Advertising Secrets of the Written Word by Joseph Sugarman

Advertising Secrets of the Written Word

RATING: 9/10

An amazing guide to copywriting. Several people and websites have recommended this book as the go-to copywriting book and it delivers. Expensive to buy, but a super useful resource for writing well and learning persuasive copy.

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The goal of writing copy effectively: “To cause a person to exchange his or her hard earned money for a product or service.”

The best copywriters in the world are those who are curious about life, read a great deal, have many hobbies, like to travel, have a variety of interests, often master many skills, get bored then look for another skill to master. They hunger for experience and knowledge and find other people interesting. They are very good listeners.

There is nothing really new in life. It’s simply a matter of taking previous pieces of knowledge and putting them together in a unique and different format. Matter is note created and destroyed. Everything on Earth that was here a billion years ago is pretty much here now. The only difference is that is has taken new forms.

LATERAL THINKING: Probably one of the most important keys in copywriting and conceptualizing is the ability to relate totally divergent concepts to create a new concept.

SPECIFIC KNOWLEDGE: You need to become an expert on a product, service, or any other thing you write about to really be effective. Becoming an expert means learning enough about a product to obtain enough specific knowledge so you can communicate the real nature of what you are trying to sell. Say to yourself, “I am an expert or have learned enough to be able to effectively communicate this product to the consumer.” That’s what we mean by specific knowledge.

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE: The bottom line for all these approaches, is that copywriting is primarily the mental process of first getting your thoughts organized in your mind and then eventually transferring them onto paper. There is no best method—just what works for you.

Axiom 1: Copywriting is a mental process the successful execution of which reflects the sum total of all your experiences, your specific knowledge and your ability to mentally process that information and transfer it onto a sheet of paper for the purpose of selling a product or service.

Axiom 2: All the elements in an advertisement are primarily designed to do one thing and one thing only: get you to read the first sentence of the copy.

Axiom 3: The sole purpose of the first sentence in an advertisement is to get you to read the second sentence. :: Make the first sentence short and easy to read.

Axiom 4: Your Ad layout and the first few paragraphs of your ad must create the buying environment most conducive to the sale of your product or service. [cheap, expensive, friendly, serious, etc.]

Axiom 5: Get the reader to say yes and harmonize with your accurate and truthful statements while reading your copy. [Don’t ask questions, make true statements]

Axiom 6: Every element in an advertisement must cause that slippery slide effect. The headline must be so powerful that you are compelled to read the first sentence, and the first sentence must be so easy to read and so compelling that you must read the next sentence and so on, straight through the entire copy to the end.

Axiom 7: When trying to solve a problem, don’t assume constraints that aren’t really there. [i.e. don’t think why would anyone buy this—think the computer]

Axiom 8: Keep the copy interesting and the reader interested through the power of curiosity. [seeds of curiosity: “let me explain” / “so read on” / “but there’s more – also short illustrative stories]


Principle 1: Every word has an emotion associated with it and tells a story.

Principle 2: Every good ad is an emotional outpouring of words, feelings, and impressions.

Principle 3: Your sell on emotion, but you justify a purchase with logic.

Look at the dictionary not as a collection of words, but as a collection of short stories.

Axiom 9: Never sell a product or service. Always sell a concept. [USP, Sizzle not the Steak, positioning, etc.] Ex. Pocket CB

Axiom 10: The incubation process is the power of your subconscious mind to use all your knowledge and experiences to solve a specific problem, and its efficiency is dictated by time, creative orientation, environment and ego.

Axiom 11: The key is simply this: Copy is never too long if the reader takes the action you request. Therefore, it can’t be dull, it must be compelling, it must relate to the reader, and finally it’s got to be about something the reader is interested in.

PRICE POINT: The higher the price point, the more copy required to justify the price or create the need. This is a general rule unless the price point is perceived to be a tremendous value (then less copy may be required) or the lower price point appears to lack credibility (then more copy is required). More copy will allow you to increase the value of a product and add many more dollars to your retail price. In short, by educating the consumer you can demand more money for your product.

UNUSUAL ITEM: The more unusual the product, the more you need to relate that product to the user and the more you’ve go to focus on creating the buying environment and explaining the product’s new features. At retail, generally, this type of time will not sell. Mail order is the perfect method to use when you have the right amount of copy.

