How being a "newbie" again makes you a better copywriter

Updated: Jan 22, 2021

Last night I had my second weekly Thursday night class on Comedy Sketch Writing. The classes are on Zoom, of course, and incorporate a lot of Improv games and other exercises. We also have "homework" to do, which I scrambled to finish at the last possible minute while waiting for others to join the call. (And funnily, what I wrote while I was waiting was an almost exact "mind meld" with one of the other students already on the call. In Improv, there's a game called Mind Meld where you try to sync up with what your fellow players are also thinking.) In any case, am I going to be the next hit writer on SNL? I don't think so, or at least--not anytime soon. Truth is, I am a complete and total newbie when it comes to doing comedy sketch writing. And I'm awed by just how much harder it is to do than it looks (just like copywriting). But by taking this class, it's drilled into me several copywriting practices and concepts I've relied on for years. It's also reminded me of what it was like a few decades ago when I was just starting out and making ALL the mistakes and worried I'd never be able to succeed. Let me share with you a few of the copywriting lessons and tactics I was reminded of in these first 2 comedy sketch writing classes... First, I learned last night that a key part of structuring a comedy sketch is to focus on the motivations of the character. What does that remind you of? Of course...before you sit down to write a promo, you need to examine what's motivating your prospect to take action. You dig deep into identifying their biggest hopes, fears, beliefs, wants, frustrations, and other internal motivators. With Comedy Sketch Writing, the instructor added a few more to the list. There's "obsessions" which--as long as they're not medical in nature--can be quite comical. And then there are archetypes, like "the hopeless romantic", "hipster", "snob", and other recognizable figures in our culture. But since they're one-dimensional caricatures, they're not useful for copywriting. But that whole process of identifying your target prospect's (or sketch comedy character's) motivations is something that's key to successful copy. And doing things like writing sketch comedy can actually make it easier for you to do so, so that you develop that reflex or "muscle memory". Another similarity between comedy sketch writing and copywriting, and like all of writing, is "the rule of three". In a sketch, if something happens just two times, it feels incomplete. If it happens four or five times, it's dull and repetitive and feels like too much. But when the same pattern (with an increasing level of absurdity) happens 3 times, it's just right. The same is true in copy. Look for places in your copy--your lead, for example, where you can make three similarly-structured points or examples...and then order them in a way that you keep raising the drama or tension to keep your prospect reading. The other cool thing I got to experience last night--which is very much NOT like copywriting (though there are definitely some lessons to learn from it)--was being in a "writer's room". In our Zoom writers room, a few of us took turns presenting our rough outline of a sketch we'd prepared for our homework. After the writer talked it through with the group, we followed the Liz Lerman 4-step Critical Response Process (you can find it here). It's a great way to provide feedback to a writer or artist--if they want it--and do it in a way that's most constructive or useful. This isn't the way it's typically done with copywriters and clients, bosses, or copy chiefs. Rarely does the copywriter have complete "artistic control" over their copy. And you wouldn't want to be the kind of Prima Donna that thinks what you wrote is absolutely perfect as is and can't be made better...even if you're a top A-lister. However, the first step--which are "Statements of Meaning", basically starting with saying what you liked about it, what you thought was working--is always a great way to prepare someone to accept other, less positive feedback, by building them up first. You also may find the Liz Lerman feedback process helpful when you work with graphic designers and others who have deep expertise that you don't. You'll often get MUCH better results when you ask questions and find out WHY a designer did something they did, rather than presumptuously telling them how to do their job. One other takeaway I gleaned...and it's yet another reason why being a "newbie" at something else can make you better at copywriting. When I went to write my first comedy sketch "beat sheet" for homework, I got a bit carried away. I got my idea, dove into writing out a script line by line, complete with dialogue, even repetition of a scene that I began escalating the absurdity of...and then got completely stuck. And that's because I had skipped the crucial step of thinking through ahead of time what I was going to write. It's why putting together a copy platform/brief, along with an outline, can not only help you write a much stronger promo, it can save you time. So you can bet for my next "beat sheet" homework assignment (a "beat sheet" is a bullet point list of events in a sketch), I'll do the work of thinking through the character's motivations and outlining the "flow" first. I know it's hard for many of us to do when we're juggling families and careers...but taking classes and learning new skills in seemingly unrelated areas not only expands your mind so you can think in new ways, it can reinforce the key skills you need for mastering copywriting. It's also a heck of a lot of fun and can be a great stress well as a way to connect with other people with different background you wouldn't normally get to. Alright, now for a quick look at a promo that arrived a week or two in my mailbox (with the snail-like pace of the mail these days, it likely was sent out in October!) It's a great example of a trend of "online to offline to online" that I'm seeing more of... What's in Kim's Mailbox? I remember several years ago in a mastermind with Brian Kurtz, how he talked about the potential opportunities for "O to O to O"...meaning "online to offline to online". Now we're finally starting to see online marketers execute these kinds of strategies. And they're doing so at a better time than ever, since mailboxes are increasingly less stuffed to the gills with direct mail promotions. Let's take a look at this simple 6x9 duo-fold self-mailer on postcard paper stock. It's promoting personalized vitamin packs for a company called Persona Nutrition. Here's the front of the self-mailer:

