Blame The Copywriter, Not The Copy

Lately, I’m seeing a lot of posts in public forums and blogs these days about people getting sick and tired of seeing “crappy,” “hypey,” used-car, Ginsu-like, looooong copy.

Some of them come from guru-bashing naysayers who hate marketing, which I always take with a grain of salt.

But some are intelligent, mature, and commonsensical. They are interesting because I believe that, while negative feedback does have its place, it’s often misplaced.

Here’s why. They blame long copy when all too often it’s not the copy’s fault. More importantly, it’s not because of the length. Let’s get something clear off the bat: long, Ginsu-like copy does work. It has always worked. It will always work. And it’s here to stay.

But (and it’s a big “but”)…

People object to them not because of what they say but how they say it. Take a look at the web. Noticed how it’s being used right now by many wannabe copywriters or naive marketers? Tons. They are the culprits — not the process.

(Actually, their lack of sales and writing skills is the culprit.)

There’s an interesting point to make in all this.

Some people are muddying the facts with secondary objections that are misleading — although some of these objections are appropriate, as some salesletters are indeed too long, boring and hypey. But they are confused with the real issue, here.

There’s a difference between short copy and brief copy. Between long copy and long-winded copy. Between pithy copy that may still be long and short copy that’s curt, leaves the reader hanging, and doesn’t tell enough to make the sale.

Back to The Point…

In its defense, some have used the excuse that the sale is the ultimate result. Nothing else matters. And that those objecting to “crappy” copy are not prospects, and make the error that the copy is not meant for them and therefore they have no right to object.

Yes and no.

We can all say that “conversion is queen,” and that “someone who objects is usually not targeted for the offer.” In some cases, that may very well be true. But in many cases, I beg to differ. And I’ll tell you why in a moment…

But I also believe that, most of the time, the obvious, “hypey,” used-car approach used in copy has really nothing to do with the hype itself but everything to do with the fact that the owner (or the copywriter) doesn’t know how to sell. Period.

Why do brazen, used-car salesmen have such a stigma, when some have shattered sales records selling and even reselling cars over and over to the same people? Like Joe Girard, for example, the Guinness Record holder for selling the most cars?

You see, it’s not the approach. It’s the people.

Specifically, it’s the lack of sales and persuasion skills.

Hype may have a negative connotation. But when used properly and blended with interesting, riveting copy, as well as powerful stories (I call this “storyselling”) and targeted to the right people, is often disregarded or ignored.

In fact, when hyperbole is used properly, most readers will look at hype as “passion,” “caring,” “empathy,” “personality,” “conversational,” etc. Not “hype.”

When people object to crappy copy, they’re not objecting to the fact they are using long, hypey, direct marketing. Even though it may seem that way. They are objecting to the poor salesmanship on the part of the writer or marketer.

Specifically, on their poor use of long, hypey copy — and not the pitch itself.

You see, use this approach properly, and people will downplay the hype. But use it improperly, and you will lead people, including prospects, to see right through it and conclude that it is indeed just a bunch of hype. And therefore, a load of crap.

(And by extension, they’ll also believe that the product and the business behind it are just as crappy. Naturally. I call this a “UPA,” or an unconscious paralleled assumption.)

It’s Psychology, Pure And Simple.

For example, some people point out copy that say things like, “to be honest, Ms. Prospect…” “frankly, I’m puzzled,” or, “I’m going to be flat-out truthful with you, Mrs. Prospect, and tell you something [that’s going to blow your socks off],” blah, blah, blah.

And they equate this tactic to be the sign of poor copy.

As you know, I used to be a sales trainer in a former career. Sales training says you should never to say, “to be honest,” “to be frank,” or “to be truthful with you.” Because, unconsciously, prospects will think you must be dishonest if you need to say it.

They think, “Gee, was he dishonest until now?”

Like in sales training, they tell you that instead it’s best to say, “to be candid with you,” “to be open with you,” “to be forthright with you,” or “to be more to the point with you.”

They’ve been teaching this in Sales 101 for ages! 🙂

But that’s semantics. In my opinion, I believe you certainly can say “honest” and so on, as long as you are not perceived as trying to “pull a fast one.”

If you are and, more importantly, if you appear genuine, empathetic, and passionate, then it becomes part of a normal, natural conversation — not a blatant, hypey sales pitch, where anything you say makes you look incredulous or suspect.

Anyway, it’s just one very small example of poor sales skills. Which translates into poor copy. Which inevitably leads to these kinds of objections.

Now, to The Other Points.

Personally, I do think much of the copy on the web these days downright suck. I’m not talking about the typical bland, professional, corporatespeak that makes you yawn. I’m referring to some people’s dismal attempt at long, hard-hitting, “grab-their-money” copy.

Often, it’s understandable. It’s an attempt by the marketer or copywriter to “copy” the Ginsu-like style of hard-hitting copy for their own offers.

Whether they’re swiping or mimicking them, if they don’t understand the principles of good salesmanship, they often do it all wrong. In the end, it’s those kinds of salesletters that make all long, hard-hitting sales copy look bad.

For example, they pack their copy with adjectives, superlatives, adverbs, and carnival-barking, snakeoil verbiage that makes you cringe in horror with every passing sentence.

You know the kind, right?

“Get my super-fast, heart-pumping, stunningly lightning-fast, jack-hammer-powered, amazingly sweet, orgasmic, googley-eye-inducing, whiz-bang widget right NOOOOOOWWWW!!!”

Some people say it insults their intelligence.

It’s not the fact that it insults prospects’ intelligences. It’s the fact that, if we feel it does, it means the writer didn’t do his job, didn’t know the product well enough, and laced their copy with superlatives because they don’t know how to write or how to sell.

