The 17 Copywriting Axioms of Joseph Sugarman
Reading time 7 min 18 sec
If you are anywhere close to advertising and copywriting, you need to know the work of David Ogilvy. Now, if you want to know more, reading Eugene Schwartz, Victor Schwab and John Caples is also mandatory.
But, Joseph Sugarman?
Yeah, well, among the masses, he might not have the same superstar level as Ogilvy, but many consider Mr Sugerman as one of the best copywriters around, and maybe of all times.
If you are reading this article, I assume that you are really interested in copywriting, so studying the work of Joseph Sugarman should be a big part of your program.
He also happens to be contemporary, and that might help…
Joseph Sugarman wrote a ton of books on direct response marketing, copywriting and advertising that have become classic.
This article is based on the hardback version of “Advertising Secrets of the Written Word“, which can be difficult to get your hands on (copies usually sell between $70 and $400). But Amazon just released a Kindle version for $9.99.
I know we are living in a fast world when immediacy is important. And that’s why Sugareman’s experience is paramount: he promoted electronic gimmicks and gadgets that would get severely devalued as new technology came along, sometimes in a matter of months – so he’s particularly relevant to writers and marketers in the “internet marketing” niches today, where the novel and hypey often carry the day.
Because of that, and whereas it is difficult, but not impossible, to get the book, you MUST read his book… But you also may not have 5-8 hours to spend reading that book, so, I made a compendium for you.
Hopefully, you go get the book after that…
In “Advertising Secrets of the Written Word“, Sugarman summarize his concept of copywriting into 17 axioms so that you can duplicate them.
If you want to write copy as persuasive as Sugarman’s, this article is where you want to start. So whether you think you are a copywriting Jedi or a copywriting in training, and think you should write better copy to get you (or your client) more customers, I would print the following and staple these 17 axioms to the wall in front of you:
This is what it all comes down to:
1. The Mental Process
Copywriting is a mental process the successful execution of which reflects the total sum 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.
That is Sugarman’s definition of copywriting. Basically, he is saying that advertising is the process of putting your knowledge and experience in writing in order to sell a product or service.
2. Thank You, Next
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.
I know, I know, Ariana Grande has requested to trademark the phrase “Thank You, Next,” which is inspired by the title of one of her hit songs, “Thank You, Next.” So, if I am using it, I am breaking some kind of copyright law. Once all the phrases will be trademarked by celebrities, we will be left to our tears to cry… If approved (and there is NO reason it would not be approuved), the singer plans to use the three-word phrase for future business opportunities.
But, let’s go back to copywriting (and not copyrighting)…
In copywriting, your entire ad is designed to do one thing: get people to read the first sentence.
That is why people include giant, bold headlines.
If you can’t get people to start reading your ad, you’ll never persuade them to buy from you. Never design an ad that distracts people from reading the first sentence.
Effective copy: “To cause a person to exchange his or her hard-earned money for a product or service.”
3. Thank You, Next #2
The sole purpose of the first sentence in an advertisement is to get you to read the second sentence of the copy.
There are many formulas out there on how to write headlines and start your copy. But at the end of the day, all it really needs to do is to get people to keep reading. Grab people’s attention with the first sentence and set the stage so that they’ll want to keep reading.
4. The Environment
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.
As you get people to start reading your copy, the next goal is to create what Sugarman calls a “buying environment.” That includes the copy, the layout, design, everything in your ad. The rest of these axioms will help you create that buying environment.
5. Let Them Say “Yes”
Get the reader to say yes and harmonize with your accurate and truthful statements while reading the copy.
As people read your copy, they should say yes to each of your statements. Think about a car salesman and how they do it. They ask questions for which their customer cannot anything but , “yes” all the time…
Example of small yeses:
- So, don’t you want a car… Yes
- Don’t you want it to be comfortable … Yes
- Don’t you want it to be secure … Yes
- Don’t you want it to be affordable … Yes
At the end, when you show your customer a car that is comfortable, secure, affordable, he has no more objections and can only say YES!
All of your questions and claims should resonate deeply with your customer. The goal is to write from their point of view so that they get the feeling that you know exactly what they’re going through.
That is only possible when you put in the time to deeply understand your customers. The easiest way to do this is by talking to them in person and asking them about their problems.
6. Don’t Stop Them From Reading
Your readers should be so compelled to read your copy that they cannot stop reading until they read all of it as if sliding down a slippery slope.
Your copy needs to be so compelling that people can’t stop reading. Do this by leading with a personal story, give hints about what’s coming later, or not completing answering a question. Give people a reason to want to keep reading.
7. There Are No Constraints here
When trying to solve problems, don’t assume constraints that aren’t really there.
