I’ve come to think very differently about copywriting than the way it is normally taught…
I was writing an email earlier today, and I opened it with, “Frankly, I’m puzzled…”
Now, any serious student of direct marketing — especially if you’ve studied Dan Kennedy — will recognize this in an instant.
It’s the phrase Dan regularly uses to open the latter letters in a multi-step follow-up sequence.
The idea is that you’ve already presented the prospect with a completely irresistible proposition, and you’re really confused about why they haven’t ordered yet.
And that’s EXACTLY how I used it, although my email sequence was 21 steps, not the 3 that was the context Dan originally taught it in.
For most students of copywriting, this would come across as a textbook example of why and how you’d use a swipe file for writing your own copy. (A swipe file, for the uninitiated, is a collection of ads you can use to “swipe” ideas and copy from.)
And yet, I’m going to tell you this…
Burn your swipe file!
“What the heck, Roy?” you might respond. “After giving us such a textbook example of how to use swipe files, why on Earth would you be telling us to get rid of ours?”
Let me give you a parallel.
I told you I’ve been undertaking a casual study of hypnosis. And in hypnosis, the topic of scripts comes up a lot.
Now, the hypnosis is as full of charlatans as many other markets, and they have a pretty consistent pattern. These are fakes who don’t do hypnosis, but hear that people like to buy hypnosis learning materials. They don’t have enough knowledge to actually teach the subject, so they do some research into the inductions other hypnotists have used to get people to go into trance.
They collect induction transcripts, otherwise known as “scripts.” Then, they put a nice little marketing promise on them that says, “If you use this script, you can get people to go into hypnosis!”
So unsuspecting buyers pick up the scripts, and then read them aloud to subjects to try to get them to go into trance.
And, a few do. In those cases, this budding hypnotist thinks they’re a success. But also, a lot of people don’t.
Why, if the script is this magical trance-inducer, does it not work?
Because the script isn’t magic!
There are fundamental principles to inducing trance that are built into the words in the script. For that reason, reading the script CAN work, if you don’t understand hypnosis.
However, all GOOD hypnotists recognize that scripts are extremely limited.
So instead, they study those principles behind the scripts, and are always custom-tailoring their words to both map to the hypnotic principles AND work perfectly for their subject in the moment.
And GREAT hypnosis teachers will reveal the principles and tell you to burn all the scripts in your collection, because they will only hold you back!
Get the metaphor?
Looking at old ads can be useful to get the psychology of effective copy — but trying to copy the words will NEVER capture the magic of the original…
Any good hypnotist has probably studied quite a few hypnosis scripts in their time.
But what makes them good is that they internalized everything they needed to from that script, and then put it away, or threw it away.
When they do this, specific words and phrases of the script may come out naturally, as they’re doing their induction.
But they’re NEVER trying to copy the script. Only to match the psychology and principles behind it.
This is how you should think of learning copywriting, modeling other copywriters, and especially the use of swipe files.
Study what works. Pay attention to the best-performing ads in your market, subjecting them to line-by-line analysis if they’re really hot.
You can even copy them by hand, as great copywriters such as Gary Halbert recommended as a short-cut method to getting good at copywriting.
Then, burn them. At the very least, give them a spot on the shelf or in your filing cabinet where you won’t touch them while you write.
Trust your subconscious to do the work of swiping — by bringing you the best words and phrases, exactly when you need them.
It doesn’t matter if they’re an exact fit. It doesn’t matter if those words and phrases ever appeared in your swipe file.
What matters is that you internalize the deep structure of effective copy, selling, and persuasion, and fit it to what you’re doing right now.
This approach turns copywriting education on its head…
I sometimes get requests to focus on the more tactical aspects of copywriting.
I seldom honor those requests.
Far more useful, for you, is for me to focus on the deeper principles. Even if it doesn’t give you a “paint by numbers” method for writing copy.
When I interviewed Bill Bonner, founder of Agora, Inc., and perhaps the first billionaire copywriter (don’t know his net worth but his companies do well into the 9-figures in revenue annually), he took much the same tact.
He knows all the rules and tactics for effective copywriting. He’s studied the best copywriters in the world, and many of their best ads.
But rather than trying to copy them or follow the tactics, he has a much simpler approach.
He finds the story he wants to tell, and tells it in the most compelling way.
If he gets the story right, he told me, the sales roll in.
He certainly benefits from having studied effective advertising. And no doubt, he’s applying language and structure found in ads he reviewed at one point or another.
However it’s only in stepping back and simply communicating that he’s able to create the perfect message for that product, to that market, in that moment.
As I continue to write Breakthrough Marketing Secrets, that’s the kind of capability I want to help you find within yourself. Because I know breakthroughs don’t come from scripted, swiped claptrap. Real breakthroughs come when humans talk to humans, about things of utmost interest to them.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
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