It’s hard enough to please your market — it’s even harder to please regulators…
That’s pretty much the theme of writing compliant sales copy.
It’s one thing to figure out what problem you’re solving for a market… To figure out how they talk about it… To speak to them in their language, as one of them… And to have a conversation that inspires them to take action to get your solution.
But what if you can’t speak their language? What if you’re NOT ALLOWED?
What if you’re not allowed to use the specific words they use to refer to the problem your product or service solves?
This is made even harder recently…
Facebook, Google, and the other major ad networks have all been coming down hard on marketers.
Yes, it’s in the name of creating the best user experience. And yes, I drink this Kool-Aid. Because I know they know that if they don’t have users, they don’t have advertisers. Advertisers may give them money, but it’s only to access their users. They need advertiser cash to make money, but they only get advertiser cash by selling access to their users.
So in the name of user experience, the ad networks are fighting to shut down scammers. And marketers selling any market’s equivalent of snake oil.
So they put hyper-restrictive rules in place.
Down to the most minuscule level of control over which words may and may not appear on your sales pages, or your website in general.
And yes, I also tend to believe the conspiracy that this control is made worse by lobbyists. Entrenched interests such as the pharmaceutical industry do bend the ear of regulators, to protect their access to certain markets. That said, many regulators are doing their job of keeping fraudulent or harmful products off the market as well.
No matter where these regulations are coming from though, they tend to make a copywriter’s job a lot harder.
Which is the subject of today’s Mailbox Monday…
Remember, Mailbox Monday is my weekly article where I answer YOUR questions. About marketing, selling, copywriting, business-building, and more. To have yours answered, submit it here.
Here’s today’s question…
I’ve spent my career writing copy for information products, where I could…
a) rely on the power of Mel Martin / Parris Lampropolous style fascination bullets…
b) make high-impact product claims (within reason).
Now I’m part-owner and principal copywriter for a company that sells nutritional supplements, and I’m finding it more difficult to write copy that doesn’t raise the dander of our attorneys.
Feedback on a recent draft I submitted for review literally contained this sentence :
“Thus, even if literally true, this claim implies that XXX may be beneficial in treating various disease states involving XXX XXXX (unapproved drug claim).”
Have you had any experience writing this kind of copy, and if so, how did you respond to the increased limitations placed on you? It’s strange to me that the literal truth isn’t an adequate guard against an overzealous bureaucracy.
I’d love to have your thoughts.
I feel your pain!
I’ve actually tried to avoid writing for supplements. In part, because of this reason. Also, because I tend to really avoid most supplements personally, and I’d prefer not to sell them.
But I know a ton of copywriters in this industry.
I have taken a few health and supplement copy projects, early in my career.
And I have a little bit of a sense of the compliance involved.
So I can provide some specifics here, with regards to health.
And then I’ll zoom out and talk about writing compliant copy in general…
Drug dealers and dirty words…
Here’s the thing. The government-sanctioned drug dealers in this country get a lot of control over what can and cannot be said in marketing.
For example, there are companies that can literally sell methamphetamine as an ADHD drug (it’s called Desoxyn). But if you have something that’s not gone through multi-phase trials with the FDA, you can’t even say it’s useful for people with ADHD.
Pretty much any disease name or claim is restricted to companies that have gone through FDA approval, for that disease.
If you don’t have that, you can’t talk about the disease.
What you’ve traditionally been able to talk about though are bodily structures and functions.
So, if attention is a function, you can talk about a supplement supporting your attention span and focus.
Or some supplements have been able to talk about supporting heart health, a structure in the body.
These are structure/function claims, and there’s a long history of legal use of these claims.
Generally, you have to say that your supplement supports health of a structure or normal bodily function (alongside healthy diet and lifestyle choices).
But if you get into any disease claims — or, God forbid, cures! — you start to get into dangerous territory.
This has recently become even harder…
I have some notes from this year, from people who work really hard to write compliant copy for entrepreneurs. Who have been dealing with the new restrictions from the ad networks.
And a lot of the traditional structure/function claims are not clearing compliance.
So instead, it’s all about finding just the right terms that can speak to the issue without using any of the same words we’re used to using.
For example, you can’t say “high blood sugar” but you can say “erratic blood sugar.”
You can’t say “maintaining your blood sugar” but you can say “sustaining your blood sugar.”
… And so on.
The nitty-gritty details of compliance are changing, and you have to stay on top of it…
Zooming out across ALL industries…
This won’t go away. In fact, it will probably become more difficult.
The challenge is not in following the rules.
You can stay on top of compliance by staying on top of relevant industry news.
In the health industry, following FDA warning letters tells you a lot about what kind of language they’re not liking. And those will quickly impact what’s approved in ad networks.
In finance, the SEC and FTC are the regulating bodies.
The FTC also regulates commerce more generally.
Plus as the ad networks make changes, they’ll tend to release at least some information about what the new restrictions are.
And if you’re a member of any industry groups, pay attention to what your peers are saying.
But again, all of that will help you stay compliant.
The trickier part is in how to stay compliant AND convert higher.
Remember that conversion is about TRUST and BELIEVABILITY…
In some cases, marketers today are converting even higher by creating more compliant copy.
It requires you to raise the bar a little.
To present yourself well.
But also to make sure that you’re really connecting with and understanding your prospects.
And here’s a HUGE factor…
It may also force you to rely less on big promises, and lean harder into STORY.
Tell your own story, being careful for problem language.
Tell your prospect’s story, with the same precaution.
Tell your customers’ stories.
Story, story, story.
It’s easier to stay compliant.
The ad networks like stories.
And it really connects with prospects.
It’s a win-win-win-win situation.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,