When writing copy, none of us know what will truly work. The only way to find the best solution is to try different approaches. So experiment with your copy and make sure you can measure it to see which versions work the best.
8. This Text Is Exciting!
Keep the copy exciting and the reader interested through the power of curiosity.
By building curiosity in your copy, you’ll easily get people to keep reading. Sugarman relies heavily on curiosity to keep people reading and it can be a very powerful tool. But make sure you’re using curiosity to only attract the right kind of customers for your business. Using massive amounts of curiosity will get you plenty of attention but it won’t do you any good if it doesn’t produce valuable customers.
9. Never Sell a Product or Service, Sell a Concept.
It’s a short one, but it’s a biggie. The benefit of the product is far more important than the product itself. Don’t sell 2 gazillion GB on your smartphone, sell a phone that’s able to keep “your familly memory, pictures, text messages, for life…” Nobody cares about the GB because nobody has ever see a GB in real life, and nobody knows what a GB is…
So pay close attention to your positioning and unique selling proposition.
It’s not whether you win or lose in life that’s important but whether you play the game. Lose enough and eventually you will win—it’s only a matter of time.
10. The Incubation Process
The incubation process is the power of your subconscious mind to use all your knowledge and experience to solve a specific problem, and its efficiency is dictated by time, creative orientation, environment, and ego.
After you’ve put together all of your notes and done your customer research, take a break. That will give your subconscious time to work through the problem and come up with the best approach for your copy. When you’re ready to start writing, let the copy pour out of you. Don’t worry about grammar or anything else. Your job is to get everything that’s in your head on paper. Editing comes later.
11. What Length Should Be my Copy?
Copy should be long enough to cause the reader to take the action that you request.
The size of the copy is usually a friction point… Short or long? Basically, the more expensive your product is, the more you need to convince, so the longer the copy should be. Inversely, the more your product is know, the less copy you need… Some products don’t need long copy like a bottle of Coke. All people need to know is where they can get it, that it’s cold, and the price. But other products will need to take people through an entire sales process before anyone will be willing to buy. Use as much copy as you need in order to make the sale.
12. People Buy from People
Every communication should be a personal one, from the writer to the recipient, regardless of the medium used.
Your copy should be in the first-person. We don’t connect with amorphous “brands.” We connect with people. Make your copy personal so that readers feel like it was written directly to them from someone else.
13. Is it Logical?
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.
Each new claim should logically flow from the previous one. If you jump around between all sorts of different ideas, people will get confused and feel like you’re trying to trick them. Keep it simple by moving people from one step to the next.
14. Editing Means Cutting
In the editing process, you refine your copy to express what you want to express with the fewest words.
In copywriting, editing is not moving around words or paragraphs. In copywriting editing means cuttin, removing.
The shorter your sentences, the more persuasive and easier it is to read. A lot of people skip this step and end up with rambling copy that doesn’t get great results. The best copy is the one that has been edited and refined countless times.
15. Be Creative
The more the mind must work to reach the conclusion successfully, the more positive, enjoyable or stimulating the experience.
You can’t just grab people’s attention, throw out some basic copy, and hope for the best. You need to engage people and get them to form their conclusions with you. If copy is too obvious, people will feel dumb or bored. Then you lose them. Build some intrigue into your copy.
16. Sell a Solution
Selling a cure is a lot easier than selling a preventative unless the preventative is perceived as a cure or curative aspects of the preventative are emphasized.
People don’t care about prevention. They’re not willing to spend money to prevent a problem they don’t have yet. Cures, on the other hand, sell VERY well. Even if you have a preventative service or product, you want to position it as a cure instead of a prevention.
17. Tell a Story
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.
People love stories. It’s the single best way to communicate a message and persuade people. Whenever you get stuck and don’t know what to do with your copy, start with a story.
If you are, or want to become a copywriter, or want to hire a copywriter, you need to understand this quote from Sugarman:
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 and then look for other skills to master. They hunger for experience
and knowledge and find other people interesting. They are very good listeners.
So, next time you look for a copywriter, ask him what was the last book he read…
There you have it.
The 17 copywriting axioms of Joseph Sugarman.
If you want to dive into all this and get better at copywriting (one of the most important skills in business), I highly recommend picking up Sugarman’s book.
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Xavier Lannes is the CEO of MyAdGency.Com & has several specialties: Graphic Design, Copywriting, Facebook Ads, Funnels, Sales Pages. Xavier's job is to attract, retain & monetize customers but find that copywriting, content creation & graphic design are the most rewarding parts. He has a BS in On-Line Publishing, a Master in Languages & certifications in copywriting. He also enjoys skateboarding in pools & bowls. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org