Book Summary #02 - Advertising secrets of the written word
The ultimate resource on how to write powerful advertising copy from one of America’s top copywriters and mail order entrepreneurs - by Joseph Sugarman
Hi 👋, Ashwin here.
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Let’s go ahead and get started:
I was listening to Indie Hackers Podcast the other day. Courtland Allen (@csallen) was interviewing Sam Parr (@theSamParr - CEO of The Hustle Newsletter), about How to Make Millions by Writing Online.
In that episode, Sam Parr mentioned that he earns by copywriting and he learned copywriting by practicing rigorously. He mentioned one book that made the most impact on his skill and business. You can listen to the podcast episode here.
That’s the book that we are going to tackle today. Well, the book was written in the 1990s and has helped major copywriters in the world to be successful.
Wait, Why am I going to share with you my notes on a book that’s written 20-30 years back?
Let’s hear David Perell’s (@david_perell) thoughts on why you should read old books.
And one more here:
Let’s get started.
The book explains what copywriting is and how Joseph Sugarman (@JoeSugarman - Author) developed the skill of writing copy. It doesn’t contain any hacks or tricks but goes into explaining the overall strategy of how successful copywriting works and how you can write an effective copy.
Well, many people explain what copywriting is in their own way. Here’s how Sugarman defines it.
The eventual goal of writing effective copy (or Copywriting) is "To cause a person to exchange his or her hard-earned money for a product or service”.
He goes on to explain how successful copy works using formulas/axioms which he has developed over the years. Let’s start to understand them now.
Axiom 1: Copywriting is a mental process - the successful execution of which reflects the sum total of all your experiences, your specific knowledge, and your ability to mentally process that information and transfer it onto a sheet of paper for the purpose of selling a product or service.
The utmost aim of copywriting is to make a person exchange his/her hard-earned money for your amazing product. It’s not a bad thing that someone is trying to force you to buy a product.
If you think about it, at the end of the day, you only buy products that are useful for you. But there are plenty of options for each product or service. That’s where copywriting comes into the picture. Only when you’re ready to buy but have confusion choose from a varied set of products, the best-written copy for a product wins amongst its competitors.
Axiom 2: All the elements in an advertisement are primarily designed to do one thing and one thing only: get you to read the first sentence of the copy.
People who are getting into copywriting will not have any idea of how to write copy or how does effective copy works. So, they just try to modify the successful copy and use that in their products. They also try to use tricks and hacks they read from different sites.
Do you think it works?
Most of the time it won’t because you only understand the surface level tactics that they have used. But not the high-level strategy behind writing that copy.
So, the main intention of the elements in an advertisement/landing page should be to get the reader to read the first sentence of the copy.
Axiom 3: The sole purpose of the first sentence in an advertisement is to get you to read the second sentence.
The first sentence should not just be clickbait. It should help the reader to continue to read the second sentence and go on further.
Axiom 4: Your ad layout and the first few paragraphs of your ad must create the buying environment most conducive to the sale of your product or service.
Do you notice how tempted you’ll be to watch a movie when you go to shopping malls for shopping? It’s because they have designed the environment to make you go & watch the movies. Creating the buying environment is as important as writing effective copy.
But how do you create an effective buying environment in copywriting?
Tell a story, showcase amazing visuals (Images or Video) of the product, provide interactivity with the product (if possible - or tell a story about how someone is feeling when he is interacting). Make it compelling to read more of your copy.
Axiom 5: Get the reader to say yes and harmonize with your accurate and truthful statements while reading your copy.
Well, many principles in sales and copywriting go hand in hand. The first and foremost principle that sets up the buying environment is to harmonize your readers to say yes as much as possible while reading your copy.
Axiom 6: Your readers should be so compelled to read your copy that they cannot stop reading until they read all of it as if sliding down a slippery slide.
After reading the first paragraph and setting the right buying environment, the next step is to make your copy so compelling that they should read the entire copy until the last as if they sliding down an oily slide and enjoy reading it.
Axiom 7: When trying to solve problems, don't assume constraints that aren't really there.
There’s a reason A/B testing or split testing exists in marketing. If you do not experiment with the product by thinking of the assumption the strategy we have chosen will work, you’re doing a major mistake. Get rid of all your assumptions and constraints that aren’t really there.
Axiom 8: Keep the copy interesting and the reader interested through the power of curiosity.
Every person in the world is curious about something. Use the power of curiosity to keep the copy interesting. If you happen to see, all the things that we have explained until now, nowhere we have spoken about the product or the features v/s benefits of the product.
Writing good copy is not about the product but about how you make the readers hook onto what you’re writing about.
Axiom 9: Never sell a product or service. Always sell a concept.
You never buy a product, You always by the concept. This may be confusing. Let me explain.
People who buy Mercedes cars do not buy for the features in it. They buy because of the status they’ll have once they own the car. Most other cars also have the same features that Mercedes has, but people still buy Mercedes. People love to be a part of a group/community which is rare, unique, and also has high respect in society.
Axiom 10: The incubation process is the power of your subconscious mind to use all your knowledge and experiences to solve a specific problem, and its efficiency is dictated by time, creative orientation, environment, and ego.
