After working into early morning hours on a new copy project, I needed to take a day off.
So along with enjoying the lovely fall weather here in coastal Virginia, I watched a couple of movies last weekend.
But I still couldn’t completely stop thinking about copywriting. And even while relaxing with a good movie, I found hidden gems that show what you MUST have to make the best sales.
Copywriting Secrets to Die For
Let’s talk about Edge of tomorrow
Picture the nations of the world united and at war – against aliens. Our fast-talking New Jersey hero, an advertising man and college ROTC pretty boy, is called to join a campaign. However, this one’s a ground campaign – one he personally sold into existence with an ad campaign.
After a series of attempts to avoid duty, he’s sent to the front lines. His superiors expect him to perish in a desperate attempt to save Central Europe.
Shortly after his arrival at the launch base, we find him napping next to a mammoth pile of gear. He wakes, gets marched off to barracks, is eventually forced into battle, and dies.
He immediately wakes up alive – in the same place he woke up the day before – surrounded by all the gear. For a second time, he goes to barracks, attempts battle, and is obliterated.
It’s Groundhog Day meets The Dirty Dozen (sans Lee Marvin and his tough team).
He dies again and again and again …
He relives the day and its challenges repeatedly until he masters every skill he needs. He learns to predict every response of each person, alien, or vehicle he will encounter.
Copywriting is like that. Except that our enemy isn’t personal, and our allies aren’t usually dropped into alien wars. Our allies are good prospects and clients. We want them to be happy and are duty-bound to look after their good.
Our enemy is low response rates, bad copy, crickets …
So what does the movie teach us about copywriting?
First, great copy demands great technique. Cruise had to learn how to use his armor and fancy machete effectively. As a copywriter, I have to understand the emotions and desires driving response. I carefully choose and assemble all words, phrases, structures, and approaches. I tap into the pre-existing fears and dreams of each audience. Non-copywriters often find this intensely frustrating. Writing a dissertation or a book may actually help less than selling condo’s or scooping ice cream when it comes to this gig.
Second, not everyone responds the same way. Destroying the enemy required predicting exact movements of fellow soldiers, missiles, monsters, and trucks. Likewise, a copywriter needs to know what prospects are most likely to do when faced with an ad or sales page.
Third, by testing and adjusting, you will find success. Every day brings our heroes closer to the heart of the aliens’ central control. Those sales quotas you want to crush aren’t exactly amphibious octopus-like beasts with ferocious fang-filled jaws of death. However, it does take repeated work and testing to achieve the very highest customer response possible. Sometimes there’s epic fail … followed by split testing and epic success. Failure and success are not always far away from each other. And speaking of failure …
Fourth, it’s OK to fail. Copywriting master Gene Schwartz claims that great copywriters fail. Good copywriters who don’t are most likely not taking the risks required for great copy. It’s imperative that copy catch people’s attention. A bold, “out-of-this-world,” or even borderline unbelievable headline is often the key to response. That’s why the National Enquirer and People Magazine still sell. Bold, sensational, gut-wrenching, even sleazy copy truly does work.
As long as your headline gets people to the next sentence without making them feel misled, it’s done its job. So don’t be afraid to go bigger than you planned – just do it cheaply at first (postcard campaign, Facebook ad testing). Then do it again, making it better every time.
Until next time …