How do you write copy to convince people to take action for their health?
How do you convince young men, at their physical peak, to engage with a health issue that’s normally associated with much older people?
Find out by revisiting the talk I gave at the Charity Writing and Communications Training Days 2014 – on copywriting to beat testicular cancer.
This presentation contains a 3-step plan for writing to change behaviour, and insights from my work on the It’s in the Bag website.
It’s in the Bag is a testicular cancer charity fund which provides hands-on support for patients in the South-West, as well as raising awareness of this young man’s disease across the region and beyond.
According to legend, in April 1951, Jack Kerouac sat down with purpose in front of his old beat-up Underwood typewriter.
There followed an intense creative splurge, in which, fuelled by coffee and benzedrine, his thundering fingers racked up close to 110 words per minute. Three weeks later he emerged with the complete text of On the Road inscribed on an 120-foot-long scroll.
Now that’s fast writing.
It would be incredibly fast, if the story were strictly true. But once you start looking at the evidence, and adding back in the details of the thinking he’d done, the notes he’d made, and the drafts he’d written – all through a period of years – the creation of On the Road suddenly seems a lot less of a miracle. As Kerouac’s brother-in-law John Sampas once remarked, the novel wasn’t written, but ‘typed up’, in 3 weeks.
Of course, three weeks to type up a book is still enviably quick. There’s little doubt that Kerouac was a fast writer. But was he a good one?
I’m going to leave you to decide that for yourself. (Opinions vary: on the one hand you have legions of Kerouac fans, and on the other, accusations of ropey sentences, chauvinism and a lack of depth.)
The point is that if you want to write fast and well (which you’ll need to do to produce regular, high-quality content), you’ve got to develop ways of becoming more efficient. That means getting organised, focussing your mind and letting go of inhibiting perfectionism and doubt. And Kerouac has a thing or two to teach us about that.
Once you’ve got a handle on all this, you’ll probably find yourself not only writing faster, but with more confidence and creativity. And you might just see the quality of your writing improve as a result.
Sound good? Right, then here’s a step-by-step plan for making it happen.
Step one: prepare
On the Road didn’t come to Kerouac in a bolt of inspiration. His journal entries show that he’d been incubating the idea of a road-trip novel for at least two and a half years. As a content writer, you’re unlikely to have the luxury of such a massive stretch of time. However, if you’re in the routine of creating regular output, you don’t have to leave your information gathering until the point you sit down to write.
As you go about your daily life, keep your eyes and mind open for topics, anecdotes, and interesting stories you can use to frame your content.
Take a leaf out of Kerouac’s (note)book and carry one with you. Get something mini and light that you can slip into your pocket – this one works a treat. Then, whenever ideas come to you (in waiting rooms, on bus journeys, while walking the dog) you can capture them.
Step two: plan
Construct a skeleton
At this point you need to be a little more rigorous and organised than I suspect Kerouac was, and get the organisational structure of your piece down.
Focus on your audience (what do they want to know?) and your aim (what do you want your audience to feel and do as a result of reading?) With this in mind, write out your main headline, subheadings and all the points you want each section to include. This will give you a skeleton text, which you can then simply flesh out without having to worry about where you’re going.
Step three: write first, then edit
Write without judgement
Kerouac was an advocate of spontaneous prose, a style of writing in which:
- Language flows freely from the mind
- There’s no pausing to think of the proper word, no improving expressions and no afterthoughts
This writing style is uninhibited, fearless – and swift. Although I don’t subscribe to the ‘first thought, best thought’ notion held by Kerouac and his cronies, I do think spontaneous prose is a brilliant method for getting your first draft down. Not only does it make you more productive, it also frees up your brain to make the creative connections that a judgemental mind might suppress.
When you write your first draft, don’t spend time looking for the right words – use the first phrases that come to mind, no matter how clumsy and inelegant. Relax, don’t judge yourself – just allow the words to flow.
This is the quality control stage. The truth is it does take time (you can’t expect to write high-quality content in a flash). But to avoid letting your inner perfectionist get carried away, allot a time for the editing stage that’s in line with your deadline, other priorities and how important you consider the piece to be.