The process of writing copy is to understand everything about the product you’re trying to sell. Then write the first few sentences of the copy. Do not worry about grammar, spelling mistakes, and other stuff. Just write your first draft and take a break. Do something else completely that’s not related to the topic.
This is called the incubation period. The brain starts to work on it subconsciously even though your mind is somewhere else. The moment you get some idea about the copy/product, note that down. Use these notes to write better and effective the copy.
Axiom 11: The copy should be long enough to cause the reader to take the action you request.
Selling products either through sales calls or copywriting is one & the same. You have to paint the picture in the reader’s/buyer’s mind about what you’re trying to convey.
Make your copy long enough so that the reader reads and starts to think that you’re an expert & you know everything about the product.
Axiom 12: Every communication should be a personal one, from the writer to the recipient, regardless of the medium used.
Have you seen ads/landing pages where the copy feels too salesy?
It’s because the copy feels like some English garbage thrown out. It feels as if a robot has written it. Have a touch of personal tone in your copy to make a genuine connection with the reader.
Axiom 13: The ideas presented in your copy should flow in a logical fashion, anticipating your prospect's questions and answering them as if the questions were asked face-to-face.
Copywriters should write copy by putting on the shoes of a customer. He needs to ask questions that the user/customer gets in his mind and tackle them accordingly with fruitful answers. The copy should tackle all the questions such that the readers should wonder how are they reading our minds?
Axiom 14: In the editing process, you refine your copy to express exactly what you want to express with the fewest words.
The first draft of your copy can be crap - with full of errors, no structure, lots of spelling & grammatical mistakes. It’s absolutely fine. The goal of the first draft is to put whatever comes to your mind onto the paper and not worry about these non-trivial things for now. Then comes the editing process. The crap turns to a piece of gold mine while editing it.
The first draft is the carbon you get from the earth. It’s like coal and not much useful. Editing is like converting that carbon to a diamond.
I think of it this way, writing the first draft is like having sex. It’s just the transfer of sperms and its interaction with ovaries. Editing is converting those sperms and eggs to an actual living being. It takes 9 months of the editing process to give birth to a child. That’s how your editing process should be.
Axiom 15: The more the mind must work to reach a conclusion successfully, the more positive, enjoyable, or stimulating the experience.
Which are your favorite movies? I’ll tell you.
Your favorite movies are the ones where you guess something will happen, but there’s a twist, and something unexpected happens. If you are able to predict correctly what happens next, the movie suddenly becomes boring.
Write a copy in a way to make your reader’s mind work.
Axiom 16: Selling a cure is a lot easier than selling a preventative unless the preventative is perceived as a cure or the curative aspects of the preventative are emphasized.
People buy a product when they have some problems. Not when the problem doesn’t exist. Selling a preventative product is a lot harder than selling a curable product. A curable product has demand by itself.
If you have a preventative product, emphasize the curative aspects of it more than the preventive aspects.
Axiom 17: Telling a story can effectively sell your product, create the environment, or get the reader well into your copy as you create emotional bonding with your prospect.
Everybody knows this. But most people don’t know how to use stories properly. If you can tell an effective story to hook your users on to read the copy, well see how your purses tend to fill with money faster.
There are some emotional principles that are helpful to write your copy.
Emotion Principle 1: Every word has an emotion associated with it and tells a story.
Every word you use in your copy has an emotion attached to it. Wrongly used words will affect the sales of the product.
Emotion Principle 2: Every good ad is an emotional outpouring of words, feelings, and impressions.
The best movies out there are filled with emotions. The best novels out there are filled with emotions. The best food out there is filled with emotions. The best music out there is filled with emotions. Similarly, the best ads out there are filled with emotions.
Let’s take a car accident for example. Observe how your emotion changes when the words change.
Two cars came in contact with each other.
Two cars came hit each other.
Two cars bumped into each other.
Two cars got collided.
Two cars smashed each other.
The car accident is the same, but the effect you think is different. Use words that convey proper emotion.
Emotion Principle 3: You sell on emotion, but you justify a purchase with logic.
This is the key to compelling copywriting. Mercedes customers buy cars with emotion, but they justify their purchase with logic (like it has the best features, best service, etc. Even other cars with lower prices have that). People buy Apple products with emotion and justify with logic (Apple products are really good. But there are products which are similar to Apple or better than it with lower price). People buy Nike/Jordan shoes with emotion but justify with logic.
Sell on emotion, but justify the pricing with logic.
Well, there’s still a lot more to discuss and explain things from this book. But I think if copywriters implement these things properly, that’s sufficient enough.
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Other Books that I’m currently reading:
Super Thinking, The Big Book of Mental Models – by Gabriel Weinberg
High Growth Handbook – by Elad Gil
100 Things: Every Designer Needs to Know About People – by Ph.D. Susan Weinschenk
Hope you took a thing or two away from this week’s book.
If you like it, show us some love by clicking the heart icon below. And don’t forget to invite your friends.
P.S - If you want to learn Design, I’m starting a UI-UX Design Course call Full-Stack Designer. You can learn to Design your own products from scratch here. :)