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Starting with Irony, Finding Headlines in Body Copy, & Other Copywriting Secrets

avatar Kaitie Yague-Spaude | Copywriter & Project Support Specialist

Inspired copywriting can come from any business, in any industry, and from any decade. No one proves this point better than Alan Sharpe, a self-proclaimed Sales Enablement Copywriter who has been helping B2B businesses meet their goals for over 30 years. Sharpe teaches a course, 30 Copywriting Secrets from the Best Ad Campaign of All Time, that really helps illustrate what makes good copywriting good

But, who comes to mind when you hear the words “best ad campaign of all time”? Nike? Apple? Maybe even Coca-Cola? 

You may be surprised to know that this course was centered around Volkswagen advertisements spanning the 1960s and 70s – we know we were. The title of Sharpe’s course had us hooked, but when we heard the company we would be studying, we were skeptical. Was the 60s really peak advertising?

As it turns out, it was. 

We found ourselves drawn more and more into the examples Sharpe was citing and explaining throughout his digital course. By the time he had reached secret number 9, we were peculating about which ads we thought Sharpe would highlight with each upcoming tip. Sometimes we got it right, but most of the time there were even MORE great ads than the ones we had already seen that stepped up to best prove a point. 

So, now the real question is this: did we learn anything?

One of the last things we learned from the course is that Sharpe would NOT have liked the colon we included in the above sentence. Guilty as charged. But in all honesty, he did offer several insights that we found particularly applicable to the type of copy we write, for advertisements and otherwise. 

In no particular order, here are a few nuggets of gold we took away from Sharpe’s class. 

Tip 27: Write in pictures 

When we first read this secret, we thought it would roughly translate to “make sure you plan for where your picture will go.” We were wrong. Instead, it means that it’s important to create vivid imagery with your words. It’s not enough to say the car has “extra headroom,” rather say the car has “enough headroom for any head – even with a hat on it.” Describing what you (or others) look like using the product is a great way to paint a mental picture for the audience. It’s one thing to see a product in a picture or to imagine yourself using it – it’s another to read copy describing what it will look like when you use it. Often, it only takes a few extra words to make the mental imagery much more descriptive and accurate. 

Question marks help make harsh truths softer and more inviting to consider

While this itself wasn’t a tip or secret, the idea of it was repeated often in several of Sharpe’s tips. By being able to add a question mark to the end of your otherwise statement, you can actually get your audience to consider it. Can you feel the difference between these two sentences:

“Better than the best.”
“Better than the best?” 

One is a bragging statement stating superiority. The other is merely an idea, a suggestion for the reader to work out for themselves whether it be true or false based on what they read in the rest of the body copy. 

Are you convinced?

Tip 12: Find headlines in your body copy

This secret was one that lit up a lightbulb in our brains. It’s pretty common practice to wait to write your headline until the end, but we had yet to hear this simple truth of plucking your headline from the copy that just doesn’t make the cut into the final piece. There is ALWAYS copy that gets cut (often because we write anywhere from 1-5 versions of each opening paragraph alone). 

By being able to segment out copy that doesn’t make the cut instead of simply deleting it, you’re left with the perfect pile of inspiration in which to find a headline. 

Tip 18: Give multiple benefits for each feature

For your reference, Sharpe defines a feature as “what something does” and a benefit as “what that feature does for the buyer.” Once you’ve got that in mind, it’s easy to see what Sharpe means. 

It’s not enough to give the feature and the benefit of it, but rather you should be able to highlight multiple benefits for any one feature. But, how do you know what order to present them in? Sharpe’s tip is simple: first you need to discover every benefit of a feature, then rank them in order of audience appeal and perceived importance, and then finally write them into the copy in that order.

Of course, in order to do this you need to have done your discovery homework to know about features and benefits as well as have a solid understanding of your target audience and ideal market. 

Start with words that carry their own momentum

There were lots of secrets centered around how to make your reader read ALL your copy, not just the headline for the first sentence. However, this was one takeaway from all of those secrets that resonated with us the most. 

We are extremely conscious about using words that create action for the implied you of the reader, but we’ve been missing out on using words that carry the momentum of the story (sometimes thought of as transition words). To us, the examples Sharpe shared were more than just transition words, they were what we decided to call “movement phrases.” These include things like “It all began when..”, “that gave us the…”, “after that we…”, and so on. 

These phrases are the type of language we seem to use in more narrative writing, but Sharpe proves it can also have a place in your marketing mix.  

Tip 15: Start with irony

Sharpe offers lots of ideas on how to start your body copy, but the tip we liked the most was about starting with irony. If you can find a way to describe your product using terms that no one would ever associate with it, it’s certainly attention-catching. But, if you can find a way to describe your product using terms that are the antithesis of what someone would expect, it’s ironic. 

This isn’t a technique we’ve played with much, mainly because we understand it comes with a certain level of risk. But, after hearing how it’s a highly-recommended copywriting secret, perhaps we’ll give it a go.

Tip 29: Give your buyer something to think about

Ending website or ad copy with a CTA has been pretty well ingrained into most marketing copywriters. However, Sharpe posits that it doesn’t actually need to be that way – especially for ads that are centered around outreach to new audiences and brand recognition. In that case, most of what we write doesn’t lead to an immediate sale, but rather prompts readers to see the brand in a different way. 

If this is your use case, then what you say at the end of the copy should motivate your prospects to think differently instead of pushing them towards a conversion. A  direct question is an easy way to make someone start to think seriously about your brand. 

For example, if you’re telling a testimonial-style story you could end with “It’s easy to see that Jim loved his bug. Will you love yours as much?” You’re not outright saying “You should purchase a bug because people love them”, but are instead teasing that idea to the reader, giving them something to think about instead of ordering them to do something. 

Like what you’ve read so far? Learn even more great secrets by (cue the drumroll) taking the course yourself! Don’t have the time? Contact us instead and we’ll do the copywriting for you, employing the most applicable secrets learned from Sharpe.