I once interviewed my friend Gary Halbert, one of the best copywriters in the world before he passed away. And he said it best. To paraphrase, he said something like this:

“Copy that tries to make a freakin’ explosion is going to turn people off and makes the pitch so unbelievable simply because the writer doesn’t know what the heck he/she is doing. Period.”

Then I interviewed John Carlton, who said something similar. It all comes down to passion, persuasion, influence, psychology, and the power of storytelling — otherwise, it ends up with superlative-laden, used-car vernacular that makes you want to puke.

Bottom Line, It Comes Down to This…

  • Know your product.
  • Know your audience.
  • Know how to sell (i.e., how to connect the first two).

The web has made it possible for the proliferation of wannabes, or marketers who don’t know their product enough (from their prospects’ perspective, that is) who attempt to write copy that mimics cheesy late-night informercials.

Let me repeat it: the Ginsu approach does work when it is used properly.

(And in many, many, many cases, it is not.)

In that interview mentioned earlier, John Carlton talked about passion and salesmanship in copywriting. People who use this kind of adjective-laden copy are simply not skilled in selling, and haven’t truly woken their “inner salesperson” to sell really well.

Usually, there’s no hook, no empathy, no eye-grabbing copy, no real benefits, no reasons why, and above all, no story. So, since the writer didn’t do their job, they often resort to adjectives and adverbs simply because they have nothing else to work with.

I could go on and on, but I am getting sick and tired of poor copy — particularly poor copy giving good copy (and good copywriters) a bad name. I see this all the time, with my copy critiques as well as some of the offers I come across on the web.

It’s not poor copy.

It’s Poor Selling.

Now, someone also said that, while we can bitch and complain about crappy copy, it really boils down to understanding two different marketing approaches — i.e., a marketer’s choice of approach to fit short-term or long-term goals.

That is, they can choose between the get-your-money, go-for-the-jugular, aggressive direct marketing kind, and the relationship-driven, good-customer-service, warm-fuzzy, branding kind. (And thus, there’s copy that appeals to both, respectively to the hard-hitting hype, versus the soft-selling editorial style.)

My take? It doesn’t have to be a choice, really.

I agree with the spirit of what they said. Since direct marketing is so quick, direct, and measurable, it is an opportunity for people to jump in, hit ’em hard, and make a quick buck — and for some, run out of town. (The latter is a true snakeoil salesman.)

But, I just want to point out something, perhaps not to differ but to clarify. An my point is that, while it’s true in some cases, it’s not true in all the cases.

Many direct marketing companies who use hard-hitting copy and aggressive sales approaches have also created strong relationships, solid brand equity, great customer service, and powerful name recognition for themselves, too.

But they achieved it as a byproduct, not as a distinct goal.

They simply decided not to spend millions of dollars on ad agencies to build their brands, take huge risks, or work really hard (and wait a long time) using soft-sell techniques to create the much-needed word of mouth.

(Why? Because branding, publicity and relationship-building is risky business, because it’s not accountable, justifiable, or as measurable as direct marketing.)

And “short-term” direct marketers, as they were referred to, who use hard-hitting, seemingly “hypey” copy are not just in it for the quick buck.

Granted, some are. And granted, some companies have indeed taken the low-key approach and succeeded amazingly fast without using any hard-hitting copy.

But they succeeded for many other reasons: they’ve created a highly in-demand product or a new product with a great twist. They’ve used niche marketing, buzz creation, viral marketing, or guerrilla marketing. Or they’ve developed a cult following, etc.

Take Google, For Instance.

They “did” it with almost no advertising or hard-selling.

But just after their record-breaking IPO hit Wall Street, the Chief Exec of Marketing Communications — also said to be the brainchild behind Google’s marketing success — is resigning over differences with the company, who’s now looking into going “Madison-Avenue” style of million-dollar ad-agency advertising.

Now, something important needs to be said…

Building relationships should be the aim of every marketer. But I think there’s a distinction between creating relationships as a byproduct of good customer service versus relationship-only marketing that strives to create a brand name and image.

The latter is often expensive, time-consuming, and risky. Of course, it may indeed work. If the long-term, brand-focused business is lucky enough to make it work, the success shifts into cruise-control, and no longer requires a lot of work, time or money.

(However, that success is not permanent. There are maintenance costs involved. Because they eventually will have to fight off competition, spend more money to keep the brand alive, penetrate new markets to keep revenues leveled, etc.)

As for direct marketers being strictly “short term,” I don’t think so.

Maybe it’s a short-term approach in terms of results or campaign efforts. And maybe it’s true in some cases. But not all direct marketers have the goal of staying short-term… of making a quick sale and bailing out like some snakeoil salesman.

How many direct marketers out there have used hard-selling copy, and created great brands and name recognition, and even used their controls — their old yet ubiquitous, hard-hitting ads — for years and years? Lots. Mucho lots.

Look at DAK, Ronco, Ginsu, TimeLife, as well as salesletters and ads that are old and still running to this day: oldies like the Charles Atlas ad, to fairly newbies like Jeff Paul’s advertorial-style salesletter, “Making $4,000 a day at your kitchen table in your underwear.” (Which is still running, what, for over a decade, now?)

About The Author

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Michel Fortin is a certified SEO consultant, content strategist, and marketing advisor helping plastic surgeons, cosmetic surgeons, and medical aesthetic clinics attract more patients. Since 1991, he helps cosmetic and aesthetic professionals increase their visibility and grow their practices. He is the author of the More Traffic Memo™ SEO email newsletter.

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