While you’re reviewing what you’ve written, put yourself in the position of the reader. Is anything else needed to make your text clear, cohesive or compelling? Do the ideas follow logically from one another? Can anything be omitted (repetition, unnecessary words, etc.)? The more you practice doing this, the better and more efficient at it you’ll become.
Step four: optimise your performance
You’re not a machine. To keep working effectively, your brain needs regular breaks, so make sure you take them. Of course, the myth of On the Road would have us believe that Kerouac eschewed breaks in favour of coffee and amphetamine, but by all accounts he was not a happy man. If you want to keep your sanity, this approach is best avoided!
There doesn’t seem to be any true consensus on how often you should take breaks or how long for, so you’ll need to experiment. I’ve found 50-minute writing sprints with a 10-minute break in between to be pretty effective, but you may want to vary this depending on how fresh or brain-weary you’re feeling.
Alter your mind
Not with amphetamines! I’m talking about the skill of mindfulness, which helps you develop an engrossing focus on the present moment.
Formal mindfulness is done through meditation, but it can also be practised informally, by simply concentrating fully on the task at hand.
The idea is that when you notice your mind has wandered from your writing – to working out what to buy for dinner, getting caught up in distracting sounds, or worrying about how you’re going to pay your bills – you gently bring your attention back to refocus on what you’re doing.
Mindfulness combines concentration with acceptance – a bonus in helping you to write without inhibition or judgement.
You can learn more about mindfulness here.
Write from your life
It’s well known that On the Road is an autobiographical account of Kerouac’s travels, thinly veiled in fiction.
Whenever possible, write from your experience and what you know. This will speed up the writing process, reducing the research and thinking time you have to put in. It will also give you a more vivid and authentic voice with which to compel your readers.
What techniques have you used to become a more efficient writer? Please share your experiences with us in the comments.
My last post explained how effective headlines hook in the reader with the promise of a juicy benefit. Once you’ve grasped this key principle, noticed how it works in practice and begun to apply it to your own writing, there are a few straightforward techniques you can weave in to really ramp up the pulling power of your headlines.
We’ll begin with the 2 essential rules that will help ensure the success of every headline you write. I’ll then go on to outline 5 tips you can use quickly and easily (where space, style and relevancy allow) to make your headlines even better at drawing prospective readers into your content.
2 rules for the success of every headline
1. Write your headline first
As a writer, you’ve probably taken the decision at least once in your career to write your title or headline last. It seems logical – the act of writing can help you generate ideas and even hit upon a focus for your piece.
This makes a lot of sense for more literary works, but if you’re in the business of plucking people’s attention out of nowhere, writing your headline first gives you a big advantage.
When you write your headline before the rest of your text, you’ve got carte blanche to pinpoint the most attractive benefit for your audience you can possibly think of. Having chosen a benefit that really appeals, you can then structure your entire article around it. Keeping the promise of your headline as a sharp focus when you’re writing is the best way to make sure your article delivers.
By writing the headline first, you should end up with a better headline and a text that’s more effective in giving people what they want.
2. Make sure your promise is credible
For a headline to work, your potential reader must believe in the promise it makes. Time is a truly precious commodity (no one ever has enough), which makes the time it takes to read an article a real investment. What you don’t want to do is allow any doubts to crop up about whether the investment people make in your text will be worthwhile.
- Don’t be tempted to exaggerate or make outrageous claims. Truth isn’t only a virtue, it’s what people want and need. They’ll shy away from anything that doesn’t sound genuine, and therefore genuinely useful.
- Be specific. The more specific you are, the more credible the headline becomes. Precise details indicate that you’ve got real substance behind the title. Looking back to the four model headlines from my last post, that’s one reason why ‘3 easy ways to organise your workspace and get more done’ is more compelling than, say, ‘3 easy ways to be organised at work’. (The first version is also more explicit about the benefit.)
Sometimes you’ll want to reign your headlines in a bit by adding words that make them a little more tentative. This is why, in model headline no. 1 (‘Why some people almost always achieve their New Year’s resolutions’), the word ‘almost’ is a vital one.
