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Mindset: Don’t Fumble the Copywriting Ball

January 24, 2011

Since my last post on copywriting I’ve passed this issue back and forth so many times I was certain I’d lost a lot of yardage.

In a recent newsletter I sent out on this topic (sign up over there in the right margin or here) I cited the example of a certain trash bag commercial where they make the customer (you or me) look like an idiot because we had the audacity to buy the wrong brand of garbage bag. Further, not only did I buy the wrong trash bag, but then I was so stupid I picked it up too fast and everything burst out the bottom – as if I had the intelligence of a two-year-old (and honestly, the little tikes are probably plenty smart because they don’t even have to take out the trash at all).

Can you tell this commercial rubs me the wrong way?

Each time I thought about writing about ‘what sends your audience away,’ it made me feel, well, negative. And I didn’t want to do it because I’d just feel worse and worse while writing about these mistakes. So I wouldn’t finish the post – veritably running away. (Not much of a mindset, eh?)

Then I had a bit of an epiphany: Make it short and to the point how to avoid driving away your audience, and then we won’t be wallowing in negativity. So here we go.

A headline’s job is to engage the reader, not turn her off. For example, you want to sell a new energy drink or product. It may even be “natural” and “good for you!” You begin brainstorming on engaging headlines:

Never Feel Tired Again!

Sure, it is engaging. But it just made me feel bad. It just reminded me I could use a nap. I wasn’t even thinking about being tired until this headline brought it up! And so it’s pissed me off. Instead, try this:

Want All the Energy You’ll Ever Need?

This has my attention at the get go. It appeals to my sense that more energy means I can get more stuff done, have more free time, live the life of my dreams. Get it? This headline puts me in a good mood, and that translates into keeping my attention because I want more good mood. It puts a smile on my face.

So here’s a simple checklist of questions to ask yourself to get in the right mindset when you’re trying out headlines (not to mention the product copy throughout your material).

  1. Does the headline/copy make me feel happier or sadder?
  2. How much does my audience’s exact mood affect my sales?
  3. Am I reminding the audience of too many negative things/problems if they don’t buy the product? (Nagging sure doesn’t help!)
  4. Can I make the same points by only discussing the benefits – the good outcome — of the product (and dropping all the negative references)?

You may be thinking, “Yes, but I need to remind them of their problem – the negative – so that they see the benefit of my solution.” Yes and no. Tone of the delivery can make a huge difference in closing the sale whether it’s getting them to phone you or visit your website for more details. But delivery by sledgehammer can send the reader running the opposite direction.

When Apple began their TV commercials with the “Hi, I’m a Mac” and “I’m a PC” campaign, it was laced with light humor and delivery. So that when they got to the PC’s Blue Screen of Death reminder of why folks migrate to a Mac, it was with a light touch, making the benefit of the reliable Mac obvious.

It takes great skill to remind the reader of the problem you can solve without inducing stress, fear, sadness and all manner of negativity in a heavy-handed way. They already remember the frustration, stress and anger without us reintroducing the full-blown problem all over again in their face.

Remember, if reading your own copy makes you sad, angry or stressed out, perhaps you should rethink your approach. Your success will be much greater with your campaign if you leave the iron fist in the drawer this time.

Sell solutions, not the problems.

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