Book Summary:
The Adweek Copywriting Handbook by Joseph Sugarman

Book summary: The Adweek Copywriting Handbook by Joseph Sugarman

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🗒 Note: My notes are a mix of key ideas and quotes from the book as well as my own thoughts.

“The book includes many lessons. You will learn how to mentally prepare yourself to write copy, how to write effective copy, and how to present it in an exciting way. You'll learn what really works and what doesn't and how to avoid many of the pitfalls marketers fall into - and much more.”

There is nothing really new in life. It’s simply a matter of taking previous pieces of knowledge and putting them together in a unique and different format.

🛒 People buy for emotional reasons and justify their purchase with logic.

Lateral thinking is a brainstorming technique explored by Edward the Bono. Instead of focusing on the problem itself [linear thinking], you find a random input (a word from a dictionary, a picture from a magazine, etc.) and try to connect your problem with it. The randomness of the input makes your brain work harder to connect the two and opens new creative possibilities. By relating to something unrelated to the problem — a new idea emerges.

De Bono created the “Think Tank.” It was an 8-inch sphere mounted on a platform; through the window, you could see a selection of 14,000 words painted on small plastic pieces. Then he would shake the tank and write down the first three words he saw.
[Nice idea, De Bono, I just use – or ChatGPT]

“The best copywriters have a variety of interests and master many skills.”

🤓 – A tool to measure how hard it is to read your text.

Elements of an ad

  1. Headline – grabs your attention and draws you to read the sub-line.
  2. Sub-headline – gives more info; explains the headline.
  3. Visual – should be complementary to what is being said, not repetitive.
  4. Caption – describes the photo or drawing.
    [The most read element after the headline]
  5. Copy – conveys the main message.
  6. Paragraph headings – breaks the copy into chunks, making it easier to digest. Tl;dr.
  7. Logo – displays the company and provides continuity, helping people to remember your brand. And the brand is the most precious piece of real estate that exists. It’s a small piece in someone’s mind.
    [A tad evil but true 😈]
  8. Price
  9. Response device or CTA – tells the reader how to reach the company and what to do next.
  10. Overall layout – creating an efficient hierarchy between the elements.

Each element should lead you —> to read the first line of the copy —> and each line should lead you —> to read the next one. The first sentence should be a slippery slope, meaning it should be extremely short and intriguing.

"Make the first sentence so easy to read that your reader is almost compelled to read it."

🆗 Yes, yes, yes – Your copy should make your reader say “yes” as much as possible. Start with saying things that they’ll agree with. Then, when you finally start selling, it’ll go naturally.

More tips for making the copy intriguing:

  1. Large font – use a larger font in the first few words. It’ll make the copy look less imposing. Like they do in fairytales. Kinda.
  2. Unexpected topic – connect the copy to an unrelated story or quote that you took from somewhere else to intrigue the readers. They will want to know what that random topic has to do with your product.
  3. Seeds of curiosity – add them at the end of a paragraph to make the person keep reading.


“Now here comes the good part”

“What happened next took me totally by surprise”

“but there is more”

“let me explain”

“so read on”

“but it didn’t stop there”

Do people read long copy? Their attention span has shortened? Maybe. Because they’re always distracted by screens and social media. Well, then put your ads on screens and social media. But always use tl;dr subheads and captions. If someone is a skimmer or doesn’t have time to read, they’ll still get the essence. The copy should flow in a logical way, anticipating your prospect’s questions and answering them.

⚠️ Editing – the best tool is time. Wait before you start editing.

✏️ Typeface – better use serif (I don’t know if it’s still relevant after mobile phones; need to check).

📰 A good headline – make one wonder, “what does this have to do with the product?” It’s unexpected.

🎼 Rhythm – to create a rhythm, make sure you make a mixture of different lengths of sentences. Short, long, and medium.

🌿 The nature of the product – you have to understand the personality of the product. Is it fun, serious, professional, safe, etc.?

📞 Customer service – it’s important to talk about what happens if there are problems. Do you give the money back? Are you always available on the phone?

💱 Price – if it’s a value-based product, keep the price to the end. Make it more subtle. If it’s a price-driven product, emphasize the great price. Make it big and repeat it.

📝 Summary – you know how sometimes you read through a whole page, but when you get to the end, you don’t even remember what you have read? So offer summaries at the end. Repeat what you said.

