The best copywriting can rebrand an entire company, even when it's inspired by a notorious spree killer.
That's the story behind Nike's slogan "Just Do It" — perhaps the most famous line of copywriting ever written. The tagline was inspired by the killer Gary Gilmore. Facing a firing squad after killing two people in Utah, he said his now-famous last words: "Let's do it." That inspired Dan Wieden, who created the line that helped catapult Nike to the top of the athletic apparel market.
You won't find "Think Like a Serial Killer" below in the tips for writing a product description. Still, the Nike story proves that even when it comes from unsavory inspiration, good copywriting can make or break a product. Find out how your writing can have more of an impact with a few simple tweaks.
Focus on Points of Differentiation in a Product Description
Now that they're made by machines, certain products have become more and more similar. If people want to buy a sweater, they have plenty to choose from that are, functionally, more or less the same.
As products share similarities, or points of parity, the differences, or points of differentiation, become more important in driving sales.
Consumers use points of parity to reject some products instead of buying them: Any product they consider must have these features, and luckily for them, most products do. Points of differentiation, on the other hand, are things that a consumer can only find in this particular product.
In your product description, you need to make it clear that your product has the relevant points of parity, but your real work is highlighting the points of differentiation. This is your key benefit.
David Ogilvy, the Father of Advertising, called this the one big idea, and he based all of his campaigns on one. He argued for ads that present consumers with facts about the most important benefit of the product, without hiding it under hype, exaggerating it, or — at worst — lying about it.
Being upfront about that benefit is key. You want to present your key point of differentiation immediately, ideally in the headline if possible. In his own research, Ogilvy found that five times as many people read headlines compared to the body copy. If you wait to present your key selling point, most people will never get to it.
Connect Product Benefits to a Larger Need
Of course, that key benefit may not always be obvious. As Theodore Levitt, a professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, put it, "People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole." But the real question is why they want holes.
All the way back in 1957, Vance Packard looked at the motivational techniques that marketers used to move products in his book, The Hidden Persuaders. One of his insights was that marketers positioned their products as a way to satisfy some deeper needs beyond the immediate use of the product.
His example was toothpaste: You're not really selling fresher breath, but confidence. For another example, Listerine revived the idea of halitosis from an obscure medical journal to create a market for mouthwash. Deodorant and antiperspirant have a similar history.
The above examples make this all seem a bit underhanded, but it doesn't have to be. The point is that people buy products for larger conscious and unconscious reasons beyond the obvious benefit. If you understand your audience's needs, you can tailor your description to get to these deeper emotional levels.
Use Social Proof and Scarcity When Possible
Another powerful technique is the idea of social proof. In situations where we are unsure of what to do — or in this case, what to buy — we often look around us to see what other people are doing and follow along.
So, whenever possible, include reviews or testimonials from actual customers who have used the product. Or, if you do not have reviews, a simple ticker that counts how many people have already bought a product can provide the same social proof.
One important thing to keep in mind with social proof is that it works better when we see people who are like us. Any reviews or testimonials should come from people who are as similar to your intended audience as possible.
Just like social proof, almost everyone is susceptible to the effects of scarcity as well. Products and opportunities seem more valuable when they are in short supply: For instance, when a certain deal is set to expire soon. Even if you cannot create a deadline (even an imaginary one), the simple suggestion that a product may sell out can help drive sales.
The scarcity principle works in two major ways. First, it relies on the general belief that things that are harder to get are usually better. Second, it uses psychological reactance: When we find out we cannot have or do something, we just want it more.
Scarcity and social proof work amazingly well together. You'll get the strongest effect if you can show how increased demand created this new scarcity.
Remember People Have Seen Most Tactics Before
If your customers are like most Americans, they typically see more than 5,000 ads each day. Over time, they come to recognize certain sales techniques and develop mental counters to resist them.
This idea is called the persuasion knowledge model. Once consumers start to realize a certain action is a persuasion tactic, they develop coping tactics to protect themselves, and the original action loses its effectiveness. The more a consumer is exposed to the same tactic, the more likely they are to develop such coping mechanisms.
Because of this, you can get a greater effect by frequently changing the tactics you use, or by using an old tactic in a new way. You can also create opportunities by mocking or subverting common tactics. It will attract user attention, and by violating the usual expectations, you will seem more trustworthy.
Maximize Your Ad Copy
The right product description can turn a floundering product into a bestseller. Because proper copy is so effective, everyone is looking for any edge they can find. If you don't find that advantage, the next copywriter will.
The tips above will help for any advertisement, but they're still just scratching the surface of all the things you can do to create the most effective copy possible. Read through some of our other posts for more tips on how you can enhance your ad copy.
Then, when you're really ready to take your writing to the next level, you can browse our copywriting courses.