Copywriting for Direct Mail – Part 2: Big Guns

The first rule for writing for direct mail was codified by Herschell Gordon Lewis who said: “Fire your big guns first.”

What does that mean? It means get to the point as fast as you can. You have somewhere between one second and 10 seconds to hook your audience, so don’t waste time warming up and don’t waste time talking about yourself. Talk about what your audience wants.

“At 21st Century Dietetics, we have over 25 years helping people like you lose weight.”

What’s wrong with that? Plenty. Nobody cares about the experience of 20th Century Dietetics – at least not at this point in the sales pitch. Also, what could be less specific than the proposition to “lose weight.”? The response from virtually any reader is going to be: “So what! Who cares?”

“Need to lose 20 lbs. before Christmas?”

Now, that’s better. It’s got specificity and a deadline. It’s got an implied you. You’re talking directly to the reader about something they want. It’s also got the nice, relaxed pattern of normal speech. And it’s economical – seven words instead of 15.

Here’s a secret: The goal of expert copywriters is to have their copy become invisible. You don’t want the reader overly aware that they are reading copy. You don’t want them stumbling over difficult words and awkward phrasings.

Which leads us to another important copywriting tip: write to the background, experience and expectations of your readers.

• If they are ordinary people, use ordinary words.

• It they are technical or scientific, throw in an aliquot of technical terms.

• If they are highly educated, a soupçon of elevated diction and syntax may be in order.

• But remember this, you can almost never go wrong being simple and direct, no matter who the reader is.

“Promise, large promise, is the soul of an advertisement,” said the 18th Century writer Samuel Johnson. When he was asked to auction off a brewery he remarked: “We are not here to sell boilers and vats, but the potentiality of growing rich beyond the dreams of avarice.”

In the next post, I’ll write more about expressing “large promise”.

Posted October 24, 2008
Categories: Blog, Press Releases/Copywriting, Copywriting for Direct Mail
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