🗨️ Engage the reader’s imagination – make them picture themselves while using the product. Make them feel like they already own it. Describe its texture, sound, smell, etc.

🔗 Linking – a strategy that helps you to explain new concepts and products to readers. You connect the new product to something familiar.
[Example: calling iPhone a pocket computer]

👣 Consistency – people tend to be consistent. If you get them to buy from you once, they’ll prefer to buy from you again, instead of gaining trust in someone new again.

📚 Collectibles – people have an evolutionary tendency to collect things. If you market your product as a set, series, or collection, they will be tempted to buy the others.
[Example: McDonald’s toys]

➿ Product description – explain simple products in a complicated way and complicated products in the simplest way possible.
[Example: tech companies try to simplify, breaking down the product in a few simple steps, whereas whiskey brands show every step of their products and ingredients]

📜 The benefits of long copy – people want to feel like they’ve done some thorough research before they buy something important. After reading your long piece of informative copy, they should feel like they’ve done their research.

✔️ Credibility – the place and the context in which your ad appears has a great influence on its credibility. If you post it in a big and helpful Facebook community that people trust, you gain credibility. If you place it as a banner on some fishy website, you lose credibility. Even your physical location can add credibility.

🎁 Satisfaction conviction – offering something shows how sure you are about the product. Something that will make people say, “No way! they’re going to get ripped off.”
[Example: in Audible, Amazon’s audiobook app, you can return books even after you’ve finished them]

‼️ Add a sense of urgency – but do it right: Don’t lie, writing stuff like “it’s the last time you’ll see this ad” or “we’re running out of stock.” People know it’s bullshit, and even if it works once, it won’t work twice. We want long-term paying customers.

👔 Authority – show what makes your brand different from your competitors and what other people say about it. You can use testimonials, awards, etc. Your brand name can help establish authority. Take, for example, “Jackie and Ed’s Café” vs. “The Digital Warehouse.” On the other hand, if you want it to be more personal and authentic, the first name thing can do better.

🧐 Objections – list all the product’s flaws. All the objections and problems that the customer might think about. Then address them. There are two ways to do that: –Ridicule: Make fun of them. [like Avis did with “We’re No.2, so we try harder”] –Resolve: Mention the objection and explain why it isn’t really a problem Either way, the reader will think of the objection, so don’t try to wipe it under the carpet.

What to do:

  • Create a limited edition

  • Use urgency pricing: raise the price after a certain number of buyers or days (only when you are really raising the price)

  • Shipping benefits (free shipping if you order now)

  • More value – add a bonus product

  • Limited supply or edition (when it’s real)
    • By the way, people want to be special, and having a product that not many have is special. So by limiting the supply, you are rewarding the ones who bought from you

  • Priority – buy this before the other people can get it. Waiting list or pre-sale

  • “Buy now so that you can start enjoying the benefits tomorrow” – the early you get it, the earlier you make the change in your life

  • Be specific
    • Don’t say: “Many people are using this toothpaste.”
    • Say: “32,000 people in Florida are using this toothpaste.”

  • Familiarity – keep the same visual identity so that people can recognize your ads from distance. Keep the same style throughout all your communication so that people can recognize your ads from afar (same with writing style)

  • Sell cure, not prevention [painkillers, not vitamins] – speak about existing pain points, not the ones that may appear in the future

  • In catalogs and websites – add a picture of yourself or your team so that people will see that there’s a real person behind it

  • Product descriptions – don’t spare details. Even the weight of your product matters. Don’t leave anything out that might matter to someone else

  • ”We” sounds corporate. Say “I” and “my” instead Example: “My team and I are here for you” instead of, “We at IBM are always available to help.”

  • Stuffers – stuffers are more ads, info, or promotions that you can send with your product. Always add some. Send something that they can keep. [Example: Apple always adds their stickers]
    • The customer just got their package, and they are excited. This is the best time to promote.

  • Audio ads – radio [and Spotify] ads are very visual. People imagine what they hear. It’s a benefit because they might imagine something better than you would’ve shown them.

    • On the radio, the CTA should be super simple because people might be driving or have something in their hands. They can’t always write numbers or website addresses down.

  • An important tip about leads – when you’re reaching out to leads, use the same medium they came from.

    [Example: if they signed up from Facebook, send them a Facebook message. If it’s an email, send an email. They feel comfortable on this medium]

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