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The Best Copywriters on the (Very) Best Copywriting Books

Aaron Orendorff

Want to become one of the best copywriters?

Easy.

Just one word: read.

Well actually, three words: read … a lot.

And that’s not my opinion. That’s according to literary master Stephen King himself:

You become a writer simply by reading and writing. You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.

At the risk of contradicting the King … while the most valuable copywriting lessons are certainly “the ones you teach yourself,” it’d be nice if you could shortcut the more painful elements of best-copywriting’s learning curve.

So let’s make that answer eight words: read the very best copywriting books … a lot.

And how do you find the very best copywriting books? You ask the very best copywriters.

Which is exactly what I did.

Over the last week, I’ve reached out to the best-of-the-best online copywriters responsible for some of the most-popular blogs and most-successful ecommerce strategies and marketing plans with a simple question:

What’s your all-time, top-favorite copywriting book … and your all-time, top-favorite quote?

The response has been amazing. Huge thanks to everyone who contributed.

Best Copywriters Best Copywriting Books

10 Best Copywriters on the 10 Best Copywriting Books

1. Brian Clark’s Best Copywriting Book

CopyBlogger (Founder)

Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples

The first entry in our list of Top 10 Copywriting Books is a time-tested classic … on testing.

As Brian puts it:

When going back to the source of ad copy that is both audience and benefit-focused (as well as backed up by empirical testing), many will point to Claude Hopkins and Scientific Advertising from 1923.

I own that book too, but my favorite “old school” copywriting book is the updated version of John Caples’ Tested Advertising Methods.

Timeless advice, but written in an easily-digested modern tone.

Favorite Quote:

There are four important qualities that a good headline may possess. They are:
  1. Self-Interest
  2. News
  3. Curiosity
  4. Quick, easy way …

Advertising can never become completely accurate, however, because of the human element involved — in advertising you are dealing with the minds and the emotions of human beings, and these will always be, to a certain extent, unstable and unmeasurable.

That is why it is necessary to test, test, test — to test copy, media, position in publications, seasonal variation, and time of day in broadcast advertising.

2. Joe Pulizzi’s Best Copywriting Book

Content Marketing Institute (Founder)

Integrated Marketing Communications: Putting It Together & Making It Work by Don Schultz

Schultz’ book isn’t necessarily about copywriting itself, so you’ll have to forgive me for putting it on the list of Top 10 Copywriting Books.

The reason for it’s inclusion, however, is simple. Joe calls it “the most influential on me and how I thought about marketing.”

As the book explains, Integrated Marketing Communications:

Challenges business to confront a fundamental dilemma in today’s marketing — the fact that mass media advertising, by itself, no longer works.

This landmark book reveals that strategies long used to deliver selling messages to a mass culture through a single medium are now obsolete — and shows marketers how to get back on track.

The answer lies in customer-focused marketing, a key planning tool that can — in today’s diverse, fragmented marketplace — explain the lifestyles, attitudes, and motivations of distinct buyer groups and predict their likely buying behaviors in the future.

Favorite Quote:

If you have tried to do something and failed, you are vastly better off than if you had tried nothing and succeeded.

3. Bernadette Jiwa’s Best Copywriting Book

The Story of Telling

It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be: The World’s Best Selling Book by Paul Arden

Arden began his career in advertising at the age of 16 and for 14 years was Executive Creative Director at Saatchi and Saatchi. There he managed campaigns for British Airways, Silk Cut, Anchor Butter, InterCity and Fuji.

It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be is a “handbook of how to succeed in the world — a pocket ‘bible’ for the talented and timid to make the unthinkable thinkable and the impossible possible.”

Favorite Quote:

Do not covert your ideas. Give away everything you know and more will come back to you.

4. Joanna Wiebe’s Best Copywriting Book

CopyHackers

Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins

With endorsements from copywriting giants like David Ogilvy, Gary Halbert, and Jay Abraham, Scientific Advertising is another of the Top 10 Copywriting Books that’s earned its place.