Now, I'm assuming this company has been using a similar campaign online, likely on Facebook...I haven't had the chance to research it. They're clearly a well-funded company with the resources to hire a celebrity spokesperson like Kelly Ripa. It's also clear they are targeting suburban, affluent women with children or middle-aged empty nesters--as seen by their choice of spokesperson as well as the copy angle they're taking. These are women who likely identify as "working moms", though I would argue that normally would risk igniting the "mommy wars". Yet with it being part of a quote by a well-known celebrity working, it's less risky. The main thing that jumped out is this is basically a multivitamin pack they're selling, yet it's leading with a sleep benefit. Sleep is definitely a hot category these days, as it ties in with so many key concerns on people's minds during the current pandemic: namely stress, immunity, weight gain. There's more here to talk about but let's take a look inside...

Here they're presenting the solution--giving the product packaging and the overall design a very clean, simplified look (conveying that's what the solution does for you: simplifies your messy life). The celebrity endorsement is reinforced by the dominance of the Kelly Ripa photo, and off to the right are "5-star reviews", which feels like they were ripped straight from the website and feel authentic. I really like how the product photo DEMONSTRATES the product. "Demonstration" is a key tactic to use in any direct response shows how the product uniquely delivers the desired benefit or end result. The individual packet dispenser, the handful of pills (gee, maybe I could cut down from my 12+ a day to just 4!), and the glass of water all allow the prospect to pre-experience using this product and makes them want it more. And note all the credibility enhancers going across the bottom, with logos of where it's "as seen in". All of which are trusted brands by many of the affluent suburban women they're targeting. One other's where the "O to O to O" comes in: the call to action. They're luring you in with an appealing offer ("save 50%") with some urgency ( "today!) But you have to go online to take advantage of it. And you're not being invited to buy just need to do a FREE assessment. So it's removing any risk or obligation. It's also going with ONE desired action (no choices or options to muddy the waters). And it's getting you to go online to respond (no phone number or order form). This obviously is where their age 35 to 60-ish female demographic lives now: online. There's no worrying about making them get up off their couch and go to their computer when they can just whip out their phone and respond. And we're going to see this tactic work more and more with the older 60-80+ demographic as well. Lots of interesting takeaways here...and a great example of the ways online offers can scale by taking an integrated direct response marketing approach that includes direct mail. Have a great weekend...and go Ravens (and if your favorite team is playing, I'll root for them too, as long as they're not the Bills!) Yours for smarter marketing, Kim P.S. I had the chance to lead a discussion on one of the beginning sections of Gene Schwartz's Breakthrough Advertising yesterday. It was in Brian Kurtz's Titans Xcelerator group (which is now closed, but I'll let you know when this virtual mastermind opens its doors again). In any case, a few folks on the call piped up about how much they LOVED and recommended my Million-Dollar Control Breakdown Master Class. I hadn't planned on mentioning any product during the call, but under pressure I shared with them a discount code that would save them $200. So I thought I'd pass along the same opportunity to you. Use the coupon code KKS200 up through January 31st and you'll also save $200 on this highly-recommended program. You'll find all the details here. Many people were saying in the group that it's worth going to the page to just study it, so be sure to check it out. (Note: you won't see it mentioned there yet, but I've also recently added an additional bonus breakdown of the promo I wrote that beat the late Jim Rutz twice...)

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