Are You Breaking the Cardinal Rule of Copywriting?

Recently I reviewed some copy from a copywriter who’s been writing for a while. It wasn’t bad. But it didn’t rise above the vast heap of promotions clamoring for attention.

So – as it stood – I knew it wouldn’t get read. And the product wouldn’t get sold.

The problem? Simply this: The copywriter was trying too hard to sell the product – by focusing too much on the product itself.

It’s a common mistake novice and B-level copywriters make. They put too much effort into describing the product … what it is … and how it works.

That’s not your job as a copywriter. It breaks the cardinal rule of copywriting: Keep the product invisible.

Michael Masterson calls this the “Secret of Transparency.” Your goal is to make your product transparent, or invisible, by focusing on the benefits and the ways the product improves your prospect’s life.

This is a VERY important copywriting rule.

Your reader doesn’t want another book, manual, or gadget. What he wants is to be successful … or wealthy … or healthy … or beautiful. Your job is to get to that “Aha!” moment where he’ll suddenly realize that what you’re selling will help him get there.

Let’s look at a concrete example. Imagine you’re selling a new personal success program written by a self-help guru. The basic promise of the program: “You can be successful without really trying, simply by switching on an internal mental switch.”

If you focus on the product from the beginning, you run a very real risk. First, your product will sound very ordinary – like so many programs out there. Second, your prospect – spurred by your copy – can easily go onto Amazon and buy a book making a similar promise. You made a sale. But the wrong one.

You Always Want Something Much Bigger and Much Better

You’re selling the secret to automatic success … in anything your prospect sets out to accomplish. You’re selling a “secret” that’s used by some of the world’s happiest and wealthiest people … something they learned very easily that transformed their lives.

Focus on your underlying big promise, which, in this example, might be simply “automatic success.” You do it by revealing just a little bit of the program here and there – and focusing on the benefits and the resulting impact these simple little secrets can have on your prospect’s life: wealth, success in business, better personal relationships – and that magnificent feeling of knowing that he can accomplish anything. All because he alters his thinking in a very small but profound way.

What you don’t want to write is a long-winded dissertation on the history of the program and how it works. This sort of approach gives the prospect too many chances to opt out. It’s boring to him because it isn’t about his needs, wants, desires, fears, or passions.

The bottom line is this. Your prospect needs to leave your letter convinced he’s found the “missing key” to his success. Your job as a copywriter is to make that happen. Finally he’s discovered what makes successful people successful. This is his lucky day. Had he not read this letter, he might not otherwise have ever known about it.

And now he wants more.

Don’t Forget About the Golden Thread

One more thing:

When you use the Secret of Transparency by keeping the product invisible and focusing on benefits, be sure to keep the golden thread – that central and main promise – taut throughout the copy. Always keep in mind that once you slip into explaining what the product is, it loses its luster. It becomes ordinary. And you risk having your prospect lose sight of the “big idea.”

And how do you find your product’s “big idea”? After doing all your research, step back and ask yourself “What’s the most exciting thing this product can do for me? What can it do for my prospect?” Then get excited about the product’s benefits – and share your enthusiasm with your prospect … in a very upbeat and conversational tone.

Adopting the Secret of Transparency may seem counter-intuitive. But when you apply it to your writing – while less-informed copywriters continue to focus on the product – your copy will be successful when your competitors’ copy fails.

And you will rise from B-level to A-level copywriter.

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: January 28, 2008

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