Axiom 12: Evert communication should be a personal one, from the writer to the recipient, regardless of the medium used.

Axiom 13: The ideas presented in your copy should flow in a logical fashion, anticipating your prospect’s questions and answering them as if the questions were asked face-to-face.


Once you’ve restated your problem and you have the statement that you like best, sit down and list your big ideas or concepts. List several concepts. Then pick the one or two that make the most sense.

Visualize your concept and see how it might be incorporated into the ad. Think again about your problem restatement and whether your concept seems to be consistent with it. Then stop. It’s time to incubate.

After you’ve slept on it for a while, start writing. First write your headline—an attention getting blockbuster of a headline short enough to grab the reader’s attention. Then write the sub-headline—so compelling and curiosity building that your prospect must read the first sentence. And finally, write the first sentence of the copy—short, to the point and strong enough to carry you into the next sentence—and then it’s down the slippery slope.

Block-diagram your ad. What do the first few paragraphs do for the ad? What is the emotional appeal? Are you anticipating those questions and answering them to the satisfaction of your prospect? Are you frank and honest in those answers?

Axiom 14: In the editing process, you refine your copy to express exactly what you want to express with the fewest words.

With less copy, your ad will look less imposing to the prospect and he or she will be more likely to read it. The second advantage is that you are making the slippery slide even more slippery by making it shorter. Your prospect will get to the bottom of the slide much faster, yet still get the full impact of your sales message.


1. TYPEFACE: The most important role a typeface has is to allow the greatest comprehension possible, and the second role, less important by far, is to convey the image of the company.

2. FIRST SENTENCE: short, easy to read, compelling

3. SECOND SENTENCE: Keep momentum. Put aside facts, benefits, and product features.

4. PARAGRAPH HEADINGS: The primary purpose of paragraph headings is to get the reader to read the copy by making the copy look less intimidating.

5. PRODUCT EXPLANATION: A rule of thumb here is to explain a complicated product in a very simple way and explain a simple product in a very complex way.

6. NEW FEATURES: Highlight those features which make your product or service new, unique, or novel. This might appear to be the same as the copy element “Product Explanation” that we’ve just discussed, but it is different. Here you are revealing not just the features of the product, but the features that distinguish it from anything else on the market.

7. TECHNICAL EXPLANATION: This is not deception. A seller must become an expert on the product in order to talk about it in technical language.

8. ANTICIPATE OBJECTIONS: If you feel that your prospect might raise some objection when you are describing a product, then raise the objection yourself. Remember, you’re not in front of the consumer and you have to sense what the next question might be. If you sense that there might be an objection and you ignore it, it’s like ignoring the consumer. You won’t get away with it. The consumer is too sharp and will not buy.

9. RESOLVE OBJECTIONS: Just as you have to recognize objections, it is your opportunity and duty to resolve the objections too. You must be honest and provide alternative solutions or dispel the objections completely.

10. GENDER: Who is the consumer? Male, female or both male and female? Are they female golf players, lady pilots or professional women? Make sure there are not sexual or sexist comments that would offend any group and know your target audience so that you can communicate in their terms.

11. CLARITY: Your copy should be clear, simple, short and to the point. Avoid big words that confuse those who don’t know them and which often establish the writer as a pompous snob. (Exception: technical explanations)

12. CLICHES: Avoid the obvious ones: “Here’s the product the world has been waiting for,” or “it’s too good to be true.” If you feel inclined to use a cliché, don’t. Clichés seem to be used when you have nothing really significant or good to say and must fill up space.

13. RHYTHM: It has no distinct pattern: a short sentence, then a long sentence followed by a medium sentence followed by a short sentence and then another short sentence and then one really long sentence. Got it? In short, a mixture of sentence lengths which, when read together, gives a sense of variety and rhythm.

14. SERVICE: If you are selling an expensive product or one that is not easily returned for service, you must address the question of service and convey the ease of that service to the consumer. Often the mention of a brand name manufacturer is all that is needed to establish ease of service. But if there is a remote possibility that the consumer would still ask about service, then you must address this issue in your ad.

