Tested Advertising Methods

Sometimes I’ll finish a book and think “Man, I should have read that years ago.” Snow Crash was one of those books. Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples is another. Much as I love cyberpunk, I’m not here to talk about cyberpunk. Not today, anyway.

While reading Tested Advertising Methods, I was often reminded of my journalism school days. I found myself transported back into classes that covered the inverted pyramid, and writing effective headlines, and writing so the widest possible range of readers could understand your story.

In writing advertising copy, use words you would expect to find in a sixth-grade reader.

There’s a ton of overlap between writing good news copy, and writing good selling copy. This quote could have been lifted from any of my early journalism classes.

Simple language won’t insult readers with larger vocabularies, and it won’t alienate readers with smaller vocabularies. You can’t account for the educational level or aptitudes of your audience. What you can account for is how you craft your message. Good copywriting is clear, direct, and simple enough for a sixth grader to understand.

Often a copy chief or advertising manager can improve a writer’s copy simply by omitting the opening sentences or opening paragraphs that the writer used in the first draft.

Good copywriting is lean, and doesn’t have time to waste. It gets down to business.

The inverted pyramid is a structure designed to bring the important pieces of a story to the top. One of the guiding principles in the newsroom is “Don’t bury the lede.” This is the same principle at work.

Each critic has his or her own idea about copy. Trying to please them all is like trying to hit a dozen different targets with a single arrow. If you want to write enthusiastic copy, you must banish critics from your mind entirely.

I’ve floundered when writing for a client or an editor. It’s easy to feel scrutinized when writing any piece of selling copy. Wanting to please the person reading your copy is a natural instinct.

But you have to write what you want to write first. You have to begin with enthusiasm. This is where the goals of good writing and good copywriting overlap. When you sit down in front of a blank page or an empty computer screen, you have to come in hot. There will be plenty of time to boil the copy down later.

You have to write hot, and edit cold. It’s why I bang out a rough draft for a blog post and let it sit for a day or two before I edit and publish it. It’s why I continue to edit and update blog posts, months after publication. Editing doesn’t stop. A piece of writing is never really finished, just published.

There is no element in an advertisement more important than the appeal - the reason you give the reader for buying.

What’s the benefit your product or service or gimmick will provide? Good copywriting is convincing. Copy should excite people. Your copy should make people want to take the action you want them to take. It should convince people to join your side.

Good copy is about results.

Advertising will never produce the results it can produce until some sort of testing is brought into the picture.

I’m a huge fan of a/b testing and data-driven decision making. That said, testing isn’t always possible. Data-driven shouldn’t be a synonym for data-constrained. What do you do when you’re on a deadline, or you’re writing a sales page for a new product?

That’s where your old friend research comes in. You have to gather the data you can in the time you have, and ship something. And then test. Talk to people in your target market. Keep an eye on analytics. Make changes, and measure changes. What’s working? What’s not working? What kind of messaging engages people?

That’s what copywriting is about. It’s about delivering your message in a way that makes sense. Caples was a master, and Tested Advertising Methods is one of the most valuable and applicable books I’ve ever read.

I'm Tyler, and I blog about marketing, programming, writing, and things I'm working on.

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