Writing Sales Copy_ The Curse Of The Copywriting Education

Dear Business Builder,

I’m up to my eyeballs in copy cubs, and I love ‘em to death.

Every blessed one of them is a brilliant, gifted, fresh-faced kid with a big dream in his or her heart and an obsession for copywriting. And frankly, I’m convinced that each one of them will go farther and have far greater successes than I have.

For one thing, they’re smarter than me … better educated than I am … and they already know far more about copywriting than I ever will.

They’ve devoured every copywriting course, book, seminar and e-zine they’ve been able to lay their hands on.

They’ve gobbled up copywriting rules, maxims, proverbs, templates and formulas like an army of starving Sumo wrestlers chowing down at a free buffet.

They’ve perused every new swipe and every new insight as passionately as a furloughed sailor chases skirts.

They can quote Hopkins, Caples, Reeves, Ogilvy and Schwartz chapter and verse. They can recite everything Bencivenga, Halbert, Carlton, Masterson and Makepeace have ever written.

They remind me of race horses in the starting gate … champing at the bit … pawing the ground … every creative muscle in their bodies tensed, flexed and ready to explode into action at the slightest twitch of the starter’s trigger finger.

… And the same damned thing happens every time I give one of them his or her first assignment:

KABLOOEY! Their heads explode.

I can see the train wreck that’s sure to follow even as we discuss their first assignment:

The frenzied note-taking …

The tortured expressions on their young faces as they mentally juggle dozens of complex, seemingly contradictory rules they’ve learned by heart …

The numbness in their eyes as they consider the massive emotional and financial rewards they imagine will follow if they get this right – and the consequences (too horrific to contemplate) if they screw this up.

And I know what to expect: I can bet the farm the first draft will be …

Days late …

Four, five, even six times longer than it should be …

Crawling with recognizable formulas lifted from copywriting gurus and swipe files …

Replete with presumptuous lectures on how my prospect feels now – and how he should feel after enjoying the benefits the product provides …

Teeming with non sequiturs, mixed metaphors and tortured similes …

Packed with overused “power words” and over-the-top claims and of course, exclamation points …

Devoid of a compelling lead (since it has been neatly buried somewhere around page eight or nine) …

Flabby – prattling on for paragraphs on minor points when a single sentence or a string of fascinations would get the message across much more quickly and effectively …

Unfocused – the product will feel vague, ethereal, poorly defined … the offer copy will seem like little more than an afterthought … and the call to action will be virtually non-existent.

That’s OK, though – it’s not their fault: It’s just that …


Back when I was getting started, writing sales copy was easy. We had the masters to guide us …

Kennedy reminding us that, since sales copy is nothing more than salesmanship in print, ad copy should simply say the things a live salesman would say to his prospect …

Hopkins saying “Amen, brother!” then adding, “Your copy should also lift your product heads and shoulders above the competition’s,” and …

Caples saying “I hear ya! And of course, you also need to capture your prospect’s attention, hold it throughout and compel him to act.”

Pretty simple, common-sense stuff really: When writing sales copy, my job was simply to grab and hold my prospect’s attention … present the reasons why he should buy – just like any good salesman would … show how my product is better than the alternatives … and forcibly ask for the sale.

In short, to create A-I-D-A: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action.


Today, most young writers I meet tend to think more about all the copywriting techniques they’ve learned than about what their prospects are thinking and feeling or how to motivate them to make a purchase.

Now, don’t get me wrong – it’s great that they have these tools: Used properly, the tips, tricks and techniques you’re learning here in The Total Package and from other copywriting coaches will lift your response and make you a bundle.

But not if by focusing on them, you lose sight of your prospect. Or forget to fully dimensionalize your product’s benefits … or trivialize your price … or relieve your prospect’s risk … or create a powerful logic-driven call to action.

And certainly not if by using the copywriting techniques we teach, you fail to consider how your prospect is feeling as he moves through your copy.

See, when you’re writing sales copy, you only think you’re alone and you only think it’s a one-way conversation. In truth, you’re talking to a real, live, flesh-and-blood human being – your prospect – and he has an unspoken response to everything you say.
Now, let’s say you’re shopping for something. I dunno … let’s say a brand-new Porsche 911 Turbo. The salesman shakes your hand, then launches into an obviously canned sales pitch.

You can tell he’s practiced it endlessly in front of a mirror. He’s got his spiel down pat. Every word, every phrase, every inflection – even his body language is flawless.

But it’s almost like you’re not even there …

You ask questions; he doesn’t hear you. You raise objections; he ignores them. You question his facts; he fails to address your skepticism. You become bored; he doesn’t notice. You grow impatient; he couldn’t care less.

You feel trapped. You’d gladly chew your own arm off just to get away from him.

He doesn’t let that bother him, not even for a moment. He’s going to obey every rule, exercise every formula and flesh out every template they taught him in Salesman School come hell or high water.

He’s going to deliver his sales pitch – his whole sales pitch – even if it kills you.

That’s what your copy reads like when you focus on rules and formulas instead of your prospect!

And since you’re selling in print, through the mail or over the Internet, your prospect doesn’t have to chew his arm off to shut you up: All he has to do is turn the page, close his browser or e-mail window or drop your mail piece in the nearest trash can.


My advice: With the possible exception of the article you’re reading right now …

… If, when writing a first draft, you’re thinking about something I said (or any other copy coach said), you’re blowing it.

Big time.

First drafts are for climbing inside your prospect’s skin – not mine or anyone else’s.

That takes a laser-like focus on your prospect and what he’s thinking and feeling as he reads your sales message.

And that takes a heckuva lot more than just regurgitating slightly altered copy from a swipe file … or making sure you’ve checked every item on someone else’s checklist … or cramming round-peg sales arguments into square-peg formulas.

It takes intense, exhausting, rational, logical, sequential, ORIGINAL thought.

In other words …

The act of creating a persuasive sales message is an exercise in the creative application of logic to engage and move a human being to action.

It should be informed – but NEVER completely driven – by copywriting techniques others have used.

So, when writing sales copy, forget the rules. Focus on your prospect.

Simply ask yourself, “What do I need to say to get his attention?”

“What do I need to say – and prove – to keep him reading?”

“What do I need to say to neutralize the objections he’s most likely to have to buying now?”

“What do I need to say to make “not ordering” seem like the dumbest decision he could possibly make?”

Then, when writing the sales copy, use The Force – FEEL your way through your copy, asking yourself every paragraph or two, “If I was the prospect how would I be feeling right now? Would I feel bored? Skeptical? Like you’re taking too long to get to the point? Or would I feel energized … persuaded … and anxious to buy?”

When you shift your focus away from the copywriting techniques you’ve learned, you free yourself to focus exclusively on your prospect.

More than that: You free yourself to innovate – to discover new ways to engage your prospect and move him to action. You free yourself to become a legend that a future generation of copy cubs will emulate.

And you know what else? You’ll be surprised at how many of the lessons you’ve learned as a student of copywriting come to mind just when you need them to solve a problem you’ve spotted in your text.

But let those things be your servant; never your master.

Hope this helps …