Want your copy to sell? Ask yourself this question

“Would you say that to someone you know?”- Fairfax Cone
“Would you say that to someone you know?”- Fairfax Cone


I hope you have taken David Ogilvy’s advice – to read and reread “Scientific Advertising” – written by the best advertising man ever, Claude Hopkins.

Hopkins worked for Lord & Thomas which eventually became Foote, Cone & Belding, an agency which still exists and for which I did freelance copy in the late ‘70’s.

They have become like any other agency – as you can see if you go and look at their website which is full of pretentious balderdash. But they were outstanding in their day.

Someone I know told me that when Cone was reviewing copy he would ask the writer ““Would you say that to someone you know?”

Damn good question. If it doesn’t sound like someone real it’s probably phony rubbish (which applies to most of his old agency’s website).

Here are a few e-mail lines I read yesterday: not one read like a normal person talking to normal people

Be worry-free with our popular 20GB Business Premier plan – Vodafone

Get Your Customer With Our Effective Strategies – Media Solutions

Private healthcare for the family and business – AXA PPP Healthcare

(particularly loathsome – it addressed me as Sir Bird. Idiots.)

RM Production Spring 2017 – RM Production

Spring is in the Air! – Blue Flame Design

Kick Ass With Your Next BIG Idea – GKIC

Private healthcare for the family and business – AXA PPP Healthcare

The last one was particularly irritating – it called me Sir Bird. Idiots. If you met someone who did that you’d think they were two bulbs short of a chandelier.

What is extraordinary?  Only one of those subject lines sounded like one person talking to another.

The only exception is the GCIK one which did at least imply a benefit – but I thought it overclaimed in the copy.

Then there are the mysterious messages I can’t fathom from people I don’t know.

Someone called Randy Schrum writes: “I’m back from Asia and helping a lot of people”. Then shows a picture of himself in dark glasses waving at me and wants me to watch a video.

How is he helping people? To do what? Why should I care? What has it got to do with me? God alone knows. Why should I watch a video?

Read your stuff out loud, for God’s sake. If it sounds like the usual tired guff, rewrite it till it doesn’t.

Imagine who the readers are. What would you say to grab their interest if you were sitting opposite them?
If it doesn’t make sense, seems to have nothing much to do with them, change it till it does

Big organisations with money to burn can afford this drivel. You can’t.


P.S. If you haven’t read Claude’s excellent book you get a free copy when you sign up to my Helpful Ideas (just fill in the box on the right hand side).

About the Author


<p>In 2003, the Chartered Institute of Marketing named Drayton one of 50 living individuals who have shaped today’s marketing.</p>
<p>He has worked in 55 countries with many of the world’s greatest brands. These include American Express, Audi, Bentley, British Airways, Cisco, Columbia Business School, Deutsche Post, Ford, IBM, McKinsey, Mercedes, Microsoft, Nestle, Philips, Procter & Gamble, Toyota, Unilever, Visa and Volkswagen.</p>
<p>Drayton has helped sell everything from Airbus planes to Peppa Pig. His book, Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing, out in 17 languages, has been the UK’s best seller on the subject every year since 1982. He has also run his own businesses in the U.K., Portugal and Malaysia.</p>
<p>He was a main board member of the Ogilvy Group, a founding member of the Superbrands Organisation, one of the first eight Honorary Fellows of the Institute of Direct Marketing and one of the first three people named to the Hall of Fame of the Direct Marketing Association of India. He has also been given Lifetime Achievement Awards by the Caples Organisation in New York and Early To Rise in Florida.</p>

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