Written in 1923, Hopkins’ text is imminently practical and built — just like Joanna — on the fundamental principle of testing, testing, testing.

Even better, if you buy the book from Amazon, you also get My Life in Advertising.

Favorite Quote:

“Some say, ‘Be very brief. People will read but little.’ Would you say that to a salesman? With a prospect standing before him, would you confine him to any certain number of words?

“That would be an unthinkable handicap.”

And my personal favorite:

“Good selling is based on good testing.

“You see other ads which you may not like as well. They may seem crowded or verbose. They are not attractive to you, for you are seeking something to admire, something to entertain.

“But you will note that those ads are keyed. The probability is that out of scores of traced ads the type which you see has paid the best.

Don’t judge an ad by how it looks. Instead, judge it by how well it converts.

5. Demian Farnworth’s Best Copywriting Book

Former Chief Copywriter at CopyBlogger

Advertising Secrets of the Written Word: The Ultimate Resource on How to Write Powerful Advertising Copy from One of America’s Top Copywriters and Mail Order Entrepreneurs by Joe Sugarman

Sugarman is a living legend.

Once called the “Mail Order Maverick” by The New York Times, Advertising Secrets of the Written Word not only lives up to its title — The Ultimate Resource — but also its price … the going rate on Amazon is just under $90.

The book itself covers 17 axioms to write truly persuasive (i.e., sales-generating) copy and is full of swipe-worthy examples and tons of practical advice.

Favorite Quote(s):

“Copywriting is a mental process the successful execution of which reflects the sum total 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.

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.

“The sole purpose of the first sentence in an advertisement is to get you to read the second sentence of the copy.”

6. Peep Laja’s Best Copywriting Book

CXL

Copy Logic! The New Science of Producing Breakthrough Copy (Without Criticism) by Michael Masterson & Mike Palmer

According Peep, “Most books are about writing copy from scratch. Very few address the more common need: improve the copy I already have.”

That’s where Copy Logic! comes in to help our list of Top 10 Copywriting Books:

“In this book, direct-marketing expert Michael Masterson and master copywriter Mike Palmer reveal their methodical, step-by-step process for turning B-level copy into control beating A-level copy in just 24 hours.

“This is the exact process that was directly responsible for helping one company boost its revenues into the $300-million-a-year range (while creating six-figure incomes for many of its copywriters).”

Favorite Quote:

“We realize then that we had been trying to compete with a disadvantage. We were balancing our promotions on three legs. Our competitor was balancing theirs on four.

“Thus we initiated what we called the Four-Legged Stool Test.”

A properly built sales letter, we concluded, must contain four distinct and important elements:
  1. A big or unifying idea.
  2. A substantial promise of benefit supported by subordinate claims.
  3. Ample proof for each of those claims.
  4. Evidence that the product, product provider, and person behind the sales letter are all credible and trustworthy.

7. Amy Harrison’s Best Copywriting Book

HarrisonAmy.com

The Copywriter’s Handbook: A Step-By-Step Guide To Writing Copy That Sells by Bob Bly

Perhaps most famous for its definitive “features versus benefits” checklist — including a twenty-two point examination of a No. 2 pencil — The Copywriter’s Handbook has it all.

In fact, this was the first book I picked up years ago when I entered the online world of copywriting.

And, just like Amy, it’s hands down one of my own Top 10 Copywriting Books.

Favorite Quote:

Many big agency copywriters and creative directors will tell you that advertising writers don’t follow rules, and that “great” advertising breaks the rules.

“Maybe so. But before you can break the rules, you have to know the rules.”

8. Henneke Duistermaat’s Best Copywriting Book

Enchanting Marketing

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath

Again, while Made to Stick may not be — strictly speaking — one of the Top 10 Copywriting Books, it will “transform the way you communicate ideas”:

“It’s a fast-paced tour of success stories (and failures) — the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who drank a glass of bacteria to prove a point about stomach ulcers; the charities who make use of the Mother Teresa Effect; the elementary-school teacher whose simulation actually prevented racial prejudice.