Ever met a human being who always achieves what they set out to do? Nope – and your audience won’t have either.
5 top tips for tweaking your headline to perfection
Here are 5 tips which are simple to apply and can instantly give your headlines extra oomph. For reasons of style, subtlety and brevity, you probably won’t always want to employ all of them. But you’ll often find that adding one or two of them gives your headline just the kick it needs.
1. Highlight easy solutions
We’re all time-pressured, so quick-fixes are invaluable. ‘3 easy ways to organise your workspace…’ makes for a more tempting offer than simply saying ‘3 ways’. Low-cost or free answers are also a big draw, so if you’ve got a solution that’s easy on the brain, body or wallet then go ahead and state that fact in the title.
2. Focus on newsworthiness/scarcity
Little-known information is more valuable to us because it’s likely to be telling us something we don’t already know. If you’ve got something new to say, then try to use your title to emphasise this. Phrases like ‘the secret of…’, and words such as ‘introducing’, ‘discover’, ‘new’ and ‘news’ work a treat.
3. Promise to reveal something the reader didn’t already know about themselves
You can do this with a leading question, e.g. ‘Are you selling your services short?’; ’Are you making make this mistake with [an important activity]?’ People love to focus on themselves – it’s human nature. Useful (or entertaining) revelations on the subject of ‘you’ and ‘your’ are bound to attract attention.
(Take care with question headlines – remember that a question with a clear and obvious ‘no’ answer could make your article sound irrelevant and actually turn people off.)
4. Use a list format
Lists work because, in the words of Copyblogger founder Brian Clark, they give a ‘nice, quantifiable return on attention invested’ (see ‘7 Reasons Why List Posts Will Always Work’). Because they’re specific about how many ‘hints’, ‘tips’ or ‘ways’ they’ll provide with, you start to get a sense either of how quickly you might be able to digest the information (small-number lists), or how much valuable material you could get out of them (large-number lists). Plus stating a quantity indicates that you’ve got some real substance behind your headline.
Use digits rather than words in your list, and try to put them at the beginning of the sentence, where they’ll have more impact.
5. Include attention-grabbing words
Some words simply have more attention-grabbing power than others. We’ve already touched on ‘you’, ‘secret’ and ‘new’, but here are some others that can help your headlines stand out:
As long as they’re relevant, and including them doesn’t cause you to say something that’s untrue, using these words is an easy way to give your headlines more punch.
Now to announce your headline-writing skills to the world…
That’s just about a wrap for my two-part headline masterclass. But your headline apprenticeship has only just begun.
Now that you understand how to construct, frame and tweak a headline for maximum impact, it’s time to go forth and write some.
Seek out tried-and-tested headline formulas to give you ideas for structure (just type ‘headline formulas’ into Google and see what comes up). And remember to keep your eyes peeled for headlines that are pulling in crowds in practice.
Write them down. Analyse their structure. Identify the reader benefits. Ask yourself what makes them compelling – and how they could be improved. Then apply this insight to your own headline-writing.
I bet you’ll improve out of sight.
What have you learned from observing and analysing real-life headlines? Please share your top tips with us in the comments.
I can’t remember where I first read the phrase ‘drowning in information; thirsting for knowledge’. But it has stuck with me ever since.
It sums up a predicament that just about anyone with a device hooked up to the Internet will relate to. Those of you with memories stretching back to the late 80s will remember Johnny Five and his incessant cry for ‘input!’ We’re all a bit like that. Each of us is on a never-ending quest for knowledge, ranging from mundane, nuts-and-bolts information (how do I set up a Facebook business page?) to guidance on reaching fulfilment (how do I attract my ideal partner? How can I carve out a meaningful career?) Life can be tricky, perplexing, exhausting, and yet – apparently – there are people out there with the wisdom to improve it.
Unfortunately, ‘out there’ on the Web these days is bedlam. Twitter alone sees about 500 million posts every day, which translates into a average of 5,700 tweets every second. With so much ‘information’ being broadcast, how do you decide what you’re going to focus on – whether a piece of content might actually be worth clicking through to read? And on the flip side, how do you make sure that other people click through to read the messages you put out?
