How to write the perfect ad copy

A  great piece of writing accomplishes everything it sets out to achieve.

  • The love letter that wins her heart.
  • The email that lands the deal.
  • The Facebook ad that catches fire.

In tandem, some copy inevitably dies on the vine.

  • The blog no one opens.
  • The recruiting brochure no one reads.
  • The website copy that explains nothing and bounces visitors away.

Why do some compositions kill while others flop?

Membership has it privileges

1974: American Express launches its legendary “Do You Know Me” campaign to market the debut of the now famous Green Card. The campaign depicted a series of well known, card-carrying celebrities, including Stephen King, Robert DeNiro, Martin Scorsese, and many others.

The use of these individuals was purposeful. The ad writers at Ogilvy and Mather knew what they were doing.

As a result, American Express credit cards were positioned and perceived as having more prestige than competitors’. They presented them as badges of achievement and passports to a better lifestyle as portrayed by their celebrity spokespeople. American Express cards were in the pockets of people with undeniable status. Members of an exclusive club. People with privileges.  

As a result, the Amex Green Card was seen as something more than a mere charge card. If you had one in your wallet, you felt like the people in the ads. You were more important than others. You were special. A cut above the rest.

Hence, the Amex campaign wasn’t positioned around selling a credit card. It sold the brand by telling a story of influence. Power. Status. Accomplishment. The very things the brand represented. The ad writers knew that if they targeted the masses, the copy would be convoluted. The theme, disjointed and watered down. If they targeted everyone, their message would resonate with no one.

Instead, they focused on a very specific type of customer. One they knew intimately.

That plan worked out quite well.

What every great copywriter knows

When a piece of writing works, it’s no accident. The love letter that stole her heart succeeded because the author knew his subject. He was clear about the emotions he hoped to stir. He carefully chose words he believed she would want to read. Words that made her feel special. Appreciated. Respected. Loved.

The letter was intimate. Personal. Real.

These are the attributes of great copywriting that extend well beyond a love letter. It’s the core of what great marketing copy is all about as expressed clearly through those Amex ads. And so many others like them.

Words that sound good are nice. But words that tell the stories your customers believe speak directly to them create a bond.

How it’s done

You’re a tech vendor selling software to the real estate masses. You’re a marketing director at a brokerage trying to create a campaign that elevates your company over the 75 others in your market. You’re an MLS fighting to convey the value you bring to your members.

The way to begin in any situation is to do what the writers at Ogilvy and Mather did – delve deep into your subject to gain an intimate knowledge of who you are writing to.

How that’s done is through an exercise designed to construct character types that make up your brand’s primary customer base. These types or personas provide a tangible depiction of who your copy is talking to, much like how scriptwriters create characters for their stories.

Who is our customer? How old are they? What motivates them? What concerns them? What are their goals? What are their hobbies? What do they have in common with others? What needs are they looking to fulfill through their purchase or acquisition of services?

These are some of the many, many questions to ask when developing these personas.

Humanizing your “leads” and putting names, faces and personality traits to your “consumers” will impact and improve the style, feel, and beat of your message to them. Your ads, emails and web copy will become more direct, authentic and personal.

You will speak words people will relate to. They will feel like you’re talking directly to them.

Go deep

The deeper you delve into the person you are hoping to influence with your words, the better you will understand what makes them tick. It is then, and only then, that a copywriter can begin to conceptualize a campaign that matters and the words that need to follow.