“Provocative, eye-opening, and often surprisingly funny, Made to Stick shows us the vital principles of winning ideas — and tells us how we can apply these rules to making our own messages stick.”

The book is organized around Chip and Dan’s “Six Principles of Sticky Ideas”:

  1. Simplicity
  2. Unexpectedness
  3. Concreteness
  4. Credibility
  5. Emotions
  6. Stories

Favorite Quote:

Concreteness is an indispensable component of sticky ideas. What makes something “concrete”?

“If you can examine something with your senses, it’s concrete. A V8 engine is concrete. ‘High performance’ is abstract.

“Most of the time, concreteness boils down to specific people doing specific things. Concrete language helps people, especially novices, understand new concepts.

“Abstraction is the luxury of experts. If you’ve got to teach an idea to a room full of people, and you aren’t certain what they know, concreteness is the only safe language.”

9. Jen Havice’s Best Copywriting Book

Make Mention Media

The Fortune Cookie Principle: The 20 Keys to a Great Brand Story and Why Your Business Needs One by Bernadette Jiwa

In Jen’s words:

“That’s a tough one since I’m not generally a big fan of books on copywriting. The only ones I’ve found super useful have been Joanna’s and the one by Gene Schwartz.”

If I had to pick a favorite, I’d say The Fortune Cookie Principle by Bernadette Jiwa. It’s a bit more of a branding book but it’s great at getting you to hone in on what’s most important to convey to your customers.

The Fortune Cookie Principle comes down to two simple equations:

Product – Meaning = Commodity

Product + Meaning = Brand

Favorite Quote:

Think of your content and copy as being like a first date. It’s the way your brand starts establishing the kind of relationship that leaves people wanting more.

10. My Best Copywriting Book

Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz

I’m sure that including myself on a list entitled The 10 Best Copywriting Books from the 10 Best Online Copywriters is presumptuous … and more than a little egotistical.

But I couldn’t resist.

Not because I’m so great … but because Breakthrough Advertising is.

How great?

Well, if you thought $90 was a lot to pay for a book on Amazon, Schwartz clocks in at $215.15. And it’s worth every penny.

It’s so good, I wrote up an entire series on it’s most practical insights and applied them directly to online copywriting …

Favorite Quote:

Five to ten words will make up about 90% of the value of your ad. If you are right, they may start a new industry. If you are wrong, nothing you write after them will save your ad.

And another:

“The power, the force, the overwhelming urge to own that makes advertising work, comes from the market itself, and not from the copy.

“Copy cannot create desire for a product. It can only take the hopes, dreams, fears and desires that already exist in the hearts of millions of people, and focus those already existing desires onto a particular product.

“This is the copywriter’s task: not to create this mass desire — but to channel and direct it.”

ONE MORE Top 10 Copywriting Books BONUS

11. Oliver

The Handsome Dog

Dancing Dogs: How to Make Palz and Win Ritz by Oliver

This is one name you probably don’t recognize … but he’s got an avid and growing following on Twitter.

Few people would have the gall to recommend their own book for a Top 10 list, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s Oliver.

Favorite Quote:

Lots of people blog. I tap dance … and blog. Oh, and I get paid in Ritz. Just ask my lady.

Did I leave off your favorite copywriter or book?

If I did, let me know in the comments.

And don’t forget to include your favorite quote.

Naturally, Schwartz didn’t mean that good copy should ever exceed 10 words. What he meant was that the core of your ad and, in particular, its headline will always come down to 10 words or less.

Below, we’ll walk through exactly how to unearth and unleash the right “5 to 10 words” in your copy through three unbreakable laws.

We’ll also discover why — as Schwartz put it — “nothing” else you write matters without them.

1. The First Law of Writing Copy: ‘Mass Desire’

Drawing from Schwartz, let’s start with a simple definition.

Another word for “mass desire” is emotion: “the public spread of a private want.”

