Copywriting for relevant attention

by Tom Albrighton 21 July 2009 Copywriting, Copywriting reviews

A pitfall of writing ad copy is to try and grab attention. The idea is that once people are attracted or intrigued, they’ll read the rest of the message and buy the product.

Unfortunately, this just isn’t the case. If it was, we’d all be buying random goods against our will because we’d seen them advertised on buses or the internet, emerging later from our trance with yet another unwanted pair of shoes.

If we’re honest, we all know from our own experience that momentary distraction doesn’t translate into a purchase. But somehow, when it comes to writing our marketing materials, wishful thinking or delusion sets in and we fall into the trap of trying to get attention.

Not really anything to do with clothes

Not really anything to do with clothes

A few months ago I walked past a clothes shop, outside which was a model skeleton sitting at a table and a sign saying ‘clothes to die for’. It raises a smile, which is nice, but would it actually make you want to buy clothes? The slogan links the skeleton and the clothes, but only through a play on words; there is no real connection. So it functions as an attention-grabber, but nothing more.

What really draws the reader in? In a word, benefits: the good things that will happen as a result of buying what you’re selling. Even something as lame as ‘look hot this summer’ would be better than the skeleton, because it communicates a benefit, however generic.

A product as sensually rich as clothes will sell itself – the product should have been out on the street in place of the skeleton. But it’s tougher when your subject can’t be touched or even seen – because it’s a service, for example. Many print ads for B2B services get stuck at this point. Feeling that they should include some kind of visual content, the advertisers lose the plot completely, opting for jokey, obscure or downright irrelevant picture/headline combinations that say nothing about what’s being sold.

It would be far better for them to choose a headline that communicates a key benefit and use images purely as illustration or decoration – if at all. A strong benefit, simply expressed, will always sell better than an attention-grabbing stunt. It might not be arresting, but it will attract the right kind of readers – those who are interested in buying.

It may also be worth considering a simple positioning statement – ‘IT support services’ or ‘Facilities management’ at the top/beginning of the ad. This orients the reader and tells them what the ad’s about, while freeing you up from having to use such clunky language in your main headline.

Rather than trying to ‘convert’ readers, remember you can only sell to people who are interested. There’s no point grabbing irrelevant attention that can’t be converted into sales. If you believe that willing customers are out there, your task is simply to reach them with the right message.

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