Why Watching Oprah Can Be Good for Your Copywriting

The starting point for any successful promotion is to know your prospect intimately. This means understanding and empathizing with his fears, hopes, loves, aspirations, and many other things in his life.

But once you understand your prospect at this deep level, you still have another important step to take before you write. You have to figure out how to talk to him in words and about ideas that make him think, "You're one of us. You really do understand me, because we speak the same language … and read the same stuff … and watch the same movies and television programs … and read the same books."

To do this, you have to have your pulse on many aspects of popular culture. When you do, you'll understand how to talk to your prospect in ways that make sense to him right now. You'll know what intrigues him, what horrifies him, what makes him laugh … and what brings him to the brink of tears.

Imagine you're writing about a home business opportunity newsletter. Which of the following headlines would resonate best with your prospect?

1. You've just won "The $64,000 Question"! (a popular 1950s quiz show)

or …

2. You've just won the top prize on "Deal or No Deal"!

The second one, of course. For one thing, the concept behind "Deal or No Deal" taps into the dreams of prospects who would be interested in this newsletter. But this headline does more than that. It tells them that their guilty pleasure is yours as well. And that you're an "all right kind of guy."

When would you use this headline to sell The Wall Street Journal? Never. This headline is effective only in the right setting with the right prospect universe.

But that doesn't mean you can't make a connection with your WSJ prospect by tapping into the popular "Deal or No Deal" show for a WSJ promo. For example: "The WSJ is not for everyone. It's for people like you who believe in building your wealth the only way that makes sense. With careful study. Careful planning. And reliable information. Let the dreamers hope to make it big on 'Deal or No Deal.' You're not …"

The trick is to position popular references – like "You're Fired!" (The Apprentice), "Voted Off the Island" (Survivor), or "Juiced!" (steroids in sports) – in a way that's appropriate for your audience.

Keep in mind that such catchphrases won't work with all promotions in all niches. And they can grow stale quickly. That's why it's important to keep abreast of cultural trends.

Many copywriters struggle with this crucial part of the writing process – but AWAI member CJ Matthews offers these seven strategies that can help:

  1. Watch Oprah.

    This is perhaps the best way to know what mainstream America is talking about and interested in. Keep a notepad nearby.

  2. Watch other popular TV shows.

    TV is a time sucker, so limit how long and how often you watch it. Concentrate on choosing programs that match the viewing tastes of your prospect universe. Popular magazines, conversations with friends, and TV Guide can help you do that.

  3. Read The National Enquirer.

    With one of the largest subscription bases in the nation, The Enquirer almost certainly represents the viewpoints of many of your prospects. Even if you don't read the articles, it's a great place to find headline ideas.

  4. Read People magazine.

    Like The Enquirer, People (and similar publications) can give you insights into the key interests, beliefs, and desires of most of your prospects. Supplement with their online counterparts, too, including www.people.com and E! Online (www.eonline.com).

  5. Watch popular movies.

    As far back as 1966, Eugene Schwartz understood what a valuable resource this could be – and he made sure he saw any movie that grossed over $1 million. Today, that translates to movies grossing $50 million or $100 million.

  6. Ask questions.

    When you talk to people on a casual basis – on the phone, at parties, over coffee – ask the kind of questions that encourage them to reveal their inner thoughts and feelings. Then LISTEN to what they say.

  7. Go to online discussion boards.

    As with TV, you have to be careful to limit the time you spend on the Internet. Go only to boards that would interest your prospects. For example, if you're writing a financial package, you wouldn't want to go to a discussion group about soap operas. Many popular websites – like MSN, CNN, and AOL – have links to a wide variety of discussion boards on their home pages.

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Published: February 5, 2007

1 Response to “Why Watching Oprah Can Be Good for Your Copywriting”

  1. I am in the new phase of this program. This information,like all of the other, is new to me. I am being exposed to more material than I can absorb now but I am working on it.


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