An ad’s ability to sell begins and ends with identifying a “private want” and  channeling that want into “public” words. Only when an audience and an ad share the same dominant emotion does that ad stand any chance of compelling, converting, and closing.

Put more simply, writing copy that sells lives or dies by the right “mass desire.”

A friend of mine calls this the “Puppy Principle.” If you’re trying to sell leashes or organic Alpo, forget about all the logistics of dog ownership.

Just show ‘em the puppy!

Why?

Because unless how you’re presenting your product makes your audience want to hold it, love it, and give it money … you’re not selling it right. And — chances are — you aren’t selling it at all.

Mass desire means majoring on dreams, fears, desires, needs, pains, and pleasures. And than means …

However, this means the real question isn’t “What?” or “How?” but “Where?”

Where does “mass desire” come from?

The answer might surprise you.

It doesn’t come from your product, your benefits, your USP, your value proposition, your copy, or even from you.

It comes from your market itself. Schwartz explained:

The power, the force, the overwhelming urge to own that makes advertising work, comes from the market itself, and not from the copy.

Copy cannot create desire for a product. It can only take the hopes, dreams, fears and desires that already exist in the hearts of millions of people, and focus those already existing desires onto a particular product.

This is the copy writer’s task: not to create this mass desire—but to channel and direct it (3).

Naturally, this assumes that you have a market — a narrow and clearly targeted group of people whose lives your product would be legitimately improved. But I realize, that’s kind of a big assumption.

Who is your target market?

Copywriters often obsess about what they should write: product features versus product benefits; using the right keywords; nailing the headline, subheadings, images, and first line of copy; banging out a rough draft, and then editing, editing, editing.

Wrong.

Your real obsession shouldn’t be what, but who.

Copy without a target market is worse than worthless. It’s costly.

Without a clearly defined target market — real people with real problems looking for real solutions — you inevitably end up writing for the one person you shouldn’t be: yourself. Self-centeredness is a plague, especially when writing copy.

Begin with the demographics of your ideal customer. Richard Lazazzera’s How To Build Buyer Personas For Better Marketing dives into the sea of personal characteristics and eventually this example of “Alex” for a fictitious company, Bold Socks, surfaces:

Demographics, however, aren’t enough. Not if what you’re really after are words that sell. You’ve got to go deeper than age, ethnicity, income, location, and familial status.

How?

Through personas. On this front, three brilliant (and, thankfully, free) resources stand out.

First is Jen Havice’s How To Create Customer Personas With Actual, Real Life Data over at ConversionXL. As Havice explains:

Patching together actionable information about your customers with gut feelings, good intentions and some duct tape is not a recipe for conversion success. [P]ersonas are fictional representations of segments of buyers based on real data reflecting their behaviors. Their purpose is to put the people behind company decision making in the shoes of the customer.

Havice them shows how to shape personas through qualitative research.

The breakthrough insight — especially for anyone without a budget for focus groups — comes from her review mining work, which she’s consolidated into a recent book: Finding the Right Message. By all means, buy it. In the meantime, work through the above article as well as How to Boost Conversions with Voice of Customer Research [Case Study] that includes this free template:

Writing Copy Through Review Mining
Writing copy through review mining

Review mining to craft copy is one of my own copywriting hallmarks, especially when it comes to landing pages. You can see how I created this simplified copywriting cheat sheet directly from “feedback and comments on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Amazon, Reddit, app stores, and blogs,” along with what the landing page itself ultimately looked like over at KlientBoost.

Writing Copy from User-Generated Content
Writing copy directly from user-generated content

Second, Demian Farnworth’s Empathy Maps: A Complete Guide to Crawling Inside Your Customer’s Head (via Copyblogger). Empathy consists of two parts:

1. The intellectual identification with the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

2. The vicarious experiencing of those feelings, thoughts, or attitudes.

After a brilliant overview of empathy in marketing — old school and new — Farnworth drops the gold (which you can download as a PDF simply by clicking the image).

