Is It Time to Get More Specific?

John Wood taking over The Writer’s Life this week.

This week, I'm going to give you practical tips – plus motivation – for accelerating the success of your writing career.

Today, I'd like to share a maxim that inspired me from copywriting legend Claude Hopkins’s famous book Scientific Advertising.

Hopkins writes …

"Platitudes and generalities roll off the human understanding like water from a duck. They make no impression whatsoever."

Hopkins suggests that making a general statement like "Lowest prices in existence" suggests a "looseness of expression, a tendency to exaggerate and a carelessness of truth" – which will cause your reader to question all the other statements you make.

So what's the antidote?

Be specific.

Specific statements come alive in the minds of the reader. They can “see” what you’re saying. And your writing will be more believable.

Hopkins relates the famous story about how in the old days all beers were advertised as "pure."

The claim had been used so much it had become weak and meaningless.

Then Hopkins, working for Schlitz Brewery, decided to get specific with his marketing. He asked the reader to picture the plate-glass window where the beer was cooled in filtered air. He then described the "filter of white wood pulp through which every drop was cleared" and how the bottles were washed four times by machinery and so on.

These were claims that most brewers could have made as they were essential to ordinary brewing. But because he got specific, the brewer (and Hopkins) made the greatest success in beer advertising up to that point in time – taking Schlitz from the number five brewery to neck and neck for the number one position in a few short months.

Here are some other quick examples from Hopkins. Instead of saying, "Our prices have been reduced," he recommends, "Our prices have been reduced by 25%." Instead of saying, "Used the world over," try, "Used by the peoples of 52 nations."

In his book The Adweek Copywriting Handbook: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Powerful Advertising and Marketing Copy from One of America's Top Copywriters, Joe Sugarman also talks about the importance of specificity.

Sugarman talks about how in his BluBlocker Sunglasses infomercials he stated specific reasons why screening out blue spectrum light rays improves vision.

He explained how the blue light rays focused in front of the retina and not on the retina as other colors do. And how, because of this, when you block out the blue rays, your retina is better equipped to make objects appear clearer, sharper, and more defined.

By being specific, the copy is more credible. And it has far greater impact than just saying, "BlueBlocker sunglasses let you see clearer, sharper, and with more definition."

Both Hopkins and Sugarman demonstrate the power of getting more specific when saying ordinary things.

So the next time you write an email article or sales letter, look for opportunities where you can be more specific regarding some of your statements and claims. The credibility of your copy will skyrocket (or should I say "double") and you'll be a more effective and sought-after writer.

Speaking of getting specific … if you're looking for some guidance on how to best come up with a specific price for a product you or your client might be marketing, check out an article I wrote called "Is Your Client Charging the Right Price for Their Product or Service?"

And if you’re attending AWAI’s FastTrack to Copywriting Success Bootcamp and Job Fair in October, you’ll have the rare treat of hearing the legendary Joe Sugarman in person during his keynote address: The Seven Forces of Success. Joe will share marketing philosophies that have helped build multimillion-dollar businesses, as well as the key copywriting secrets he used to enhance his success. If you’re attending, drop me a note by posting a comment below.

If not, get all the details – and find out who’ll be joining Joe – here.

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Published: October 3, 2011

6 Responses to “Is It Time to Get More Specific?”

  1. I had the good fortune of downloading Claude Hopkins’s book, Scientific Advertising, gratis on John Forde's website. Its secrets are fleshed out beautifully by Michael Masterson in the Accelerated Copywriting course. Thank you for bringing my attention to Joe Sugarman's work. I'll be sure to read his book prior to bootcamp. I need to review what I've written recently to see if I'm using this powerful tool! Thanks for the inspiration!

    Kim G

  2. Really enjoyed Cindy Cyr's articles last week. The information and accompanying exercises will make me a better writer.
    A sincere thanks for sending them.
    Bill Shaw Proud PWA Member


  3. You've motivated me to not only be more specific but also read Hopkins' Scientific Advertising. It's been on my desktop for months. Thanks for the great content.

    I'll see you at Bootcamp. I'd like to meet you. You've written some useful content the past several months.

    Guest (Eddie Stephens)

  4. Great letter, John. I've always believed attention to detail is important, but you have inspired me to add more specific information. Thanks for the tip!

    See you at Bootcamp!

    Guest (Susan Laird)

  5. So according to this currently food products that advertise having "Calcium" have overrated that one. It would work better by saying, "It has Calcium, the mineral that carries the most oxygen to your cells to prevent cancer". The lack of oxygen in your cells is what causes cancer...Dr. Otto Warburg, 1930 Nobel prize.

    Dale Buckeridge

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