You might disagree with me here.
You might sneer.
You might even think I’m an idiot for saying what I’m about to say.
But I’m going to say it anyway. I’d be a liar if I didn’t.
Spit it out?
With direct-response copywriting I think it’s often better to be cliché than clever.
“Eeeeeww, I hate clichés. Glenn, don’t you get it? Clichés are the devil’s work. Don’t you know I’m a creative thinker whose single role on earth is to give birth to the most original ideas that have never been thought before?”
You write to sell. Fact.
Indeed, good old Ogilvy said that. And so too has every other ad man or woman whose had to talk about the subject for longer than half an hour.
In fact, the phrase ‘write to sell’ has now become a cliché itself.
Does it make it any less true?
Of course not!
Does it make it any less useful?
And does it make it any less arresting as an idea?
No. I don’t think it does.
If you walked past a poster that declared in big bold letters YOU WRITE TO SELL, you’d have to stop to have a look to see what it’s about, right?
But it’s still a cliché.
What I’m really trying to tell here is a morality tale.
You see, all too often I read copy that is obviously not written with the intention of selling. Instead it is written with the intention of impressing people with its ‘creativity’.
And hey, before you go off on one… that is NOT to say that being creative cannot help to make copy more effective. It can, very much so. But you should never let the desire to be creative force you to forget the real reason you’re writing direct response copy… to sell.
I got to thinking about this when I was asked to do a rush job at the end of last year.
Due to some unavoidable circumstances, a brand new direct response sales letter was needed fast.
Actually, it was needed faster than fast.
It was needed in a day.
Now, attempting to write an effective sales letter in a day is not something I would advise anyone to do. Much more time should be given to such an undertaking.
But in this case, needs must.
So, I set to work.
Well. Er. I got in the bath and started drafting the letter out in my mind. But the less said about my creative process in this case, the better.
Because speed was the key here, I had to call upon as much existing material as possible.
Rather than giving myself time to think and be original, I needed to trawl the world of already thought-up ideas and fit the raw information I had about the product into something that would ‘do the job’.
By the end of the afternoon I was frazzled. Brain and body. Writing a twenty-odd page direct-response sales letter in a day is as physically difficult as it is mentally.
Here’s what was interesting, though: despite a few creative and original flourishes here and there – most of the stuff was formulaic, tried and tested stuff that I knew had worked well before.
And the headline itself was even a cliché!
I’d planned to dump it and write something better, but being short on time meant it stuck and was marketed flirting its cliché-ness to everyone.
It quickly generated a huge response at a much better conversion rate than would have been expected, considering the time spent on it.
Hundreds of sales later, I got to thinking about the cliché I’d used at the top of the piece. I wondered why I’d written it in the first place.
The fact is, it was there to do a job: to act as a platform (albeit intended temporary) to get to the next line and the business of making the sales argument.
I’d used the cliché because I was writing to sell.
I wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, to win awards and I certainly wasn’t trying to be clever.
I was simply focusing on what I needed to do to sell the product that I was tasked with selling.
Sure, sometimes you’ll need to be clever…
Sometimes you’ll need to be creative…
And sometimes you’ll even be asked to reinvent the wheel…
But please never ever forget that, as a copywriter – first and foremost – you need to sell.
Whether it’s a car, a cream or a concept – your primary goal is to flog it.
So, if there’s an idea that works, no matter how trite or overused it might be, swallow your ‘creative pride’ and use it.