Empathy Map
The Empathy Map Lets You Dissect Your Target Market into Four Quadrants on a Person-by-Person Basis

Third, my own The Only Copywriting Formula You’ll Ever Need.

That’s a post all about fear: hands-down the “most primal” human motivator. At the end are thirteen questions to help you haunt your target market (in the best sense possible).

Here’s a quick sampling:

  • What does your audience hate… about their life, about their job, or about your particular type of product or service?
  • What are the real-world consequences of these problems? In other words, how can you quantify, in real numbers, their hates and headaches?
  • What’s the most awkward, confusing, or inconvenient thing about your type of business?
  • What are the two to three biggest barriers to becoming a customer?
  • What nightmare or hell (be as vivid and emotive as possible) does your business save its customers from?

In all those resources, the point is to define your target market as concretely and viscerally as possible.

What are your target market’s mass desires?

Once that group is fixed, the next step is to make a list of all the possible emotions — the raw emotions — that might inspire someone in that specific market to act.

On the negative side, it might be:

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Rage
  • Uncertainty
  • Embarrassment
  • Envy
  • Resentment

On the positive side, it might be:

  • Joy
  • Happiness
  • Accomplishment
  • Satisfaction
  • Elation
  • Desire
  • Lust
  • Pride
  • Comfort

After you’ve selected two or three dominant, raw emotions, get specific.

For example, the most dominant human emotion is fear. But nobody (despite FDR’s sound advice) fears fear. What we fear are people, places, things, and events. We fear the future. Or we fear situations that may arise in the future. We fear loss. We fear uncertainty. We fear failure.

On top of that, every market — just like every person — has its own unique list.

Take the real estate market for instance. What do new homebuyers fear most?

Some of the obvious boogiemen are …

  • The fear of being overwhelmed by the process.
  • The fear of being turned down for a loan.
  • The fear of picking the wrong neighborhood.
  • The fear of not having enough money for a down payment.
  • The fear of something better coming along and missing out.

Whatever it is, by selecting one of those fears and placing it front and center in your copy, you “enter the conversation already taking place in the customer’s mind” (Robert Collier).

Actually, what you enter is the conversation already taking place in the customer’s heart.

Either way, the keyword is “customer’s.” Their mind. Their heart.

Mass Desire in Action

To put a little more flesh on this idea, here are some classic examples of wildly successful headlines from Schwartz’s era that tapped into their market’s mass desires:

  • “Hair Coloring So Natural Only Her Hairdresser Knows For Sure”
  • “At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in a Rolls Royce is the electric clock.”
  • “The Skin YOU Love to Touch”
  • “How to Win Friends and Influence People”
  • “Stops Maddening Itch”
  • “Do YOU make these mistakes in English?”
  • “How a bald-headed barber helped save my hair.”

Today, with advertising exposure rising exponentially, you may think that such straightforward appeals no longer work.

Just to prove they do, here is a handful of my favorite mass desire headlines from the web:

Unbounce: Speed

Sweat Block: Embarrassment

Basecamp: Stress

Mint: Relief

Memit: Simplicity

eHarmony: Winning (and, of course, love)

Blue Apron: Authenticity

Weight Watchers: Release

Designed to Move: Justice

Shopify Plus: Easy

Dapulse: Vanity

Apple Watch: Flexibility

MacBook Pro: Creativity

AirPods: Intrigue

What each of these headlines (classic and contemporary) does beautifully is identify and channel one desire: love, greed, entertainment, the fear of inability, or the fear of difficulty. They use emotive language to capture their audience’s hearts and minds. Emotive language that already exists in the market they’re trying to reach.

To breakthrough, your ads must do the same.

One more law about the word “one”

Having generated a powerhouse list of market-inspired mass desires, your greatest temptation will be to employ them all, like a sort of emotional machine gun.

Don’t.

You only get one.

(Well, you may get to split-test more than one. But each ad only gets one!)

Why?

