In addition to my copywriting, I also edit a local lifestyle magazine. As we are still a fledgling operation, sometimes I get involved with the advertising sales. With the dwindling readership of newspapers, lifestyle magazines mailed directly to homes are a good avenue for advertisers to get their message out to potential buyers.
I am always amazed, though, at how little thought most of our advertisers give to the actual words their ads will say. Advertisers are pretty careful about the picture they want, their logos, and exactly what the offer or product highlighted will be. But when it comes to the headline, sub-head, or actual copy, most of them are clueless. If they do have a suggestion, it’s often something cliché like “spring into spring.”
I’ve taken to telling our advertisers, “We can do a little better than that.” After spending some time talking to them about what they are trying to achieve with their ad, I can come up with a fresher headline and copy that truly helps the reader understand the benefits of their product.
I believe that most local advertisers don’t understand the importance of excellent copywriting for a couple of reasons:
Words are just letters strung together. Itty bitty things. How can they be as important as a beautiful image of my product? This is wrong. Think of a hot spaghetti dinner with your grandmother’s marinara sauce and homemade meatballs. Fresh Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. Crushed worms in blood. Did that last phrase spoil the moment? Of course it did. That’s the power of a few itty bitty words.
But a picture is worth a thousand words! Maybe … if what you are trying to describe is a gorgeous landscape. But sometimes the picture isn’t as powerful as the words. Words go to the mind and create their own “sound.” And sound is more powerful than sight. The next time you have a really scary movie on, turn off the sound. You’ll find the image isn’t near so scary and might even look silly. But if you close your eyes and listen to the sound, you are still scared. Maybe even more scared. That sound is working to create even more terrifying images in your mind.
You might notice that today a lot of television commercials will overlay the words of the announcer on the picture? Why? The announcer is saying the words, why interfere with the image by putting the written words there, too? It’s because marketers know that reading the words reinforces the “sound” of the message in the viewer’s mind!
So now it’s easy to see how important words are, but many people are uncomfortable even thinking about writing. School-day memories of having to write a book report or term paper come to their minds and they freeze. That is very understandable. Though I’ve written a lot professionally, I still sometimes “freeze” when facing a blank screen.
Although people are uncomfortable with the written word, they are comfortable with the spoken word. They talk and express themselves all the time. And even the shiest person is comfortable with thought words. In fact, he’s probably thinking more words than the rest of us!
So we’re always using words either spoken or thought. If you need to write an ad, take a few minutes and think about what you want to say to your prospective customer. If you were in a coffee shop and you struck up a conversation with someone who wanted to know about your business, what would you say? Do a little role-playing with your staff and see what comes out. Then write it down. I promise you will find something there that you can use for your ad. And there will be something alive and vibrant. Grab onto it and use it.