Colorful word images that still SELL

Feb 01, 2000 10:30 PM  By

I’m rich with wristwatches. I have a Patek-Philippe, a Rolex, a Breitling, a Baum & Mercier, a Universal, even a Casio. The one watch I no longer have is a dive watch. My old one gave up the ghost on a dive last August in Bonaire. (Totally off the point: I know some of my good watches are water-resistant, but I’m not going to pacify Poseidon by wearing an expensive watch into the briny deep.)

With all the good watches I have, I was totally nonplused when my wife told me she had just ordered an outlandishly expensive dive watch from a catalog I had been saving for the annual “best and worst” evaluations (see the January issue, page 63). “I couldn’t resist the copy,” she said.

Nor could I. I read just the beginning of one sentence of the copy and I was a goner:

Housed in this miniature stainless steel fortress is a 17-jewel Swiss Valjout 7765 movement…

“Miniature stainless steel fortress”? That one word is the stuff awards are made of…not to say the sale of a timepiece priced hundreds of dollars above what I’d planned to spend.

As proof that I hadn’t lost my viewpoint because of the prospect of getting yet another wristwatch, I offer this product opening:

East German Field Periscope

Frankly, you have to be a little bit nuts to buy this item…which is exactly why we like it so much.

I have to assume your reaction to the product heading is the same as mine: Who in heaven’s name would want an East German field periscope? The first sentence completely renders inoperative both skepticism and the pass-it-by impulse.

Copy ends with:

In wonderful condition, both optically and cosmetically, you just gotta have one of these.

I know, I know…the writer used a misplaced modifying clause. We excuse it because a) it’s bright, and b) it’s East German.

(Want one? Its “sale price” is just $399. Heck, at that price order two.)

One word is worth 1,000 pictures

Tell me if this description of a simple item needs an illustration to draw a clear image in the reader’s mind, not only of what it is but of what its uses might be:

One “Twin” Extension Cord

Handles Both Nightstand Lamps!

2-in-1 extension cord uses just one outlet, instead of two! It has one two-prong plug, but extends 6′ in two directions! Perfect for nightstand lamps on both sides of a bed, or end-table lamps at both ends of a couch. Both ends have a triple-outlet receptacle (six total). 13 amps, 1625 watts total maximum capacity (7 amps, 875 watts max. each end). Indoor use only. UL listed. You get two.

Nothing tricky here. Just clarity. Yeah, the writer has diarrhea of the exclamation point, but that’s excusable here. (Isn’t a two-prong plug less than state-of-the art?) The point is: Copy sells the item through that golden combination of clear description and suggestion for use.

Pure poetry? No, it sells too well

How would you describe a man’s flannel shirt? If you can match this heading and first sentence, you’re a meistersinger:

Big Sky Country Plaid Flannel Shirts

The colors of our Sunset Plaids could be straight out of a spectacular conclusion to a John Ford western, while our First Light Plaids evoke a misty morning on the range.

And how would you describe a woman’s silk shirt? If you can match this heading and first sentence, you’re a meistersinger with an oak-leaf cluster:

Silk Think Silk Shirt

We know it’s crass to come right out and say it, but this shirt is seriously sexy.

(You say you don’t know the word “crass”? Not to worry. You aren’t a logical target for this catalog.)

Speaking of combining the description of a shirt with projection of a rationale to buy, here’s a copy opening that neatly combines both into a positioning statement. See a problem in reader perception?

Comfort has a price, but not the price that some outfits will charge you for shirts like this. In fact, the only difference between our shirt and theirs is the price – well, theirs might also have a little logo or crest on it. The same factory that makes our shirt makes others that have prices four times as high. Made of an airy pique knit of 100% cotton…

On repeated readings, the reader might conclude that this catalog copy block is a clever deception. The copy doesn’t say it’s the same shirt for four times the money; it says the factory makes a shirt for four times the money. If the writer has the ammunition to make an absolute claim, the copy should read, “The same factory that makes our shirt makes theirs – same shirt – at prices four times as high.”

Describing a bagel!

Under the heading “Bagel Tools & Topping” is this gem of a first sentence:

You’ll make picture-perfect bagels with the help of our Bagel Dough Cutter.

A “picture perfect” bagel? How many copywriters would have thought of that winner?

Suppose a product manager dumps on your desk the description of a bundle of paintbrushes. Most are narrow, but some are wide. “Sell these for $36.97,” he says. Would you use the standard “Amazing! 324 Paint Brushes for just $36.97″ headline and then list how many in each size?

The accomplished copywriter who wrote the actual headline went us one better:

324 Disposable Paint Brushes…

A Great Deal At About 11cents Each!

Here are over 300 brushes you’ll use for paints, varnish, stains, glue, oil, solder flux…then just throw them away!…

See how breaking the price into bargain bits and listing uses the reader nods at will transform simple curiosity into a not-so-simple buying impulse?

Go thou and do likewise.