Advice from copywriting legends often overlap, each approach influencing expert and effective content creation.
Whoever coined the phrase “that’s so punk rock,” probably didn’t suspect it would stick. Punk is an anti-authoritarian type of music; it’s about rebellion and violates conventions by design. In other words, it isn’t for those who tend to “follow the leader.”
And what punk does for music, copywriting masters do for content creation. Take copywriting predecessor and inspiration to David Ogilvy, Rosser Reeves.
Reeves created ads for the 1952 election campaign for the 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower. This was a power move because it was the first time brief ads were run over political speeches.
Master copywriters and content creators are known to do that–break tradition–and test what the industry’s capable of and what compels an audience.
But in order to discuss how different copywriting approaches assist expert content creation, it’s helpful to review past approaches to see what can be learned.
The Way Copywriting Used to Be
Ogilvy was very much an advocate of Reeves’ approach to copywriting, which leaned heavily on Unique Selling Propositions, or USPs.
In fact, in his book, Ogilvy On Advertising, he said, “Repeat your winners. If you are lucky enough to write a good advertisement, repeat it until it stops selling. Scores of good advertisements have been discarded before they lost their potency.”
And those in the content creation game took his advice to heart. Absolut Vodka certainly did. They ran the same ad campaign for 25 years. It’s the longest marketing campaign in history, and it’s the epitome of repeating your winners with “a rise of 10,000 cases sold in 1980 to 4.5 million cases in 2000,” according to Medium.
What you can learn here is that you shouldn’t be so quick to distribute fresh content when the old content still works.
Over the years, copywriting formulas were developed to make sales easier. Marketers and copywriters noticed specific patterns in the content they created that sold well. For example, one of the most famous selling combinations that sells is called AIDA.
It stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. These spell out the necessary elements of your copy and the content you need to attract prospects.
There are many variations to this basic selling formula. Skilled copywriter, Robert W. Bly, would agree with the use of formulas in advertising. His view on copywriting is detailed in The Copywriter’s Handbook: A Step-By-Step Guide To Writing Copy That Sells: “But the goal of advertising is not to be liked, to entertain, or to win awards; it is to sell products. The advertiser, if he is smart, doesn’t care whether people like his commercials or are entertained or are amused by them. If they are, fine. But commercials are a means to an end, and the end is increased sales—and profits—for the advertiser.”
This no-nonsense approach to selling is a lot like past approaches in the era of the hard sell. The hard sell is an aggressive approach to selling focusing on very clear-cut and direct language. This commercial for the cookware product, Gotham Steel, comes to mind when referencing the hard sell.
Just as Bly doesn’t think much of creativity when running ads, Ogilvy thought the same way. But their opinions are somewhat purist in nature–that is to say, if Ogilvy figured something was true, it could be proven with research.
For example, when Ogilvy started his own agency, his very first ad, The Guiness Guide to Oysters, was like that–well-researched. The print ad relied on insights about oysters separated into well-thought out, digestible tidbits assorted into twelve squares.
The ad went on to win prestigious awards, but Ogilvy being Ogilvy, he didn’t care about that so much. You can learn a lot about the power of research through this example, namely that researched copy sells. It also teaches you that fact-based pieces don’t always have to be long-form–just make sure your content adds value.
Copywriters that followed in Ogilvy’s wake modified what it means to create content to fit today’s world.
At this point, how the maestros of content creation decide what is and isn’t copywriting seems to be a technical point, but the copywriting veterans below add something new to copywriting.
David Garfinkel is one of those copywriters. In his book, Breakthrough Copywriting: How To Generate Quick Cash With The Written Word, Garfinkel recognized the need to update the current definition of copywriting.
He said that: “I’ve come up with a 21st century definition of copywriting… Copywriting is using the written word to start, enhance, or extend a relationship with a customer that subsumes, or includes, salesmanship in print. That could be one of the things, but it’s not the only thing.”
The key word here? “Relationship.”
Instead of being “salesmanship in print,” Garfinkel acknowledged that being a salesperson means cultivating a relationship through many channels. These channels might include print, but it’s not the only channel, as Garfinkel points out that print “could be one of the things, but it’s not the only thing.”
As mentioned earlier, your main focus is on the “relationship,” as new customers are more costly to acquire than existing ones. Panera Bread exemplifies Garfinkel’s definition. In its “Food as it should be,” marketing campaign, Panera seeks to build these relationships with their customers.
In particular, Panera makes a promise that its food is “clean”–that is, food “with no artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors, or colors from artificial sources.”
The point is that Panera is seeking to build trust–a relationship–with their customers through ads. In doing so, they are using “21st century” copywriting.
Joseph Sugarman is another copywriting guru that brought about change to the copywriting community. In the book that he said was his “legacy,” The AdWeek Copywriting Handbook, Sugarman recognized the need for copywriting to be defined in terms that reflected the diversity of the experience.
What I mean is that he focused on the fact that there’s more to copywriting than any one aspect of it. Sugarman defined copywriting as a mental process that took shape on paper: “Copywriting is a mental process the successful execution of which reflects the sum total of all of 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.”
Sugarman also believed that copywriting was a matter of using existing information and combining it with other information to make a unique concept.
This is reflected in the complexity of the definition.
In marketing, reaching out to other companies to collaborate with you to add or create value for your prospects and customers isn’t new–it’s a way to enhance a product or service. Uber’s partnership with Spotify to allow customers to listen to music during their drive is an example of this, and is emblematic of Sugarman’s copywriting philosophy.
Putting it all together, to produce content like a pro, you need to show the consumer something they’ve never seen before, or hadn’t thought about. Uber and Spotify understood this well. They’re adapting to consumer needs.
And in a sense, the definition of what it means to practice content creation and copywriting has also been fluid over the years. It revealed important marketing lessons that stand the test of time.
As a copywriter, you can always follow the leader and obey the masters to create content that makes an impact. You can choose to sell over and over again, use copywriting formulas, build relationships, and even mix and match content. Or… you could dare to break out of the box, buck tradition and attempt something new for content creators everywhere.
That’d be so punk rock.
Are there other copywriters whose expert content creation strategies inspire your campaigns? Let us know in the chat below.
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