by Steve Kellas

“I have a theory that the best ads come from personal experience. Some of the good ones I have done have really come out of the real experience of my life, and somehow this has come over as true and valid and persuasive.” ~ David Ogilvy, copywriting legend from Ogilvy On Advertising

Whether you’re an experienced copywriter, or just starting out, you would do well to read a lot. Especially books on copywriting, and it just doesn’t get any better than David Ogilvy.

I re-read some of his book recently, and it still hits home with many truisms of the practice of copywriting.

The quote above really stood out for me because it’s true of my own experiences as a copywriter.

The best copywriting work I have produced came about because I used the product or service, or experienced the frustration of someone who didn’t have what the product/service was offering.

I judge work as ‘my best’ because it performed the best compared to all the other work I’ve done.

It did so because it was persuasive. Relating real life experience is naturally persuasive because that experience will shine through for the target customer and will read with the truth and confidence of someone in the ‘same situation’ as the reader. Anything else is just relating hearsay.

Get real copywriting experience

Nothing beats getting first-hand real experience with the product or service.

On a switching campaign email I wrote years ago for a telecom company, I actually called the switching number for the campaign and tried to switch my phone. I did this so I could experience what the customers would experience.

Getting real experience gave me many insights into what could be expected and by talking to a real live customer service person (I eventually explained what I was doing) I was able to get more information to inform my writing than I would ever have received from my client brief.

Armed with this extra knowledge, we created a campaign that successfully switched more customers than any previous campaign. I believe it was because my experience made my writing more persuasive because it was naturally believable and honest.

Try products for yourself

If you are writing product copy, it helps to actually hold the product. Smell it. Feel it. To notice how heavy it is in your hands and see its colours and sheen with your own eyes.

Doing so will help your copy immensely, because you’ll have that real life experience, but you’ll also develop an attachment – and hopefully love of) – the product. These feelings are valuable to a copywriter and necessary.

It may not always be possible to use or see a product first-hand. If you can’t use it or try it, imagine for yourself what it would be like. Because, as Ogilvy wrote: “Good copy can’t be written with tongue in cheek, written just for a living. You’ve got to believe in the product.”

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