Copywriting – simple rules

Do Copywriting Formulas Really Work?


Direct response writers swear by them. Advertising copywriters swear at them. Where do corporate writers fall? Do copywriting formulas give us the freedom of a narrow focus? Or, infect us with a narrow mind?

Here are six of the most revered (or reviled) copywriting formulas of all time. You be the judge–and if you would, please share your comments at the end of this post.

1. AIDA.

Attention. Interest. Desire. Action.

28 years ago, this was the first formula I learned. My boss back then was a dyed-in-the-wool direct mail man. And he swore that the AIDA formula was the magic bullet for all communications: not just direct mail, but also advertising, collateral, sales presentations, your grocery list–you name it. (Alec Baldwin used basically the same formula in the movie, Glengarry, Glen Ross. Remember the sales contest? First place, new Cadillac. Second place, steak knives. Third place, you’re fired. Reminds me of my first boss.)

Attention: Do I have your attention? (Channeling Alec Baldwin now…)

Interest: Have I piqued your interest? Are you ready to hear more?

Desire: Can you really live without my product? (or service, or idea–whatever you’re selling)

Action: It’s so easy to satiate your desire–I have everything you need, right here, right now.

2. The 4 C-s.

Clear. Compelling. Concise. Credible.

Good advice, but a little weak on differentiation. Where’s the ONE idea that makes your prospect want what you have over anything else, right now?

3. The 4 U’s.

Ultra-specific. Useful. Unique. Urgent.

This one works best for packaged goods and other ‘hard’ products that typically compete on features and benefits. Not so relevant for complex, service brands that live and die by nuance.

4. The 4-legged Stool.

This is the work of Michael Masterson, regarded as one of the most successful direct response thinkers and writers today. I like his basic approach and have adapted it to better fit my needs as a corporate messaging strategist:

Corporate Credibility: Why should I believe in your company and what you have to say?

Promise: of highly differentiated benefits, in the context of a corporate messaging platform.

The ONLY Statement: What’s the ONE advantage you own that no competitor can?

Proof: Can you back up every promise you’ve made to me today?

5. PPPP.

Picture. Promise. Prove. Push.

I share this one mainly because of the first concept, ‘Picture.’ It sounds a little cliche, until you dig underneath and uncover the real concept at work (which doesn’t start with ‘P’, so I guess now I’m blowing up the simple formula). It’s transubstantiation, which any Roman Catholic  will recognize. (For everyone else, click on the word to learn more.) In a copywriting context, transubstantiation means drawing your prospect so close to your product that they become one and the same. Inseparability: a worthy goal for any messaging strategy.

So where do you stand on copywriting formulas? Let me know by leaving your comments below.

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