Some Thoughts on Joseph Sugarman’s Adweek Copywriting Handbook

It’s all about getting her to read the first sentence. And then the next. And the next. Until she finishes the copy and picks up the phone to place her order.

In The Adweek Copywriting Handbook, legendary adman Joseph Sugarman explains the art of creating print advertising which will motivate a person “to exchange his or her hard-earned money for a product or service” (5).

Grab and Keep the Reader

Sugarman describes how “the purpose of all the elements in an ad” is “to get you to read the copy” (31). The pictures, layout and headline must pull readers into the ad. Then the words take over.

The first sentence must “really grab and keep” the reader (32). In order to do this, Sugarman advises copywriters to “Keep it short, sweet and almost incomplete so that the reader has to read the next sentence” (32).

It had to happen.

It’s you against the computer.

It’s easy.

Each of the three brief opening sentences provided by Sugarman is designed to lure the unsuspecting reader down the “slippery slope” of words, ultimately leading him to commit an act of unnecessary consumptions.

Once the potential customer has been begun her descent, the copy must be compelling enough to “get momentum going and create that buying environment” (114).

A good salesman can decide which strategy to utilize by reading his customer’s face, but a copywriter uses mere words to generate the elements of a showroom inside the reader’s imagination. This process includes anticipating and assuaging all possible objections. Sugarman warns: “Give the readers any excuse not to buy and they won’t buy” (124).

From Me to You

And just like any other salesman, the copywriter’s most important task is to develop a personal relationship with the customer. Although a particular advertisement appears in a magazine that will be read by thousands of readers, it should address potential customers in the same manner one would use speaking to a friend.

It is essential that you write your copy as if you are writing to that single individual. Your copy should be very personal. From me to you. Period (91).

One way copywriters achieve this sense of intimacy is by utilizing the personal pronouns, you, I and me, which “create the feel of a personal form of communication” (88). The word we, however, can make the seller seem large and impersonal. That’s why it’s best to refer to a company and its support staff in an endearing manner: “My team of great engineers is available to help you” (281).

You sell on emotion but you justify a purchase with logic

Human beings are capable of making rational decisions, but decision-making is not a rational process. As poet Theodore Reothke shrewdly noted, “We think by feeling.” And any purchasing decision is fraught with feelings.

As Sugarman explains:

You buy a Mercedes automobile emotionally but you then justify the purchase logically with its technology, safety and resale value (138-9).

How Many Words?

Is there such a thing as too much copy? Not according to Sugarman: “There really is no limit to how long copy should be if you get results” (83). However, space is always finite in newspaper or magazine advertisements. (But space is not restricted with internet ads, which creates many selling opportunities)

But as general rule brevity is better, and “the goal in writing ad copy is to express the thoughts you want to convey in the most powerful way but with the fewest words” (102 ).

Like a Poet

Like a poet, an effective copywriter needs to understand the emotional connotations of the words she chooses. Also like a poet, she must learn to “edit for rhythm,” in order to create copy that flows mellifluously (104).

You’ll Have to Buy the Book to Get the Rest of the Stories

Like how Sugarman got sales to rise twenty percent by changing a single word in a page of copy (70). Or how he sold a quarter of a million Walkie-Talkies by calling it a Pocket CB.

by Richard W. Bray

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3 Responses to “Some Thoughts on Joseph Sugarman’s Adweek Copywriting Handbook”

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