What is it that makes you, me, or anyone choose to read a particular piece of content?
One thing’s for sure: even 24-carat-gold wisdom won’t get much attention these days if it doesn’t have an irresistible headline.
The one simple principle all headline-writers must grasp
In your bid to get your content read, the headline is your greatest ally. It’s bigger, bolder and punchier than the rest of your text, and (when it’s in a tweet that links through to your blog, for example) it often stands alone. It’s the first sentence of your text to get read, and you need to make sure that it isn’t the last. And that means making it as enticing as possible.
There’s a lot of headline-writing advice on the Web, and much of it revolves around tried-and-tested formulas where you fill in the blanks to suit your purposes. (So you might have, for example, ‘The secret of X in [small number] easy steps’.) These can be a great resource, but they’ll only get you so far if you don’t take the time to grasp how and why they work.
To be a really effective headline-writer, you first need to take this key principle on board:
A great headline always makes a promise – the promise of making us better off than we were before we read the article.
When you’re writing headlines, you must make sure your headline contains a juicy and obvious benefit for the reader. Ask yourself what compelling pay-off your article offers them, and make sure it’s showcased in your title. (This process becomes much easier and more effective if you write your headline first – more on this in the next post.)
To illustrate the point, here’s a quick run down of four potent (and mostly invented*) headlines.
4 model headlines with benefits
1. ‘Why some people almost always achieve their New Year’s resolutions’
New year’s resolutions are bound up with our ‘dream selves’: the people we aspire to be and would be, if only it were easier. Yet most resolutions fall by the wayside within a few months. This headline promises to be a game changer – to reveal the secret of motivation and willpower that could enable you to become that person.
2. ‘3 surprising reasons why vitamin tablets could be harming your health’
You can almost guarantee that people who take extra vitamins will be interested in enhancing their health – it stands to reason. But this headline suggests that in trying to give their bodies a boost, they might unwittingly be doing themselves some damage.
The promise of this headline is to give the reader some new information (as indicated by the word ‘surprising’) that will help them make an informed choice about whether to carry on taking vitamin pills.
3. ‘6 easy ways to organise your workspace and get more done’
Everyone and their dog wants to get more done, but organising takes time, and it can be a drag. But what if it were easy? This headline promises a shortcut to increased productivity – a tempting offer if ever there was one.
4. ‘Is your CV selling you short?’
It’s hard to answer this question with a decisive ‘no’. How can you be sure how your CV is going to come across to others? The writer here might have some insight that just hasn’t occurred to you.
Questions like this, which can’t be answered definitively, can work brilliantly as headlines. If you’re applying for jobs, you won’t want to run the risk that your CV isn’t doing you justice, and this headline promises to reveal ways of improving it that you might have overlooked.
Beware of asking a question that people can confidently answer no to, however. An example could be, ‘Is your CV poorly written?’ Because most people take CV writing very seriously (putting a lot of effort into making sure theirs is up to scratch, and perhaps even enlisting help if they’re not a ‘natural’ writer), they’ll probably be more inclined to answer ‘no’ to this question than to ‘Is your CV selling you short?’ And a ‘no’ answer assumes the article isn’t relevant, and is therefore not worth reading.
(*Although I ‘invented’ these headlines, I later discovered that numbers 1 and 4 are already in use on the Web. Given how effective these techniques and structures are – and the popularity of the topics – it’s not all that surprising.)
The mystery of mysterious headlines, solved
Some headlines work by planting a mystery in the reader’s mind, which can be solved by reading the article. In this case, the headline itself sets up the reader’s ‘problem’, and unearthing the solution becomes the benefit. Consider these headlines:
- ‘I fell 4,000 feet… and survived!’
- ‘How I got my six pack in two months’
- ‘How I cured my asthma with one simple lifestyle change’
All these headlines peak our curiosity, and also hold the promise of satisfying it. The solutions to the mysteries held within these titles could be useful to us (especially if we’re asthmatic or an abs enthusiast), or at least give us a crowd-pleasing anecdote for our next social gathering. If yours is a stand-out story which grew out of unlikely circumstances, then this sort of headline could work wonders for you.
