7 Lessons from Advertising
Guest Blogger: Elizabeth Miller Wood (@ElizMillerWood)
As an advertising copywriter, my job is to sell stuff using words. Regardless of what I’m selling—a product, a service, a destination—the copy strives for two goals: capture readers and compel them to take action.
For the next few minutes, pretend you’ve got something to sell—in this case, your writing. You need to “sell” that agent on requesting your manuscript. You need to “sell” that reader on continuing to the next chapter. You need to “sell” your blog followers on coming back again.
Here’s the catch: advertising copy allows very little word count. You have to sell your writing quickly and efficiently. This takes discipline! And discipline is a valuable skill for writers to hone. Here are seven lessons of advertising writing to help writers of all genres make every word “sell.”
1. Maintain brand consistency. As a writer, you are a product. And all products have a brand identity. (Think: Apple = simplicity, innovation, imagination.) What’s your identity? Be aware that every word you send into the world—Facebook, Twitter, blog—is driving your brand forward. Hint: If you’re a children’s book author, avoid tweeting about your hangover.
2. Make it sing. Good ad writing has rhythm. It’s immersive and multi-sensory, roping in readers on multiple cylinders. Don’t let your readers simply SEE the copy. Make them also FEEL it, HEAR it, TOUCH it. Try it: Read out loud the first paragraph of your newest blog post or WIP. Can you feel its beat? Can you sense its tempo?
3. Every word matters. With short ad copy, a single word carries a lot of responsibility. Even if it’s one of 85,000, each deserves careful consideration. Spend the extra five minutes to find that standout verb, instead of settling for the first one that pops into your brain. Tip: Keep an online thesaurus open while you write.
4. Clichés are the Devil. I don’t think I’m letting the cat out of the bag by saying that clichés are as boring as watching water boil. I know, I know. They’re so tempting. So convenient. Do not be fooled! Clichés will sabotage the purity of your writing. Readers gloss over them, rendering the words wasted. Dare to be more creative. Challenge: Think of three new ways to communicate “old as dirt.”
5. Create urgency and reward. Ad copy convinces people that your product will add value to their lives, and that they need it RIGHT NOW. What are the readers’ consequences if they don’t keep reading your story? What will the agent be missing if she doesn’t request your proposal or manuscript RIGHT NOW? Reflect: What was the last page-turner you couldn’t put down? What “reward” was waiting for you at the end?
6. Readers are lazy. Make their jobs easy. Well-written ad copy flows like a stream of syrup; it doesn’t tumble down like sticky raisins. If you stumble (even slightly) over your own sentences, others will, too. If you make readers labor through convoluted phrasing, they’ll give up. Making readers re-read a sentence is giving them a reason to stop reading. Test yourself: Does your writing contain any complex phrases that must be re-read to understand?
7. Chop till it hurts. We have a saying at my advertising agency: “When in doubt, leave it out.” Let’s all agree that whittling copy is painful. You love that beautifully crafted sentence, but it’s got to go if it doesn’t propel your story forward. Think of it as pruning a vine. In the long run, your cut-back copy will produce better-quality fruit. Practice: Write a 500-word story, then chop it to 300 words. Notice how much smoother it reads, and notice where you tend to add unnecessary fat.
What characteristics of advertising copy have compelled you to purchase a product or service? Do any specific magazine, billboard, or internet ads come to mind?
Elizabeth Miller Wood is a Cincinnati-based copywriter whose work appears in regional inserts of Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Woman’s Day, and Seventeen magazines. You can find her at www.ElizabethMillerWood.com, on Facebook, and @ElizMillerWood. (Ahem, she’s brand new to Twitter and would be eternally grateful if you’d help bolster her embarrassingly low follower count.)