Writing Ads That Let You Sleep at Night

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The unflinching principle of all successfuladvertising… all marketing… all business… and all relationships… is also one of the oldest success secrets in the world.

What is it? Quite simply…

“Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You”

Relax, Bubbles. I’m not trying to get schmaltzy.

I’m merely suggesting that a certain formulaic functionality
directs the course of all humanity: Namely, you reap what you
sow.

Sure, cynics will disagree.

Which is why cynics often get treated so disagreeably.

Unfortunately, it’s the cynical view of ad copy that prevails. A “good ad,” say many people who don’t know better, is only one that tells the most convincing lies.

Yet…

Nothing Could Be Further From The Truth

Don’t get me wrong.

There’s good reason for old ladies to clutch their politics when some copywriters walk into the room.

Think car salesmen. Think insurance agents. Think Sony.

You might not remember “Sony-gate.  The studio devision got caught using fake reviews on ad posters for Sony releases The Animal and A Knight’s Tale. Whoops. And then, a week later they got caught again. This time for a camera interview of a couple who had just seen the movie, The Patriot. The couple raved. They gushed. They called it “a perfect date movie.”

The couple, it turned out, happened to work for Sony.*

Think Pentagon, too. The Pentagon opened a new “Office of Strategic Influence” back in the early ’00s. This is a propaganda wing. The stated motto? “Let a thousand lies fly…

Misinformation, one could argue, has its place in warfare. What gets me is that they staffed the agency with… you guessed it… ex-advertising industry workers. (Maybe they should have staffed it with ex Wall Street analysts?)

Nonetheless, liars be damned, where some people think an obligation to tell the truth puts a restriction on ad success, the opposite is always true…

Good Advertising Is Indeed Truth Well Told

The secret formula for good ad copy is almost this simple: Build trust, offer solutions, give the customer a way to order.

How do you write copy for those products that DON’T have any merit? Simple answer there, too: You don’t.

If you’re in the position to improve the products, do. If not, make the judgment and politely move on. That’s not easy to do all the time.

But if more of us drew that line, copywriters wouldn’t find themselves scorned at parties (you are scorned at parties aren’t you? Or is that just me?) The truth is, good copy principles walk the line more than most might think.

To demonstrate, I’ve plucked some prose from the websites of the New York Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission.

Notice the overlap between what they advise and what you’ve read over the last several months here in the Copywriter’s Roundtable:

The Better Business Bureau on ‘Puffery’:

* “Superlative statements, like other advertising claims, are objective (factual) or subjective (puffery):

* “Objective claims relate to tangible qualities and performance values of a product or service which can be measured against accepted standards or tests. As statements of fact, such claims can be proved or disproved and the advertiser should possess substantiation.

* “Subjective claims are expressions of opinion or personal evaluation of the intangible qualities of a product or service…. Subjective superlatives which tend to mislead should be avoided.”

Good Copy Principle:

The more proof you can offer, says the above, the better. But we know this from testing, too. Statistics, studies, proofs all work better than vague, blanket claims. For the diligent marketer, no warning necessary.

The Federal Trade Commission On Disclosure:

“The FTC looks at what the ad does not say – that is, if the failure to include information leaves consumers with a misimpression about the product. For example, if a company advertised a collection of books, the ad would be deceptive if it did not disclose that consumers actually would receive abridged versions of the books.”

Good Copy Principle:

A promo that sells product but also sparks a flurry of refunds is not a good promo. Refunds are just delayed sales you didn’t make. And when customer don’t receive what you advertised, refunds are what you’ll get. Far better is to promise strong but deliver stronger.

The Better Business Bureau on Testimonials:

“In general, advertising which uses testimonials or endorsements is likely to mislead or confuse if it is not genuine and does not actually represent the current opinion of the endorser… It is not quoted in its entirety, thereby altering its overall meaning and impact… It contains representations or statements which would be misleading if otherwise used in advertising … Broad claims are made as to endorsements or approval by indefinitely large or vague groups, e.g., “the homeowners of America,” “the doctors of America…”

Good Copy Principle:

The Better Business Bureau warning goes on, but you get the idea. If you use testimonials, make sure they’re from credible sources… real sources… and specific sources. But you don’t need a moralist to tell you that. The more real a testimonial, the more persuasive it is too.

The list of incidental copywriting advice goes on…

“Layout of advertisements should minimize
misunderstanding by the reader…

“Before a company runs an ad, it has to have a reasonable basis’ for its claims…”

“Ads that make health or safety claims must be supported by… tests, studies, or other scientific evidence that has been evaluated by people qualified to review it”

All of these are principles not only of honest copy, but of persuasive copy too.

Check here to see the Better Business Bureau’s full list.

Last modified: October 20, 2017

6 Responses to " Writing Ads That Let You Sleep at Night "

  1. Sharie Orr says:

    Truth–excellently told, indeed.

  2. “Build trust, offer solutions, give the customer a way to order.”
    Isn’t it amazing how many businesses already mess up the first part and forget that it’s the reason why customers come again to bring money?
    Markus Trauernicht

  3. jackforde says:

    @Markus Trauernicht: Hi Markus… Yes, amazing indeed.

  4. Mary says:

    Excellent and meaningful for many different contexts.

  5. Recent FTC changes scares most wannabe bloggers, affiliates and copywriters. It’s easy to comply with , just avoid skype and superlatives. You share some good tips, thank you!

    P.S. Do you have any blog posts on latest FTC updates yet? what is your take on this?

  6. jackforde says:

    Apologies, Codrut, for the delayed reply. No posts on the FTC updates, but none planned either. I guess I haven’t given it much thought. Certainly, I think they intervene on plenty they don’t understand. But nothing jumps out at me as truly threatening to anyone who’s selling good products with good copy. That could change, of course. But until then… I’m going to go doing as I do. Thanks for the question!

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