Getting your head around the key principle of writing headlines will give you a solid foundation on which to build your technique. From here, your journey towards headline mastery is a case of taking on a couple more straightforward rules and a smattering of tips, then putting them into practice – over and over!
The practice is down to you, but I’ll be helping you out with the two important guidelines and top tips in my next post.
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In my last post, we saw how content marketing turns traditional advertising on its head, by prompting pro-active and interested customers to find you. But the question still remains – what exactly do you need to do to make this happen?
Putting out any old content sporadically and hoping for the best is unlikely to have much of an effect. To reap the results you’re looking for, you need to prepare and execute a smart plan. And your plan needs to incorporate these five golden rules.
1. Document your strategy
Writing down your content marketing plan is essential to carrying it out effectively. Why? Because writing focuses your mind. It makes it easier to check that the steps you’re taking lead logically to the result you want. It allows you to nail down the what, when and how of creating and distributing your content, in a document that your colleagues can refer to. In short, it keeps everyone on track.
Your strategy doesn’t necessarily need to be flashy or in-depth, especially if you’re a small organisation with limited resources. What’s important is that you answer these critical questions:
- Who are your customers? What are their needs? How will your content meet them?
- How much time/resources are available for producing content?
- What do you want your content strategy to achieve?
- What’s the most appropriate channel, tone and structure for your content, taking into account your audience and aims?
- How will you convert your readers into subscribers and/or buyers/donors/supporters?
2. Give your customers something that genuinely enhances their situation
It’s simple: your content needs to improve the lives of your target audience. It needs to have real value for them by meeting a genuine need.
Your first task is to work out who you’re marketing to. A vividly imagined persona is far easier to work with than a vague demographic profile, so flesh out a description of the single character who best represents your audience.
Now put yourself in that person’s shoes. What are they striving for? What gets in the way of what they want to achieve? How can your content be written, styled and delivered so that it really floats their boat? (Include these notes in you documented strategy.)
Remember: to truly educate, entertain or otherwise help your target customers, your content needs to be high-quality. Hastily churned-out rubbish won’t cut the mustard. If your free content is so fantastic that a little voice in your head is questioning the wisdom of gifting it to people, then you’re probably on to a good thing. Generosity is the whole point.
It’s when you’re authentically yet strategically generous that wondrous things (like increased site traffic, customer conversions, loyalty and brand awareness) start to occur. Which leads me to my next point.
3. Deliver content regularly and consistently
It’s simple. Give your audience a reason to keep returning to your site, and don’t disappoint them when they do.
Decide how often you can reasonably produce new content without compromising on quality. Schedule in regular release dates – whether daily, weekly, fortnightly or monthly. Then make sure you stick to that schedule.
If you regularly deliver content with the wow-factor, people will keep coming back to you, strengthening rapport each time. Having set their expectations high, what you don’t want to do is let them down and risk losing them. So make sure you keep the timing and quality of your content consistent.
4. Integrate social media
The more your content is read, liked and shared, the more influential it’s going to be. The right kind of social media exposure triggers behaviours that (1) get your content read and (2) drive relevant traffic to your website. So you need to make sure you’re stoking the flames.
Know what social-networking sites your target audience use, and get active on them. You’ll need to invest time to create and engage a following, and this calls for a strategy of its own. Broadly speaking though, your social media activity needs to be two-way, cooperative and (as with your content) focused on the interests of your audience.
Particularly when you’re starting out, and you don’t have much content of your own, it pays to promote other people’s. This may seem counter-intuitive, but if the content’s excellent and relevant, the benefits can be huge. Selectively promoting other people’s content not only builds your reputation as a savvy ‘curator’ worthy of a follow, it also makes the owners of that content more likely to share your content in return. (Plus it feels like a rewarding, human thing to do.) So suss out who’s generous and influential, and – as long as their content is right – focus on sharing their materials.
Writing irresistible headlines and posts is another social media technique you must master, to get your links clicked on and your content read. Which brings me to…
5. Apply time-tested copywriting techniques
With all this emphasis on content, you could be forgiven for thinking that copywriting is defunct.
