Why it’s OK to be cliché in direct-response copywriting

January 8, 2013 | By | 11 Replies More

A cliché passing me by in Paris.

A cliché passing me by in Paris.

So look…

You might disagree with me here.

You might sneer.

You might even think I’m an idiot for saying what I’m about to say.

But I’m going to say it anyway. I’d be a liar if I didn’t.

Spit it out?

OK…

With direct-response copywriting I think it’s often better to be cliché than clever.

“Eeeeeww, I hate clichés. Glenn, don’t you get it? Clichés are the devil’s work. Don’t you know I’m a creative thinker whose single role on earth is to give birth to the most original ideas that have never been thought before?”

Twaddle.

You write to sell. Fact.

Indeed, good old Ogilvy said that. And so too has every other ad man or woman whose had to talk about the subject for longer than half an hour.

In fact, the phrase ‘write to sell’ has now become a cliché itself.

Does it make it any less true?

Of course not!

Does it make it any less useful?

No.

And does it make it any less arresting as an idea?

No. I don’t think it does.

If you walked past a poster that declared in big bold letters YOU WRITE TO SELL, you’d have to stop to have a look to see what it’s about, right?

But it’s still a cliché.

What I’m really trying to tell here is a morality tale.

You see, all too often I read copy that is obviously not written with the intention of selling. Instead it is written with the intention of impressing people with its ‘creativity’.

And hey, before you go off on one… that is NOT to say that being creative cannot help to make copy more effective. It can, very much so. But you should never let the desire to be creative force you to forget the real reason you’re writing direct response copy… to sell.

I got to thinking about this when I was asked to do a rush job at the end of last year.

Due to some unavoidable circumstances, a brand new direct response sales letter was needed fast.

Actually, it was needed faster than fast.

It was needed in a day.

Now, attempting to write an effective sales letter in a day is not something I would advise anyone to do. Much more time should be given to such an undertaking.

But in this case, needs must.

So, I set to work.

Well. Er. I got in the bath and started drafting the letter out in my mind. But the less said about my creative process in this case, the better.

Anyway…

Because speed was the key here, I had to call upon as much existing material as possible.

Rather than giving myself time to think and be original, I needed to trawl the world of already thought-up ideas and fit the raw information I had about the product into something that would ‘do the job’.

By the end of the afternoon I was frazzled. Brain and body. Writing a twenty-odd page direct-response sales letter in a day is as physically difficult as it is mentally.

Here’s what was interesting, though: despite a few creative and original flourishes here and there – most of the stuff was formulaic, tried and tested stuff that I knew had worked well before.

And the headline itself was even a cliché!

I’d planned to dump it and write something better, but being short on time meant it stuck and was marketed flirting its cliché-ness to everyone.

More shocking…

It worked.

It quickly generated a huge response at a much better conversion rate than would have been expected, considering the time spent on it.

Hundreds of sales later, I got to thinking about the cliché I’d used at the top of the piece. I wondered why I’d written it in the first place.

The fact is, it was there to do a job: to act as a platform (albeit intended temporary) to get to the next line and the business of making the sales argument.

I’d used the cliché because I was writing to sell.

I wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, to win awards and I certainly wasn’t trying to be clever.

I was simply focusing on what I needed to do to sell the product that I was tasked with selling.

Sure, sometimes you’ll need to be clever…

Sometimes you’ll need to be creative…

And sometimes you’ll even be asked to reinvent the wheel…

But please never ever forget that, as a copywriter – first and foremost – you need to sell.

Whether it’s a car, a cream or a concept – your primary goal is to flog it.

So, if there’s an idea that works, no matter how trite or overused it might be, swallow your ‘creative pride’ and use it.

Best,
Glenn

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Category: Emotionals

About the Author ()

Glenn Fisher is a professional copywriter, founder of AllGoodCopy.com and author of Write Better Copy. He is an expert in long copy sales letters, having written copy that has so far generated more than £10 million in revenue. Born in Grimsby, he now lives in London.

Comments (11)

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  1. Mark Watson says:

    Cracking piece. I agree that you can’t be a snob in copy. What works works.

  2. Shifaa says:

    My first time to leave a comment so here it goes:

    First, I admire your writing style, very catchy. Second, I might be a not very experienced copywriter but a cliché could for sure please the customer and sell.

  3. I concur without a blink. Great point you made concerning; “writing copy that was meant to impress one’s creativity more so than to sell.” Clever is good, but clever does not “fill a refrigerator;” at least not by itself.

    I like your writing style as well. Clear, concise, and straight to the point. No surprise here, seeing your track record as it is. Well done.

  4. Methinks these people who think it’s about “creativity” lack some good, practical common sense.

    Imagine (if you’re a man — the counterpart applies equally for women) you need a new suit.

    You go to a store that sells the kind of merchandise you’re interested in buying.

    What’s your reaction if the salesman (or woman — women commonly work in such places too) starts with some “creative” spiel, instead of a simple cliche: “How may I help you today, sir?”

    Are these creative freakos looking for a creative sales pitch, or do they just want to buy a suit and want the straight facts?

    There’s nothing wrong, as you say, with being creative in how you use the cliches, but do what’s known to work.

    And electrical engineer designing an amplifier doesn’t get lost on “creatively” being different. He takes components that work, and puts them together in a way that does what he wants it to do.

    Same with someone designing an engine, an automobile, an air conditioning unit.

    Just do the job! Make it work. That’s all you need.

  5. Martin Shaw says:

    If I write like this,one sentence per para, does it make the writing more impressive?

    Will the piece qualify as long copy, or short copy?

    Is it an affectation, a way to get noticed, what would David Ogilvy say?

    Really worried about this.

    Or then again, maybe I’m not.

    Can anyone help?

    • I dislike the short, choppy sentences. It doesn’t flow well.

      If you want your copy to effortlessly flow into the mind of your reader without drawing attention to the writing instead of the message, your copy must feel like ordinary conversation.

      I don’t use mobile devices, so I’m not an expert on using them, but communication is communication. If the device wraps your copy according to screen width, it should adapt.

      And I would expect the reader knows how to handle paragraphs with shorter lines but more lines between paragraph breaks.

      But still, I keep paragraphs reasonably short (most of the time, anyway), with something akin to one ordinary thought per.

      If it gets too long, I let the sentence be broken by a paragraph break.

      I once wrote a web page where one sentence was about 7 or 9 paragraphs long, but it flowed as smooth(ly) as silk.

      Readability must not interfere with cohesive understadability.

      • Glenn Fisher says:

        I’m in agreement with you, Clarke. I think we’re essentially making the same point.

        I’m by no means suggesting you should interrupt the flow of your copy just to have a shorter sentence for the sake of it, only that long, unwieldy sentences should be tamed.

        The formatting technique I suggest acts as a reminder.

  6. Lesley Kemp says:

    Great article Glenn. A cliche is only a cliche because it works after all. Sometimes the best answer is to use what works rather than…dare I say…reinvent the wheel. Thanks for sharing.

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