Are you sophisticated?
How about your copywriting … and your prospect? And what does that really mean?
Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady,” is about adulteration, experience, loss of innocence, and discriminating taste. It’s not a happy song (though it’s hard not to feel happy listening to Ella Fitzgerald sing it).
They say into your early life romance came
And this heart of yours burned a flame
A flame that flickered one day and died away
Then, with disillusion deep in your eyes
You learned that fools in love soon grow wise
The years have changed you, somehow
I see you now
Smoking, drinking, never thinking of tomorrow, nonchalant
Diamonds shining, dancing, dining with some man in a restaurant
Is that all you really want?
No, sophisticated lady,
I know, you miss the love you lost long ago
And when nobody is nigh you cry
– Duke Ellington / Mitchell Parish / Irving Mills
Sophistication encompasses all of those qualities. It can also be the key to writing ads that work. Keep reading to discover what it means for you and your audience … and how to use it to your advantage. We’ll start with the Oxford English Dictionary. Then we’ll review classic Eugene Schwartz and apply everything to modern copywriting.
Back to the beginning …
Sophisticated is a messy word in the OED. At first glance, it looks like an exceptionally bad thing to be.
There are three entries for sophisticate. The second (adjective), and the third, (verb), come from the medieval Latin, sophisticare. Going back further, the word originates in the Greek, sophia, or “wisdom.” The original Greek sophists were top experts known for traveling and teaching. The name soon came to mean teachers who traveled from place to place (and who became known for teaching relativistic morality).
By the time “sophisticated” made it to 20th-century England, it could mean tampering, adulterating, corrupting, or even falsifying or misrepresenting.
In copywriting, we don’t want to go there. If we do, there could be legal trouble ahead (have you ever seen those long lists of FTC actions taken against companies promising unbelievable weight loss in minuscule amounts of time?). No … Just no. And although renowned copywriters have promised that we need to get to the EDGE of believability to make great sales and profits, there’s a line.
Sophisticate, the noun, has its origins in the U. S. of A. The simple definition is “A person with sophisticated tastes.”
Turning next to Sophisticated, the adjective, we get a mix of the positive and negative:
#1 – “mixed with a foreign substance, adulterated, impure”
#2 – “altered from or deprived of natural simplicity or innocence” (or referring to a text changed when it’s copied or printed)
#3 – falsified – not plain, honest, or straightforward – or even designed to deceive!
#4 – “Experienced, worldly, cultured, discriminating in taste or judgment.”
“If you’re gonna use simile, analogy, metaphor, be descriptive and have some flowery adjectives and a few odd nouns and some engaging bits of dialogue or sentiment, then you’re sort of writing a novel, really. But rock lyrics are not really known for their sophistication.” – Ian Anderson
How Sophisticated is Your Sales Copy?
As writers, we DON’T want to be sophisticated in senses #2 and #3 of the word.
Going from simple to complicated is total insanity in copywriting …
Especially when we live in the age of sub-goldfish attention spans and so many other websites, text messages, notifications, and to-do lists knocking about our screens.
If anything, we should be going in the other direction, regardless of how many times our elementary school teachers decried the loss of rich vocabulary in periodicals designed for 12-year-olds. Clear, instant communication is essential for sales.
Related Video: Boost Your Readability with MS Word
Deception is bad for your business, your relationships, and your soul
The FTC is not your only concern. Dishonesty (we’re talking about intentionally misleading people from the start) and inconsistency, destroy trust, which provides a foundation for sales. We need trust if want to stay in a business world full of instant communication, public reviews, and powerful influencers. We want our readers to get truly valuable help from us so they’ll benefit, come back for more, and recommend us to their friends.
On the other hand, the right sophistication creates powerful ads …
Writing that reflects worldly experience and discriminating tastes appeals to exclusivity and quality.
These are powerful motivators for the right audience and product.
Finally, the mixing and adulteration of ideas lends potency to marketing writing
Transform your product with Metaphors – these are the perfect blending tools. Take a look at the Super Bowl examples in this post.
Introduce a related idea that engages people’s emotions or fantasies. Bob Bly tells Clayton Makepeace in this interview about the time he brought a wild west quick-draw artist into a defense marketing booth at a trade show. Westinghouse was competing for a weapons contract for US army tanks, and the booth, which offered actual matches for visitors, became the “hit of the show.”
“The spirit’s foe in man has not been simplicity, but sophistication.” – George Santayana
How Sophisticated is your Audience?
In Breakthrough Advertising, Gene Schwartz divides prospects into 5 states of sophistication. This has nothing to do with their opera attendance or favorite cigar brand. Well, maybe the cigar is related …
Schwartz discusses the prospect’s experience with and awareness of the seller’s product (#4 from above). If your reader has seen it all before, you don’t need to explain what the product does … You need to differentiate it from the competition.
Here’s a quick summary:
1 – Keep It Simple
If you’re first in your market (this includes introducing an old product into a new market), keep your headline simple and direct. Lead with a big promise or need.
Example: “Firmer abs in just 20 minutes a day”
2 – Bigger, Better, Cheaper, and Faster
If you’re second in the market, make a bigger claim than your competition. This approach has a natural limit. As the claims become greater and creep toward the edge of believability, sales will drop, according to Schwartz.
Example: “Washboard abs in only 12 minutes a day”
3 – The “Mechanism”
In the third stage of sophistication, they’ve read the ads, heard the hype, seen the infomercials, bought a competing product … You can’t make your claim any better, and you still have the same product. Lead with a new “mechanism.” Find the unique feature, process, or ingredient that makes your product better, faster, stronger. Put it in your headline and show how it fulfills your big promise.
Example: “Get ripped in only 12 minutes per day with our new scientifically-engineered ab-sculptor”
4 – How It Works: The Devil is in The Details …
When the third stage ad starts to fail, your product has reached the fourth stage. Here, you need to explain more about all the details of the mechanism itself.
Example: “The Ab-Max Pro isolates the 3 critical muscles that give you a firmer, more sculpted appearance while building core strength”
5 – “He’s Dead, Jim”
The fifth stage of sophistication is not certain death for marketers. It’s a new challenge. Benefits, superiority, and mechanisms no longer work. You must now appeal to a feeling or image your prospect wants to identify with.
Example: We see the Ab-Max man’s exquisitely ripped torso as he climbs a steep rock face and/or walks along the shore surrounded by beautiful women. (Other examples: the rugged masculinity of the Marlboro Man or the tanned Mediterranean Bain de Soleil woman.)
Want the perfect headline? When you combine these secrets with my new headline picker, you’ll have a mighty advantage you can use right away to create your next high-converting headline for just about any sales copy you need to write. Try it now!