Because in Schwartz’s words:

Every product appeals to two, three or four of these mass desires.

But only one can predominate; only one can reach out through your headline to your customer. Only one is the key that unlocks the maximum economic power at the particular time your advertisement is published.

Your choice among these alternate desires is the most important step you will take in writing your ad.

If it is wrong, nothing else that you do in the ad will matter.

So remember: Just. One.

2. The Second Law of Writing Copy: State of Awareness

We all know how vital headlines are.

As Brian Clark puts it, “On average, 8 out of 10 people will read your headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.” That means your headline isn’t just your audience’s first impression … it’s more than likely their only impression.

So here’s the question:

Where do “breakthrough” headlines come from?

You know what I’m talking about. The kind of headlines that pop up, stop your market in their tracks, and compel them to read every word after it.

Now sure, there’re a ton of great cheat sheets out there to get the creative ball rolling. Jon Morrow’s “52 Headline Hacks” is among the best.

The problem is most of us start out wrong because we start with us: our idea, our product, our service, our copy.

But …

What if there was a way to systematically craft breakthrough headlines based entirely on your market?

What if there was a proven formula to pull your prospects into your copy because it actually started with your prospects themselves?

On this front, three brilliant (and, thankfully, free) resources stand out.

First is Jen Havice’s How To Create Customer Personas With Actual, Real Life Data over at ConversionXL. As Havice explains:

Patching together actionable information about your customers with gut feelings, good intentions and some duct tape is not a recipe for conversion success. [P]ersonas are fictional representations of segments of buyers based on real data reflecting their behaviors. Their purpose is to put the people behind company decision making in the shoes of the customer.

Havice them shows how to shape personas through qualitative research.

The breakthrough insight — especially for anyone without a budget for focus groups — comes from her review mining work, which she’s consolidated into a recent book: Finding the Right Message. By all means, buy it. In the meantime, work through the above article as well as How to Boost Conversions with Voice of Customer Research [Case Study] that includes this free template:

Message Mining by Jen Havice via CXL

Review mining to craft copy is one of my own copywriting hallmarks, especially when it comes to landing pages.

You can see how I created this simplified copywriting cheat sheet directly from “feedback and comments on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Amazon, Reddit, app stores, and blogs,” along with what the landing page itself ultimately looked like over at KlientBoost.

Writing Copy from User-Generated Content
Writing copy directly from user-generated content

Second, Demian Farnworth’s Empathy Maps: A Complete Guide to Crawling Inside Your Customer’s Head (via Copyblogger). Empathy consists of two parts:

1. The intellectual identification with the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

2. The vicarious experiencing of those feelings, thoughts, or attitudes.

After a brilliant overview of empathy in marketing — old school and new — Farnworth drops the gold (which you can download as a PDF simply by clicking the image).

Empathy Map
The Empathy Map Lets You Dissect Your Target Market into Four Quadrants on a Person-by-Person Basis

Third, my own The Only Copywriting Formula You’ll Ever Need.

That’s a post all about fear: hands-down the “most primal” human motivator. At the end are thirteen questions to help you haunt your target market (in the best sense possible).

Here’s a quick sampling:

  • What does your audience hate… about their life, about their job, or about your particular type of product or service?
  • What are the real-world consequences of these problems? In other words, how can you quantify, in real numbers, their hates and headaches?
  • What’s the most awkward, confusing, or inconvenient thing about your type of business?
  • What are the two to three biggest barriers to becoming a customer?
  • What nightmare or hell (be as vivid and emotive as possible) does your business save its customers from?

In all those resources, the point is to define your target market as concretely and viscerally as possible.

What are your target market’s mass desires?

Once that group is fixed, the next step is to make a list of all the possible emotions — the raw emotions — that might inspire someone in that specific market to act.

On the negative side, it might be:

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Rage
  • Uncertainty
  • Embarrassment
  • Envy
  • Resentment

On the positive side, it might be:

  • Joy
  • Happiness
  • Accomplishment
  • Satisfaction
  • Elation
  • Desire
  • Lust
  • Pride
  • Comfort

After you’ve selected two or three dominant, raw emotions, get specific.

