Book notes from How to Make Your Advertising Make Money by advertising legend John Caples.
Headlines make ads work. The best headlines appeal to people’s self interest or give news. Long headlines that say something outpull short headlines that say nothing. A headline has one job: to stop prospects with a believable promise.
Simple words are powerful. And remember, every word is important. “How To Fix Cars” beat “How To Repair Cars” by 20%.
Write more copy than you need. If you need 1,000 words, write 2,000, then trim it down. Ads with lots of facts are effective. As long as it’s interesting, people will read all the copy you give ’em. If it’s dull, short copy can’t save it.
Direct writing outperforms cute writing. Get to the point. Don’t save your best benefit until last. Lead with it. And don’t just list benefits. Tell ’em what they’ll miss if they don’t take action. If it’s an important point, make it three times: beginning, middle, and end.
Advertisers get sick of their ads before the public does. If it’s working, don’t change it. Try to create even better ads, sure, but don’t turn off winners just cuz.
Avoid humor. Your words should sell, not just entertain. (For what it’s worth, I’ve made a small fortune ignoring this rule.)
Times change but people do not. Words like free and new are as effective as ever. Ads that offer news or appeal to people’s desire for self-improvement still work. And always will.
Test everything. By running the best ads in the best positions in the best media at the best time of day and during the best seasons, you’ll stretch each ad dollar. Also, after testing lots of different ads, observe what the winners all have in common.
The best writing is that which goes from the heart of the writer to the heart of the reader.
The top 10 words used in successful headlines, in order, are:
Basically, the words you, new, and how are outstanding. Litter your ads with ’em.
Some of the most persuasive words in advertising are:
A skillful copywriter doesn’t depend on the reader’s imagination to visualize all the possible benefits of various product features. Instead, the writer elaborates. He creates a word picture that makes crystal clear the specific advantages of every feature.
Proven headline starters from Reader’s Digest:
- How to…
- 7 steps to…
- 10 ways to…
- Science finds…
- The secret of…
- What makes…
- Should you…
- Are you…
- What it takes to…
- One sure way to…
- Guide to…
If using a bargain appeal, explain it. Give a logical reason for the price reduction.
Twenty six time-tested advertising appeals:
- Protect health
- Reduce fat
- Improve appearance
- Get ahead in business
- Make money
- Save money
- Win money
- Cash in on bargains
- Gain social advancement
- Win friends
- Influence people
- Win praise from others
- Gain prestige
- Be a leader
- Have a happy marriage
- Care for children
- Improve education
- Be creative
- Avoid worry
- Avoid drudgery
- Avoid embarrassment
- Avoid discomfort
- Avoid boredom
- Enjoy comfort
- Enjoy leisure
- Attain security in old age
If you have a good headline, you have a good ad. If you have a poor headline, you’ve lost before you’ve begun – the copy won’t get read. The best headlines are selling ideas expressed in the simplest of terms. No frills, no adjectives, no cleverness.
Any good writer can write an acceptable reason-why ad. Simply state the sales arguments in proper sequence, in plain English. But it takes an exceptional writer to write “story copy.” The story must come from the heart, not the head. If you can skillfully combine reason-why copy with story copy, you’ll be money bro.
If you struggle to start or continue writing, try using a simple outline. Even something like this:
- First paragraph
- Recital of benefits
- Proof of claims
- Urge to action
- Reason to act now
Force yourself to write regularly. Don’t let your writing talent weaken through lack of use. Like bestselling novelist Sinclair Lewis said:
The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.
Remember, one of the best ways to improve your writing is to overwrite and then trim the fat.
Consider stuffing your brand name into the headlines of successive ads so that even “glancers” can be won over… in time.
Believability – proof of claims – should be included in every sales letter you write.
Include an escape clause. People like an easy way out. For example: “Just write ‘cancel’ on the bill if you don’t love the first issue.”
Experienced advertisers keep hammering away with ads that work. Those are the ads that produce sales that are plentiful and profitable. Study those repeats carefully. They can teach you something.
Direct-response advertisers have found that they get the best results by using straight sales talks that do not attempt to be clever, cute, or humorous. Persuading a prospect to spend money is serious business.
Since attention spans are short and distractions are everywhere you’re better off trying to sell a single idea.
Two forces are at work in the minds of your prospects: skepticism and the desire to believe. Do ’em a favor by giving ’em evidence that what you say is true.
The key to success is advertising (max sales per dollar spent) lies in perpetual testing of all variables.
Keep a positive attitude when you run a new ad. It either wins or you learn something.
Be honest with your clients. If a one-fourth page ad will be more cost-effective than a full-page ad, say so. Sure, you’ll make less in the short term. But in the long term, the client will stick around longer and refer others and you’ll come out ahead. Not to mention, it’s the right thing to do.
Find work you enjoy. The secret of happiness is enjoying work plus helping others.