Use these words to increase interest
How to, Suddenly, Now, Announcing, It’s here, Just arrived, Important development, Improvement, Amazing, Sensational, Remarkable, Revolutionary, Startling, Miracle, Magic, Offer, Quick, Easy, Wanted, Challenge, Advice to, The truth about, Compare, Bargain, Hurry, Last chance.
If you go through Medium’s articles, you will see that almost all of them that are always featured or get your interest have some of the words Ogilvy listed above.
5. We are more likely to read a body copy if…
If the headline arouses our curiosity. So you should end your headline with a lure to read on.
6. Some copywriters write tricky headlines with puns or that make you think. This is a sin.
Nowadays the attention span is short. You compete for attention with everything. Even with funny cat videos. We scroll so fast through our feed, open tabs and websites so fast that we don’t have time to stop and think about what you intended to say. Your headline should be plain language. Don’t play games with the reader.
7. Avoid blind headlines
The kind which mean nothing unless you read the body copy underneath them. Most people don’t.
My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way. ~ Ernest Hemingway
8. When writing body copy, don’t beat about the bush
Go straight to the point. Avoid analogies of the “just as, so too” variety. Don’t use tricky words, it only adds fake value. Nowadays, for example, everybody is using AI or Blockchain in their headlines. Don’t do that. Say as it is so people can understand. If I can understand it, I’ll buy it. If I don’t, then screw you.
9. Avoid superlatives, generalisations and platitudes for your copy
Be specific and factual. Be enthusiastic, friendly and memorable. Don’t be a bore. Tell the truth, but make the truth fascinating.
10. Sometimes it’s long and sometimes it’s short
How long should your copy be? It depends on your product. If your product is chewing gum, there isn’t too much to tell. Pictures that showcase the product will do more than words. But if your product has many features and qualities to recommend, write a long copy.
The more you tell, the more you sell.
11. No matter the context, your reader should always understand who you are or what you sell
It is foolish to think that people will go through all pages of your website or F.A.Q. (sometimes even this doesn’t work) to understand what your product does or who you are. Everything should be a sales pitch. You should write your copy on the assumption that it is the only chance you will ever have to sell your product.
12. You should always include testimonials
Not on a separate page. But in or near the body copy. The reader always finds it more comfortable to believe the endorsement of a fellow consumer then the talent of an unknown copywriter.
Bonus: Unless you have particular reasons, always use the daily language of your consumer. This means coming back to point 7. If I understand it, I buy it. Nothing else to add.
One more thing
I host a design podcast, Laroche.fm, and if you are into design and the business side of it, I would appreciate if you could give it a listen. And if you would like to receive future updates about new articles, my reading list and pocast episodes, you can join My Weekly Newsletter.
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