By: Lewis R. Elin
January 2005 Communication

Here are two off-the wall, but right-on-the-money techniques for writing better copy faster and combining captions and pictures for a more powerful
synergistic effect.

You will write better copy faster when you use my “Son of bitch! That’s it.” technique. It’s based on the assumption that readers/viewers/listeners will only read or listen to your headline or lead-in sentence. So it better be good, real good. It has to summarize your primary user benefit clearly, simply, believably and convincingly. You can be giving away the farm in the fourth paragraph, but if no one gets that far because they lost interest….

You can learn to generate these hot-button-pushing headlines/leads by writing single sentences that attempt to “say it all.” You may have an inkling of what you want to say, but you just haven’t yet gotten it all together succinctly. But keep on writin’! Crank out those single sentences that have to push the hot buttons of readers’ self-interest and compel them to read on and learn more. Write. Write! WRITE!! It may take half a dozen or dozens, but you’ll know when you have it.

You’ll slam the disk, exclaim, “Son of bitch! That’s it!” Then write. Don’t edit. Don’t worry about spelling and punctuation. Drain your mind. Spell out all the benefits, all the reasons why-what I call “rationalization ammunition”-and then put it aside for a day or two. Then the hard job starts, the editing, but that’s another process I call SEW: sweat every word.

Now that you have this absolutely outstanding, gangbusters headline or lead-in and equally believable and convincing copy, you may have to add pictures and captions. To make that effort more powerful and effective, follow my rule of “Combine Captions for the Blind With Pictures for the Illiterate.” Don’t laugh; just read on-and try it.

For the caption, assume that your audience, while fitting your profile, is blind. (Yeah, I know. Nice trick, but humor me. OK?) Your challenge is to write a caption so powerful that if it were in Braille for your blind audience, they’d read it by touch and say, “I want that.” For the picture, assume your audience is illiterate. Now, go find a picture that is so depictive of the benefits of the product or service in use (it can be a real challenge) that members of your illiterate audience all say, “I want that.”

By combining a caption for the blind with a picture for the illiterate, you’ll be assured that you WON’T have a combination that goes off in two different directions with each thought fighting for domination. By working together and re-enforcing each other, your caption/picture combination will now have a synergistic impact that SELLS!

Obviously, there are scads of rules, guidelines, formulas and charts that touch on these areas. There really isn’t anything totally new and earth shaking here. But by cloaking the old rules in easy-to-remember clothes, they’re not only easier to remember, visualize and use, but easier to tech to the new members of your creative teams.

About the author

Lewis R. Elin, Vice President, MarketingMarks Corprotation, Chicago, IL, (312)527-2017.

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