For example, the most dominant human emotion is fear. But nobody (despite FDR’s sound advice) fears fear. What we fear are people, places, things, and events. We fear the future. Or we fear situations that may arise in the future. We fear loss. We fear uncertainty. We fear failure.

On top of that, every market — just like every person — has its own unique list.

Take the real estate market for instance. What do new homebuyers fear most?

Some of the obvious boogiemen are …

  • The fear of being overwhelmed by the process.
  • The fear of being turned down for a loan.
  • The fear of picking the wrong neighborhood.
  • The fear of not having enough money for a down payment.
  • The fear of something better coming along and missing out.

Whatever it is, by selecting one of those fears and placing it front and center in your copy, you “enter the conversation already taking place in the customer’s mind” (Robert Collier).

Actually, what you enter is the conversation already taking place in the customer’s heart.

Either way, the keyword is “customer’s.” Their mind. Their heart.

Mass Desire in Action

To put a little more flesh on this idea, here are some classic examples of wildly successful headlines from Schwartz’s era that tapped into their market’s mass desires:

  • “Hair Coloring So Natural Only Her Hairdresser Knows For Sure”
  • “At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in a Rolls Royce is the electric clock.”
  • “The Skin YOU Love to Touch”
  • “How to Win Friends and Influence People”
  • “Stops Maddening Itch”
  • “Do YOU make these mistakes in English?”
  • “How a bald-headed barber helped save my hair.”

Today, with advertising exposure rising exponentially, you may think that such straightforward appeals no longer work.

Just to prove they do, here is a handful of my favorite mass desire headlines from the web:

Unbounce: Speed

Sweat Block: Embarrassment

Basecamp: Stress

Mint: Relief

Memit: Simplicity

eHarmony: Winning (and, of course, love)

Blue Apron: Authenticity

Weight Watchers: Release

Designed to Move: Justice

Shopify Plus: Easy

Dapulse: Vanity

Apple Watch: Flexibility

MacBook Pro: Creativity

AirPods: Intrigue

What each of these headlines (classic and contemporary) does beautifully is identify and channel one desire: love, greed, entertainment, the fear of inability, or the fear of difficulty. They use emotive language to capture their audience’s hearts and minds. Emotive language that already exists in the market they’re trying to reach.

To breakthrough, your ads must do the same.

One more law about the word “one”

Having generated a powerhouse list of market-inspired mass desires, your greatest temptation will be to employ them all, like a sort of emotional machine gun.

Don’t.

You only get one.

(Well, you may get to split-test more than one. But each ad only gets one!)

Why?

Because in Schwartz’s words:

Every product appeals to two, three or four of these mass desires.

But only one can predominate; only one can reach out through your headline to your customer. Only one is the key that unlocks the maximum economic power at the particular time your advertisement is published.

Your choice among these alternate desires is the most important step you will take in writing your ad.

If it is wrong, nothing else that you do in the ad will matter.

So remember: Just. One.

2. The Second Law of Writing Copy: State of Awareness

We all know how vital headlines are.

As Brian Clark puts it, “On average, 8 out of 10 people will read your headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.” That means your headline isn’t just your audience’s first impression … it’s more than likely their only impression.

So here’s the question:

Where do “breakthrough” headlines come from?

You know what I’m talking about. The kind of headlines that pop up, stop your market in their tracks, and compel them to read every word after it.

Now sure, there’re a ton of great cheat sheets out there to get the creative ball rolling. Jon Morrow’s “52 Headline Hacks” is among the best.

The problem is most of us start out wrong because we start with us: our idea, our product, our service, our copy.

But …

What if there was a way to systematically craft breakthrough headlines based entirely on your market?

What if there was a proven formula to pull your prospects into your copy because it actually started with your prospects themselves?

Let’s save the world from bad content