What exactly is direct-response copywriting?

February 6, 2013 | By | 4 Replies More

Once upon a time, direct-response copywriting was considered ‘the Don’ of copywriting…

Not the Don Draper.

Far from it.

You see, Don Draper – the famous fictional copywriter from the TV series Mad Men – is an indirect-response man.

He writes copy that’s designed to briefly get your attention and then force the product to linger in your mind.

And, if it’s good indirect-response copy, it’ll linger long enough to still be there when you’re in the supermarket or on the High Street and said product is sparkling before you, waiting to be bought.

That’s indirect-response copy – the action is delayed.

Direct-response copywriting is much more…

Well, it’s more direct.

It is copy designed to lead the reader to a buying decision there and then, in that very moment.

With direct-response copywriting – the action is immediate.

Now, I mention Don Draper for a reason (not just the opportunity to pun on the title/name Don)…

The TV series Mad Men was loosely based on the roaring trade the ad men of the ’60s enjoyed – specifically ad men like David Ogilvy.

Ah, the name of god: David Ogilvy.

Yup, when it comes to copywriting, this guy always gets his name mentioned. And fair play to him: he was a bloody clever man.

(We should also give kudos to the likes of great copywriters such as Claude Hopkins, Eugene Schwartz and Gary Halbert, who have done amazing work for the world of copy.)

Ogilvy had hit after hit in the indirect-response world and defined a whole generation of copy.

In fact, we’re still not really out of it: his shadow looms large over a lot of the advertising copy you still see today.

But why was he so good?

Well, this is where direct-response copywriting comes back in.

You see, David Ogilvy knew something very important: that to understand direct-response copywriting was to understand copywriting full stop.

It’s said he refused to employ any copywriter unless they’d spent at least two years studying direct-response copywriting.

Ah, that’s interesting. Why would he say that?

Here’s why:

Direct-response copywriting is easily testable; indirect-response copywriting is not.

This is a great advantage for direct-response copy…

And it’s why you should learn about it…

The fact that you have the ability to test variables in a controlled situation means you can work out what influences the buying decision much quicker (and usually much cheaper) than you can with indirect-response copy.

Take a piece of indirect-copy – let’s say a Coca-Cola advert featuring some Polar Bears having a lark…

You run a print campaign in a national paper for two weeks.

Immediately you don’t know what the effect is. You hope that people notice the advert in the first place and then you hope that the thought of enjoying a coke lingers in their mind long enough to actually buy one when they’re in the shop.

Two weeks later, you know sales of Coca-Cola have gone up, but is it because of the polar bears?

Or is it because of something else?

Who knows?

Sure, you can try to measure the effect the advert has by featuring a website link, or by cancelling any other campaigns that might be running, or by comparing sales to the campaign last year…

But let’s face it, that’s all a bit waffy.

Instead, let’s take a piece of direct-response copy…

And just to show I’m not cheating here, we’ll say it’s for the same product – a can of Coca-Cola.

This time you run an advert in the national paper that offers a coupon to the reader to get one free can with the next can he or she buys.

Ignore for the minute that a free can is a better incentive than a polar bear frolicking – what’s important here is the ability to test response.

You see, now you can get an immediate response to your advert – people will respond or they won’t. Fact.

You’ll know soon enough if the advert works or not.

And here’s where it gets really good…

You can now run two adverts against each other. Hell, you can even run one advert with a picture of a polar bear offering a free can if you like and see if it works better than a bold headline telling you to ‘Claim Your Free Coke’.

The point is, because the reader must now take immediate action, you can much better measure the reader’s reaction to different variables.

Quite simply: you can improve your copy based on facts, not just what a client thinks “would be cool”.

Ogilvy knew this.

“Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving,” he said.

Many of the successful copywriters you’ll come across know this too.

The ability to test variables in a piece of copy is enormously powerful and that is why a good understanding of direct-response copywriting is such a highly-valued skill.

I hope to help you develop that skill here through the insight and advice I’ll be sharing on the All Good Copy website and through the free All Good Copy email.

If you haven’t subscribed to the email yet, you can do so for free at the top of the page. In fact, if you quickly pop your email address in, I’ll send you a guide I’ve written that shares five immediate things I’ve tested and found to increase response.

Best,
Glenn

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Category: Technicals

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 (4)

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  1. Sid says:

    Thanks a lot Glenn! This is very useful.

    My only question: where do I find direct-response gigs?

    • Glenn Fisher says:

      Thanks, Sid. Glad you you found it useful. Getting gigs: it depends where you are, but Agora have offices all over the world and are always looking for freelancers. Or else you should look out for companies that are using long copy themselves and get in touch with them. Hope that helps.

  2. Jarrod Jones says:

    Hi Glen, thanks a bunch for writing this. Quick question though. I am looking to get into copywriting soon and have been looking for training/education to help me move forward. My search has led me to, among other things, AWAI. Have you heard of them? Thoughts? Thanks in advance.

    • Glenn Fisher says:

      Hi Jarod. Good luck on starting out. I know the Katie and the guys at AWAI well and was lucky enough to be mentored by Michael Masterson (Mark) when I was starting out. I can recommend them. Also, if you’re just getting into things, you might find my Write Better Guide useful, lots of stuff for beginners in there. You can find out more at http://www.writebettercopy.co.uk. Hope that helps, GF.

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