Copywriting’s Easiest Strategy to Learn

When planning what to write for The Golden Thread, I try to choose something I feel you haven’t heard before. But, since I’ve just started these messages to you, today I’m going to hit the single, most important strategy for writing successful copy — even though you may have heard it already.

This strategy will make your writing stronger and more compelling. It’ll hold your reader’s interest throughout your writing. And, it’ll make your writing task easier.

I’m talking about Michael Masterson’s “The Rule of One.” The way Michael puts it:

“To create blockbuster promotions time after time, you must understand the difference between good copy and great copy. The Power of One is the driving force behind great copy.”

Simply stated, the Rule of One means you use one main idea to build your promotion around. But, it is not only one big, central idea. It's fully-engaging copy with four necessary pieces. To use the Rule of One, your writing must have …

  • One — and only one — powerful idea: This one idea must be strong enough to grab your prospect’s attention and compel him into your writing.
  • One — and only one — core emotion: The powerful idea must stir a single emotion that already exists in your prospect.
  • One single, desirable benefit: Lead with one, single desirable benefit that touches the prospect’s core complex. If it doesn’t touch the prospect’s core complex, it isn’t a real benefit to him.
  • One inevitable response: Direct the reader to one inevitable action.

You can see the Rule of One at work in some of the most successful advertisements of all time.

For example, Coca Cola built a hugely-successful advertising campaign around the slogan “The Pause That Refreshes.” When that slogan grew stale, they later switched to “Always Cool.”

Notice how each one gives a very clear picture of one core benefit. This focus would have faded if they’d used something like “The pause that refreshes … and always cools.”

McDonald’s classic campaign centered around “You deserve a break today” for many years. But later, they changed it to “I’m lovin’ it.” It wouldn’t have had the impact if they’d mixed the messages with “You deserve a break today and you’re lovin’ it.”

Here are some others:

  • Avis: “We try harder.”
  • Apple Computer: “Think different”
  • Pork Advisory Board: “Pork. The other white meat.”

James Loftus is a veteran advertising consultant who’s worked with Anheuser-Busch, Holiday Inn, McDonald’s, and many other clients. He agrees with the Rule of One:

“ … keep in mind that the more points you try to cover, the less effective each point, and therefore your ad, will be. An effective ad will actually have only one central focus, even if you discuss it from two or three perspectives. If your points are too diverse, they compete with each other, and end up pulling the reader’s attention in separate directions.”

But, there are so many great benefits …

If you’ve tackled — or are going to tackle — the Dr. Smith Supplement exercise in the Accelerated Program, you have a great example of how overwhelming too much information can be.

Here’s a product with tons of benefits. Just like many of the products you’ll be asked to write about in your career.

So, you research everything you can about the product. You learn about its antioxidants and their ability to improve heart health. You learn about the product’s ability to improve energy. And sex drive. And support weight loss. It’s the near-perfect supplement.

What man wouldn’t want it if he knew all the numerous benefits? It promises so much for improving a man’s health. So, in the excitement of writing, you want to cover them all. That way, if one benefit or promise doesn’t move your prospect, another one will. Or, so you think.

Big mistake. I saw this time and again looking at copy AWAI members had written for this exercise. There was so much to write about, the writing was confusing.

Celeste — a COS member in one of the Targeted Learning Programs I taught — put it perfectly: “When I do all the research and have all those ideas, it makes my head spin trying to make sense of it. How do you think your reader feels when he’s confronted by all of that? His head has to be spinning just as badly.”

If you’ve picked one strong, main idea — one that touches your prospect’s core complex — that’s all you need. That’s enough to carry your prospect into and through your promotion.

Even if you have three great major benefits to your product, concentrate on one. Use that one as the driving force in your promotion. You can touch on the other benefits later in the promotion — maybe in a sidebar or as a P.S. But, make your main idea and the big benefit your promo’s driving force.

If you don’t, you’ll lose focus. Your prospect will lose focus. And, your promotion will lose focus and fail.

Kill your darlings

The Rule of One is a very easy strategy to understand. But, it’s tremendously hard to follow.

As successful copywriters, we work hard researching, gathering data, compiling benefits, and delving deeply into our prospect’s emotions. All the things we’ve compiled become our “darlings.”

When we’re all done, we find it’s almost impossible to leave out any of our darlings. In spite of the Rule of One, much of it goes in. But, if you want your promotion to succeed, follow renowned Pulitzer Prize author Eudora Welty’s advice: “Kill your darlings.”

As hard as it might be, give your prospect a break. Make it easy for him to see the one idea that will bring him into the promotion. Let him feel the one strong, compelling emotion that will carry him through to the end. Let him see clearly the one action he must take to make his life better.

Your writing is not about you and how hard you worked. It’s not about showcasing the numerous benefits you’ve uncovered. It’s about convincing your prospect to take that one, inevitable action Michael Masterson talks about.

You do that by following to the Rule of One.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: January 9, 2012

1 Response to “Copywriting’s Easiest Strategy to Learn”

  1. Will, thank you for the insight, as I am now struggling with the supplement letter and feel slightly overwhelmed. Your article has helped me narrow things down a bit. Thanks again.


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