15. PHYSICAL FACTS: In copy, you must mention all the physical facts about a product or you risk reducing your response. I’m talking about weight, dimension, size, limits, speed, etc. Sometimes you might think that a certain dimension isn’t really important or the weight may not be necessary. But it’s not true. Give readers and excuse not to buy and they won’t buy.

16. TRIAL PERIOD: If you can’t feel or touch product, offer trial period. 1-2 months ideal. Test have proven the longer the trial period, the less chance the product will be returned and the more confidence the consumer will have in dealing with you and purchasing the item.

17. PRICE COMPARISON: If you are selling an expensive item or something that is a good value when compared to another product, you should always consider a price comparison as a means of establishing the value of your product. If your product is the most expensive product being offered, then you want to suggest that it has more or better features. If your product is less expensive, then you want to focus on better value and use a price comparison.

18. TESTIMONIALS: Whatever testimonial you do use, make sure it is authentic and honest. The public will see right through a lie and the FTC won’t be far behind.

19. PRICE: If you’re selling a product or service at a very good price, then make the price larger. After all, you want people to see that benefit very clearly. If the product is expensive and it’s not the price that will sell it, you want to underplay it. Don’t hide it, just underplay it.

20. OFFER SUMMARY: It’s a really good idea to summarize what you are offering the consumer somewhere near the end of your ad. “So here’s my offer. Order two pots with Teflon coating and you’ll receive the two pots plus our hand cookbook and video for the price or only $19.95.”

21. AVOID SAYING TOO MUCH: First, say to yourself as you go through the editin process, “Is there a simpler way of saying this?” Very often you can cut your copy down 50 to even 80% and still say the same thing. It’s the difference between a salesperson who talks too much and one who is to the point and succinct. Wouldn’t you rather be sold by the one who is to the point?

22. EASE OF ORDERING: Make it easy to order.

23. ASK FOR THE ORDER: Always ask for the order near the end of your ad. Believe it or not, this is often forgotten by many copywriters. At the end of your ad, I state the following or something similar: “I urge you to buy this at no obligation, today.”


1. FEELING OF OWNERSHIP: The feeling of ownership is a concept that is pretty close to the feeling of involvement, but here you are making readers feel that they already own the product and you’re letting them use their imaginations as you take them through the steps of what it would be like if they already owned it. An example might be, “When you receive your exercise device, work out on it. Adjust the weights. See how easy it is to store under your bed….” In short, you are making them feel that they have already bought the product.

2. HONESTY: When I wrote a JS&A ad, I would include many of the negative features of my products. I would point out the flaws up front. And of course, I would explain why the flaws really didn’t amount to much and why the consumer should still buy my product. Consumers were so impressed with this approach and had such trust in our message that they would eagerly buy what we offered. And it seemed that the more truthful and frank my ads were, the more the consumer responded. I soon realized that truthfulness was one of the best advertising lessons I had ever learned.

3. INTEGRITY: Integrity can be reflected by the choices you make in the layout of your ad. Is it clean neat? Or is it shouting out at you with color bars running in different directions and headlines screaming and words underlined and pictures exaggerated? You get the idea.

4. CREDIBILITY: Credibility is being believable. In an ad for a product whose price is exceptionally low, you’ve got to convey that the offer you are making, as great as it may seem, is indeed a valid offer.

-Let’s say you are offering something for $10 that everybody else is selling for $40. Your job is establishing credibility for your price. You might explain that you are buying a very large volume from the Far East and that you were able to buy the remaining stock from a major manufacturer for a very low price. In short, you’ve got to establish the credibility of your company and your offer.

5. VALUE AND PROOF OF VALUE: The buying transaction is an emotional experience that uses logic to justify the buying decision. You buy a Mercedes automobile emotionally but you then justify its purchase logically with its technology, safety and resale value. So justifying its value is something that the consumer wants to do before making an emotional purchase.

-And with such intense competition in the world, there is a question in the mind of the consumer: “Am I buying the product at the best price?” Once again, you must resolve that question or you are not communicating effectively with your prospect.

