7 Contrarian Copywriting Tips

Copywriting is the art of persuasion in print. The right words, in the right order, for the right people, lead to profitable results. They get someone to buy. Maybe they’re buying product, a service, or even an idea.

When Everyone Zigs You Zag Sticky Notes Saying Quote

The world of copywriting is filled with maxims, rules, and truisms. I have taught many of those tried-and-true tidbits on this very blog. Today, I offer some contrarian thoughts on the art and science of copywriting.

Ray Edwards’ 7 Contrarian Copywriting Tips

  1. Short copy wins. I know, I know. Elsewhere I say otherwise. The deeper truth about persuasive short copy is this: it’s harder to write. Lincoln’s Gettysburg address was very short. The guy who took the platform after Lincoln spoke for over two hours. Whose speech do we remember?
  2. Try fragments. Editors generally hate my writing. Sentence fragments. Dangling participles. Ending with prepositions. But. Staccato, punchy, pithy fragments cut through the clutter. Think Hemingway. Leonard. Parker.
  3. Design matters. Old-school copywriters claim design is superfluous. Poppycock. Design always matters. The choice to flout design is in itself an intentional design.
  4. Copy is not magic. The pre-framing of the copy is where the power lies. How I approach what I read influences how I read it. Which is more persuasive: a handwritten note from a friend, or an annoying pop-up ad? Why?
  5. Swiping stinks. Yup. I said it. While there is enormous value in learning from successful ads, you must already know this: the more closely you copy a successful ad, the more diminished its effectiveness in your new “swiped” version.
  6. Testing is not scientific. Oh sure, it gives hints. And the bigger the numbers in the broader the test parameters, the better the hint. But those who have seen enough test results know the truth. Too many variables mean you should take those microscopic tests with a grain of salt.
  7. Breakthrough advertising breaks the rules. When the legendary “who else” headline burst onto the scene, it was new. Not “proven” as a trusty old saw from the swipe file warchest.

My purpose in writing this post is not to throw out all the hard-won truths of the copywriting craft. It is, however, to suggest that there comes a point when it’s time to throw out the rules and try something new. That’s the only way breakthrough results are achieved.

Question: do you have a contrarian copywriting tip of your own? Click here to add yours to the comments.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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5 thoughts on “7 Contrarian Copywriting Tips

  1. Ray, I can’t tell you how great it was hear an expert say, “short copy wins.” I see these 7 page sales pages and I think, “Do I really have to do that? It doesn’t seem to honor my audience, their time, and it’s just not me.” I love succinct copy, and would love to hear more in a future post about writing a great succinct sales page. Thanks Ray, AJ

    • Well, at the risk of popping your balloon, long copy often does win. Boring copy, bloated copy, meandering copy… those never win. My real point was, it’s a lot harder to write succinct sales copy that persuades.
      Ray Edwards
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  2. Ray – excellent points. I too love using fragments, though sometimes I fear I use them too much! Anyways.

    In my 20-somethings blog StuffGradsLike.com, I’ve written some long posts, but they never get the attention that my shorter list-type posts do. Why is that? (Assuming it’s not simply terrible writing. Heh.) Is there any hope for long copywriting?