Teaching Materials

(Excerpt from written materials that accompany a lecture series on copywriting and marketing design)


"A copywriter is a salesperson behind a typewriter"

— Judith Charles, President of Creative Communication ad agency

"Selling is placing 100% emphasis on how the reader will come out ahead by doing business with you."

— Luther Brock, freelance copywriter

The First Commandment of Copywriting:  Write first, and always, to sell.  If you do not, you are an entertainer or an artist, but not a copywriter (worthy goals both, but not what we are here to discuss.)

The Second Commandment of Copywriting:
 Clarity, Clarity, Clarity

When choosing words, phrases, and layouts, everything should support, not interfere with clarity.

Sub-commandment #2:  Brevity, Brevity, Brevity (or Cut, Cut, Cut)

Clarity is always served by choosing words and styles of organization/expression which are as short as possible, regardless of the size of the project.  If your first draft of an annual report is 10,000 words, I guarantee you could do it in 7,000 or less.

This does not mean you write like Hemingway in single syllables, just that you use only the right words, and as few as possible, for the audience you are addressing. Obviously a piece for medical or legal personnel requires the use of polysyllabic words. Just don't use three where one will do.

And above all else, avoid ROSWAO: Run-On Sentence with Adjective Overload, such as:

"To increase the richness of your theatrical experience here at the Playhouse we have planned an exciting, innovative, and challenging season to take place in our dramatically new, and attractive theatre facility."

(There should be some kind of instant karma for this — like an electrical shock delivered straight to the writer if this makes its way before the public unedited.)

The Third Commandment of Copywriting:  Always worship substance over form.  The copywriter's job is to increase sales at the lowest possible cost. The substance of the message makes the sale, the form(format) should support it, not overshadow or eliminate it.

[This is perhaps the place to mention that these triggers can also be misapplied. Done correctly and ethically, marketing is the attempt to persuade people to buy a product or service. Marketing gains a poor reputation from those practitioners who slip (or boldly stride) over the line into manipulation and deceit. Besides being unethical, this makes everyone's job harder, as buyers become jaded and cynical. The following techniques can be used to effectively present your client's product in the best possible light and give the buyer the reasons and the opportunity to buy, which is your job. Anything further is the quick route to "The Dark Side." You will find plenty of clients who are happy to travel there with you, so long as the profit is good. It is a decision you must make and live with yourself. I won't be joining you there.] 

The need to belong — often called "bandwagon", as in "jump on the..."

"Over 50% of  California seniors  are already experiencing the benefits of AARP membership.  Join today and start saving tomorrow."

Ego gratification

"Congratulations!  You have been nominated and approved for membership in the National Association of Female Executives.  Only the most successful women executives and business owners are considered for membership."

Desire, of any kind — for love, for sex, for safety, for comfort, for convenience....


"Don't be without protection in a disaster!"

Also includes the fear of being left out:
"Don't miss out!  This is your last chance to buy at this price." 

Personally, I use this one sparingly, as it is the fastest route to "The Dark Side."

The Fifth Commandment of Copywriting (and Sales):  Sell the benefits, not the features.

Features do not evoke an emotional response. People care what's in it for them, period, which means selling the benefits.

A list of features, such as:

  • "ABS anti-lock brakes, a 6-liter fuel injected engine, and Goodyear run-flat tires"

is stark and meaningless compared to:

  • "Unparalleled safety for your family" with a TV commercial showing the car avoiding an accident, stopping quickly enough to miss a child running in the street, or driving to safety on a lonesome, stormy highway after the tire goes flat. 

List the features, but sell the benefits.





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