6. JUSTIFY THE PURCHASE: Somewhere in your ad, you should resolve any objection by providing some justification to the purchaser. Sometimes it’s just saying, “You deserve it.” And other times you might have to justify it in terms of savings (the price is a one-time only value), health reasons (protects your eyes), recognition (the men in your life will love the way you look in it) or dozens of other reasons based on the wants and needs of your prospect.

-The higher the price point, the more need there is to justify the purchase. The lower the price point or the more value the price represents, the less you have to justify the purchase. In fact, the lower the price, the more greed plays a role.

7. GREED: When you lower the price of a product, you usually end up with more unit sales. Keep lowering the price, and you’ll continue to generate more unit sales than before if the price drop is big enough. Go too low and you’ll have to add a little justification for the lower price as it will start raising credibility issues with your prospects.

8. ESTABLISH AUTHORITY: There’s always something that you can say about your company to establish authority, size, position or intention. The consumer loves to do business with experts in a particular area. That’s why the trend is away from department stores that sell general merchandise to category stores that sell a specific line of products. These stores have more expertise, knowledge and authority in a specific category. For example, for years I would call JS&A “America’s largest simple source of space-age products.”

-People need reassurance that they made the right purchase.

9. SATISFACTION CONVICTION: If your potential customer, after reading what you are going to do, says something like, “They must really believe in their product,” or “How can they do it?” or “Are they going to get ripped off by customers who will take advantage of their generosity?” then you know you’ve got a great example of a satisfaction conviction.

10. NATURE OF PRODUCT: What is the nature of a toy? It’s a fun game. So you bring out the enjoyment. What is the nature of a blood pressure unit? It’s a serious medical device that you use to check your blood pressure. Note the word ‘serious.’ What is the nature of a burglar alarm? It’s a serious product that should be easy to install, work when it is supposed to and provide protection to concerned homeowners. Very often, common sense is all you need to understand an appreciate the nature of a product.

11. CURRENT FADS: The minute there is a lot of publicity about something and it has the potential of turning into a fad, consider the possibility that it’s a good signal for you to exploit the opportunity. A fad can die just as quickly as it can grow. So you must capture the moment early enough and get out right after the fad peaks.

12. TIMING: When do you introduce a new product? Is America ready for it? And how do you know? The answer really is quite simply: Nobody knows. That’s why every product that I sell, I always test first. The consumer will always tell me if I’m too early or too late or right on target.

13. DESIRE TO BELONG: Why do people own a Mercedes? Why do they smoke Marlboro cigarettes? Why do certain fads catch on? It could be that these people buy a specific product because they subconsciously want to belong to the group that already owns or uses that specific product.

14. DESIRE TO COLLECT: There is a large segment of the population who for whatever reason have an emotional need to collect a series of similar products.

15. CURIOSITY: How do you use curiosity in selling your products? First realize that when you sell books, curiosity it the key motivating factor and you should use it as your prime selling tool. But realize also that there are many other products that lend themselves to holding back part of the story in order to arouse curiosity and create a demand. Show too much, tell too much and you run the risk of killing whatever advantage you have using mail order as a medium.

16. SENSE OF URGENCY: You can use the sense of urgency in many different ways—low supplies, closeout opportunity, price rise, product shortages, limited-time price opportunity or limited-edition opportunity. How about “Buy now so you can start enjoying the benefits of my product tomorrow.” Or even “Buy one during the next three days and you’ll get a second one free.”

17. INSTANT GRATIFICATION: You should convey to your customer either the advantages in ordering from you via mail or the assurance that you ship promptly and that the customer will have his or her purchase within a few days.

18. EXCLUSIVITY, RARITY, OR UNIQUENESS: The concept is basically let the prospect feel that he is special if he buys a particular product—that he will belong to the very small group that can be envied for owning this very limited item.

19. SIMPLICITY: You must keep your advertising copy simple. The positioning of your product must be simple. Your offer must be simple. In short, you want to keep your entire presentation as simple as possible while still getting across your message.

20. HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS: It is always important to relate the product or service you are offering in human terms. How the product will fit, how it will feel, how it will look—all are just some of the ways you can relate. That seems pretty obvious. Also using stories, attractive models, etc.

