A Copywriter’s Master Class

When it comes to direct-response copywriting, the devil really is in the details, according to copywriting legend Herschell Gordon Lewis.

Every copy decision you make, from how to ask for a response to whether or not to spell out numbers, will have an effect on how your audience interprets your message – and how it responds.

Even though they may seem trivial, “every word should be gold,” Lewis told a standing-room-only crowd during his “Creative Master Class” session at the Direct Marketing Association’s 87th Annual Conference & Exhibition. “Your words generate the reaction, and you are in command of that reaction.”

Lewis went on to share some of his insights into creating copy that resonates with any audience:

  • Write like people talk. The Internet has made us all more casual in our language, so your direct-response copy should follow suit. Avoid the trickiness, overly formal language and pomposity that will turn prospects off. “We are not being graded on an academic basis,” asserts Lewis. “We deal in response.”
  • Avoid generic words (such as quality, value and service) and cliches (such as paradigm, win-win, 24/7, outside the box and fast track) that add nothing to your message. Some other words and phrases on Lewis’s don’t list: “remember,” “what is more,” “means business,” “when it comes to,” “proactive,” “due to the fact that,” “game plan,” “customer-centric,” “at the end of the day,” “core competency,” and “knowledge-based.”
  • Spelling out numbers adds dignity, formality and importance, but it also adds distance between the reader and the writer, so this should be used with caution.
  • Pay attention to and test the nuances, because they really do make a difference. For example, Lewis’s tests have shown that “reply” out-pulls “response” because it implies less commitment and “free shipping” out-pulls “we’ll pay the shipping costs.”
  • First person is more effective at establishing rapport with the reader, while third person is better for being official.
  • An emotion-based message will outsell an intellect-based one, so make sure your message reaches your audience on an emotional level.
  • Benefits out-pull features, so place them first for more sales power.
  • Present tense is more effective than future tense because the present is now and today’s customer wants immediate satisfaction.
  • Always keep in mind the three basics of success in direct-response copywriting: verisimilitude, clarity, and benefit.
The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »

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Published: July 5, 2007

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