Nope! Guess again.
It’s true that writing a classic one-page newspaper ad is not the same as writing a delectable piece of content. If the tone of your blog post or e-magazine is overtly salesy, you’re just going to turn people off.
What’s also true – from a marketing perspective at least – is that without copywriting, your free content is pretty much useless.
You may not be using old-school marketing methods, but the techniques of copywriting still stand. Integrating them into your content is an vital part of encouraging your prospects along the path to conversion.
Your content needs:
- To offer a real benefit, and communicate it in an irresistible headline
- To pull the reader from one sentence to the next, all the way through
- To speak to the audience with a targeted, compelling tone of voice
- To have a clear ‘call to action’ to direct them to the next step
It’s copywriting that captures your reader – first the intriguing headline hooks them in; then the fantastic tone and style pulls them through; and finally the call to action pushes them onwards – to subscribe to your mailing list, register for a demo, or share your content with their social media connections.
In my next blog post, I’ll be passing on some tips and tricks to help you hone a skill that’s absolutely critical to the success of your copy, content and social media marketing: writing headlines.
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I may be a copywriter, but to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of adverts.
There are exceptions of course. I find the cascade of multicoloured balls bouncing down a San Francisco hill pretty beautiful. And who hasn’t been won over by the drumming skills of that uber-serious, Phil Collins-loving gorilla?
In general though, I resent time-wasting interruptions to the flow of my day. I don’t like that feeling of being sold to.
When adverts fail
Ad-overdose. You’re probably all too familiar with it. I mean, how often do you have to comb through your emails, weeding out irrelevant promotions? I’m sure I didn’t knowingly subscribe to half the marketing emails that end up in my inbox.
And what really annoys me are those flashing banners that stalk you through the Web, regurgitating all the products you once browsed but decided against buying.
The problem with unsolicited ads is that they don’t necessarily have much – or anything – to do with the priorities of the person on the receiving end. Worse than simply ‘falling short’, misfired ads could end up having the opposite effect of what was intended. By getting in the way of what you’re trying to get done, they can transform from a temptation into an active turn-off. The brand becomes something you have to swat away like a persistent fly, or uproot from your day like a weed.
So unsolicited ads don’t work ?
It’s tempting to claim so, but it isn’t actually true.
The fact is that for decades, traditional sales copy (read direct letters, flyers and ads) has worked precisely by being hurled in the direction of people who haven’t asked for it, and might not be interested. And admittedly, these methods have prompted millions of people to purchase or take action. If you throw enough muck against a wall, some of it is going to stick.
But here’s the thing: you don’t need to throw muck these days. We’re living in a digital world – one that has opened up a far more appealing, and potentially far more effective – possibility. You don’t have to risk annoying people, because you can choose to market only to those who’ve chosen you. And you can motivate these people to take action by actually making their lives better.
It’s time to drop the gift of the gab, unslick your hair and ditch your used-car-dealer suit.
There’s a better way. It’s called content marketing.
What is content?
When we talk about content, we mean the quality written or scripted materials you give away as part of a marketing strategy. Content could take the form of blog posts, an entertaining video or an infographic. These days, content marketing tends to revolve around your own branded website, from which you distribute rapport-building goodies to your customers/supporters for free.
You need to hold something back for paying customers of course, and your content-giving needs to be woven into a smart, strategic plan that encourages people to become buyers or donors eventually. But the essence of it is that you get prospects on board by giving them something that enhances their lives.
Why content works for you and your customers
Today’s buyers are empowered, informed and – crucially – pro-active. They’ve got Google, so if you’re a great fit for their needs they’ll find you.
Having brilliant content means that instead of throwing lassoes into the (relative) darkness, you can deliver your sales messages to the prospects who’ve actively sought you out, and then – by drawing them back with regular updates – woo them over time by building rapport and trust. The better your content, the easier it should be for people to find you. Users who are engaged with your site will link to it more and spend longer on it, and it’s these stamps of approval that really curry favour with the search engines.
Get it right, and your target audience will no longer be trying to avoid your marketing. They’ll be actively looking for it, reading it and sharing it with others.
