Copywriting is one of the oldest arts of advertising. Great communications require great copywriting. Besides from being an integral part of any advertising campaign, the written word is one of the easiest ways to send a message directly to your target audience with a high degree of clarity.

Good copywriting will help your ad stand out in the battle for attention that any ad engages in nowadays. It helps give you a fighting chance against drowning in the sea of advertising and messages.

So how important is copywriting? It’s incredibly hard to measure the impact of copywriting offline, but much easier to do in a closed environment such as Google search ads. Here it is easy to see that the difference between average and good copywriting can result in more than 100% extra traffic. Think about that for a second.

With engagement, we are clearly not talking about simple clickbait, but ads that engage with your audience and generate interest in your product.

In a world where people are bombarded with messages, you need to minimize the noise that might interfere with your message. Don’t ask your audience to stop and think about what you just wrote. Make your message so clear that they don’t need to think. As Steve Krug, author of the classic book on web design, Don’t Make Me Think, says: “I should be able to “get it”—what it is and how to use it—without expending any effort thinking about it.”

The ads below are all great examples of sub-optimal copywriting. Can you spot the common mistake?

The ads on the Google Search Results Page in the UK for the search term “running shoes”

Unless you read through all of them, I bet you didn’t read the second one. In a super noisy environment, it is very easy for your message to drown. The only way not to drown is by communicating directly to your customer in their own language, positioning your language in a way that is easy for them to understand and take in.

The ads above look like examples of a classic mistake in online marketing – over-reliance on automation or standardization. They don’t cater to the individual user but rather default to a very generic ad that can cover multiple search phrases.

The most common mistake

Look at the ad below. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? It has one big problem – it will only appeal to a small niche of the addressable market. That may be by the intention of course, but most likely it is simply due to one of the most common mistakes in advertising.

Put yourself in the shoes of an advertiser. Let’s say you are extremely excited about the new smartphone that you will launch next month. You are putting the last touches on the messaging. You know the research team found that the customers wanted a larger screen – so you’ve picked a larger screen. You know that people want to take better pictures – so you’ve added more lenses to make a more stable photo. You know everyone hates when the battery dies – so you’ve added a larger battery. Now, you want to tell the world about this amazing gadget!

Many advertisers are so focused on communicating what their product can do and what they have included (the features) that they completely neglect to communicate what the customer/user will gain from buying/using the product (the benefit)!

Here are some examples of the difference between features and benefits. Note that a product may have multiple features and many of them may lead to the same or completely different benefits.

ProductFeatureBenefit
Laundry detergentIncludes enzymesMakes your clothes cleaner than with traditional soap
Phone with cameraHas 12 megapixelsMakes your pictures clearer
LaptopHas OLED screenSaves battery life and increased the contrast which improves the way colours are displayed

Now, let’s take a look at how that would translate specifically for the above Samsung ad.

FeatureBenefit
6.8” screenYou can better utilize your phone (especially now that it doesn’t have the bit frame around the screen!)
Quad rear cameraYou will now get a higher quality of pictures
5GYou can achieve even higher speeds on your phone
4,300mAh batteryYour phone battery will last longer
New S PenHelps you utilize your phone more accurately or on a distance for presentations or video clips

I must admit, the final point on the S Pen required some research on my end – but that’s entirely the point! Why spend time and money on producing a slick ad and getting it out in front of people if you are only going to give them half the story? This goes back to the quote referenced earlier: Don’t make the user think!

The ad below shows you a great contrast to the above. Whereas the Samsung ad is clearly communicating in features, the Apple ad communicates in benefits. Regardless of preferences for either brand or phone, I would imagine that the majority of the audience would have a better understanding of “Longest battery life ever in an iPhone” than “4,300mAh Battery.” 

The confusion in the Samsung ad arising from the footnote around third-party labs and suddenly stating that its rated capacity is only 4,200mAh probably doesn’t help most users. 5 minutes ago, I probably didn’t know whether 4,300 was a lot, but you can be certain that I now feel like I’m not really getting that.

Some industries are better than others. The beauty industry is so focused on benefits that it’s usually the only thing you might remember. How many shampoo ads have you seen that claim to strengthen your hair? I bet that’s the message that sticks – not the new specifics of the molecules or formulas they have used.

Image result for pantene shampoo ad

Make it concrete and match the user’s mindset

How many times have seen a restaurant write “best brunch in town” or similar phrases? Have you ever believed that it was actually the best? Vague claims like “best” or “broadest selection” often seem very “salesy”. Try to be concrete whenever you can. 

When I searched for “Buy Camera online”, I got the below results. Remember, when a user searches for “Buy Camera Online” you know their intentions very well. Your aim should not be to sell a camera directly in the ad (like the first ad seems to do) but rather to convince the user that you are the best place to buy a camera (which is what I was asking for).

The second ad shows that they have a large assortment, free delivery, 20% discount and a low price guarantee. This is very concrete, seems believable (they wouldn’t write free delivery if it wasn’t free, right?) and is much more likely to capture the attention of the user than, say, “UK’s Largest Independent Photographic Retailer” – who cares if you are independent? I didn’t search for “independent retailer” and, unlike “free delivery” it doesn’t seem to give me – as a user – any additional benefits.

Remember to make your USPs as concrete as possible and focus on the mindset of your target audience.

A final caveat

While you need to match the intention of the user, a common mistake is to forget the most basic rule of branding: Consistency.

With all the data available in online channels, it is tempting to fully optimize each ad focused on the specific context so that each ad, in isolation, brings the maximum amount of return. What is often forgotten is that even though that may yield a great return in the short run, it often compromises your ability to build a brand. The brand is based on the users receiving a consistent and repeated message. When you optimize for the individual performance of every specific ad, this consistency may be lost.

In other words, you lose the benefit of consistency in your messaging for the much larger share of people who end up not clicking on your ad (for most ads, click-through rates are between 0 and 15%, so the majority of people will not engage with your ad).

So remember when you optimize your ad copy that your overall message should never get lost in your optimization on the level of the individual ads.

Conclusion

Keep in mind when you communicate, that it doesn’t matter what you say. What really matters is what the receiver understands. You, therefore, need to communicate in a language that the user can understand. One that appeals to them. Don’t speak about what your product can do (the features), but talk about how it helps them (the benefit). 

Try to forget your own biases and put yourself in the shoes of the customer. Do they really understand what you are trying to say or is it just insider gibberish to them?

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Image credits: Apple, Samsung, Pantene, Freepik, Canva

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