21. GUILT: Have you ever received mailings from charities that include a small gift? The gifts are usually address stickers, colorful stamps or some other inexpensive token. Or how about those mailings with surveys that include a dollar bill or a reply envelope with a return stamp? In both cases you may have experienced a slight touch of guilt. After all, you’ve received something of value and you feel an obligation to take some action in return, such as sending in a donation or answering the survey. There are good examples of the use of guilt. Repeated mailings also create guilt.

22. SPECIFITY: Being specific in your explanations is very critical and can establish your credibility. Let me first give you an example. If I were to say, “New dentists everywhere use and recommend CapSnap Toothpaste,” it sounds like typical advertising lingo—puffery designed to sell a product. It’s so general that it will probably cause a viewer to discount the statement you have just made and maybe everything else you say. But if I said, 92% of new dentists use and recommend CapSnap Toothpaste,” it sounds much more believable. The consumer is likely to think that we did a scientific survey and that 92% was the result.

23. FAMILIARITY: Realize the importance of a familiar brand name, a logo that appears may times and becomes well known, a layout that people instinctively know is yours, familiar phrases (not clichés) and words that your public an harmonize with—all of these create the bond that familiarity creates between you and your prospect.

-Good direct marketing technique calls for continually revising or “tweaking” your ad until it does better. But you never drop a campaign because you are tired of it. Drop it only when the public stops exchanging their hand-earned dollars for your product or service.

24. HOPE: When using the psychological trigger of hope, you must avoid the trap of making a specific claim that can be measured or guaranteed. You want to allude to what the product is used for without making and promise of an exact outcome.

Axiom 15: The more the mind must work to reach a conclusion successfully, the more positive, enjoyable or stimulating the experience.

Example: “The Seiko chronograph alarm sells for $300. The watch costs jewelers $150. And jewelers love the item, not only because of the excellent reputation of the Seiko brand, but because it’s probably America’s best selling new expensive digital watch. And Seiko can’t supply enough of them to their dealers.

-Note what I didn’t say but what was rather obvious. What I didn’t say was that the jewelers were making a small fortune each time they sold a Seiko. I didn’t have to say it, yet the readers could come to their won conclusion all by themselves using their intuition, thinking, and emotions.

Axiom 16: Selling a cure is a lot easier than selling a preventative unless the preventative is perceived as a cure or the curative aspects of the preventative are emphasized.

-You must first make a decision when evaluating a product. Is this product a preventative or a cure? Can the product be positioned as a cure rather than a preventative? Is the market trend changing the perception of your product from being a preventative to being a cure? Or do you simply have a preventative that does not have a broad enough market?

-If your prospect believes in something, he or she will move mountains to obtain it, but if he or she doesn’t believe in something, you won’t move that prospect an inch.

Axiom 17: Telling a story can effectively sell your product, create the environment or get the reader well into your copy as you create an emotional bonding with your prospect.

-Often the best stories are told in the first person and sound like a personal message from the writer to the prospect. Other stores are told in the third person, but because they are in story form, they still sound quite personal and very compelling.


If I wanted to reach a mass market, I would keep my copy simple, my sentences short and I wouldn’t use big words. On the other hand, If I wanted to reach a very upscale audience, I might use bigger words and longer sentences.

-Best selling books are written for the 8th to 10th grade level. Time, Business Week and the Wall Street Journal are 11th grade level. The Gettysburg Address and Reader’s Digest have a 10th grade level in common. And for the most part, the average American audience reads between the 11th and 12th grade levels.


1. Take a sample of your copy—start with 100 to 125 words from the very beginning of the ad.

2. Count the words in each sentence. Dates and numbers equal one word and independent clauses count as separate sentences (e.g.: “We studied, and we learned” would be two sentences).

3. Divide the total number of words by the number of sentences to get the average sentence length.

4. Count the number of long words (those of 3 or more syllables), but

a. Do not count short-word combinations like ‘pawnbroker’ or ‘yellowtail’

b. Do not include proper names.

c. Do not include verbs that have become 3 or more syllables by adding ‘ed’ or ‘es’

5. Divide the number of long words by the total number of words in the selection to get the percentage of long words.

6. Add the average sentence length to the percentage of long words.

7. Multiply this total by 0.4 to get the grade level.