In contrast with the traditional, ‘single-shot’ approach of direct mail and cold calling – which place the prospect on the spot and push for an instant ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ – content marketing expands the timeframe for your target customer to say ‘yes’. It also completely transforms the relationship between you and them. You haven’t rudely interrupted their day; you’ve just made it better. This slow-burning, win-win relationship creates much more scope for a positive outcome than your average isolated sales pitch ever could.
Content marketing has worked brilliantly for high-profile brands like Lush, John Lewis and Prostate Cancer UK, and it can work for you too – as long as you apply the principles that make it truly effective. The next post on this blog will talk you through how to do it.
And come think of it, that drumming gorilla was less of an ad, and more a piece of content anyway.
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Your copywriter’s desk and the Maracanã stadium probably seem poles apart, so Brazilian football isn’t going to be an obvious place for you to find copy inspiration. But I’ve unearthed some parallels that might surprise you. As Brazil’s 2014 World Cup campaign reaches a critical stage, here are four ways that you should be taking your lead from the boys in blue, gold and green.
1. Play with words
A quick read through the starting line-up for any Brazil match soon reveals a characteristic quirk – there’s something rather odd about the players’ names. From Pele to Zico and Socretes to Hulk, the names emblazoned on the back of Brazilian footballers’ shirts rarely match those on their birth certificates. Wordplay is rife in Brazilian football, with the nicknaming of players being the most obvious example. It also comes out in the legendary poeticism of Brazil’s commentators, whose tendency to wax lyrical has resulted in terms such as pernas de pau (wooden legs) for bad players, and frango (chicken) for a fumbling mistake committed by a goalie. Verbal creativity makes for vivid commentary that sticks in your head, and the same principle can be applied to your copy. As long as the tone’s appropriate for your brand, and it’s not overdone, metaphor can make your writing more memorable, and therefore more powerfully persuasive.
2. Stir the emotions
Brazilian footballers don’t score goals. They score gooooooals! And the difference between a goal and a gooooooal is passion. The passion Brazilians have for football is a major reason why they’ve become the most successful national team in World Cup history. Emotion is an incredibly powerful motivator, and this is as true for writing as it is for football. Our brains process information emotionally before they process it rationally, which means we’re usually much more persuaded by our feelings than logical thoughts. So when you’re writing copy, remember to paint a picture of emotional benefits as well as rational ones.
3. Challenge convention
As much as they love the beautiful game, Brazilians aren’t content to just play it straight. With characteristic creativity, Brazilian people have chopped and changed football to come up with some unique sporting alternatives. At the wackier end you have ‘autoball’, a 70s craze in which players drove cars into a huge ball in the hope of rebounding it off their bonnets and scoring a goal. Then you have footbull (not a typo) where a grumpy bull is deposited in the midst of a five-a-side match to spice it up. Slightly less bonkers are footvolley (a football/beach volleyball hybrid), button football (a kind of football tiddlywinks) and futsal (indoor football). What unites these football alternatives is the addition of a totally unrelated element – be it a car, a bull or a mere tiddlywink. And this age-old creative technique of putting two unlike things together is something you as a copywriter can use – to spark off original and attention-grabbing concepts. The marriage of two unconnected elements can give your copy the intrigue needed to make people stop and pay attention, just as the comparison between football and copywriting might have drawn you to this post.
4. Love what you do
You might think that a nation who’ve been crowned World Cup champions five times are all about winning, but that would be to miss the point. As Alex Bellos puts it in his brilliant book Futebol, ‘Brazil is not a country of winners – it’s a country of people who like to have fun’. Take a leaf out of the Brazilians’ book, and fall in love with whatever it is you’re working on. If you enjoy your work, you’ll always perform better. There’s a sound body of scientific evidence to say that people have more insights when they’re relaxed, and are more creative when they’re happy. Copywriting may be tough, but it’s also creative, mentally stimulating and rewarding. So the next time you get a mental block, try to take the pressure off and have fun with it. You might just see a ripple of ideas come to the surface. And if all else fails, get up from your desk and samba. For more copywriting tips and signposts to useful content, follow me on Twitter!