When to use hype in copy

If you pay attention to direct marketing, you can’t help but notice that the level of hype in copywriting, especially in Internet marketing, has reached an all-time high.

“The hard-sell, hype-filled copy that screams at the prospect or boasts what a rich genius the writer is turns me off,” a client confessed to me the other day. “Do we have to match that level of hype to compete?” he asked me worriedly. “Or is it overkill for our products and market?”

Obviously, hype can and does work, or else all those marketers would not use it. Yet plenty of successful marketers eschew hype. Bose, OTT-LITE Technology and Orek are three that come to mind.

Fortunately, I’ve found a tool that can help you determine how much hype to have in your copy: the Copy Intensity Grid.

The grid recognizes that two factors determine how much hype is appropriate for your copy. The first factor is the availability, meaning: Can the prospect get this product only from us, or are there many competing products he can buy?

Products with limited availability, which can be bought only from the advertiser, do not require much “hard sell.” The seller has something of a monopoly. If you want the product, you have to buy from him. He doesn’t have to convince you that his widget is better than all the other widgets because there are no other widgets. He just has to convince you that you are better off buying one of his widgets than not buying one.

However, if you are in a crowded market or product category, you need aggressive marketing to gain the prospect’s attention amongst all the noise – and to convince him that your product is different and better than others he can buy. The nutritional supplement market is an example.

The second factor determining the level of hype in copy is the motivation for buying the product: in particular, whether the product is something people need (must have) versus something they want (wish to have).

Products that people need don’t require a hard sell, precisely because people need them. For instance, if your kidneys are failing, it won’t take a lot for me to persuade you to get dialysis.

But when the product is something people want, then the copywriter must understand the reasons why people would want the product. The copy needs to focus the reader on the emotions causing him to want what your product offers (e.g., desire for status when selling a BMW). And it needs to be strong enough to stimulate this emotion, then convince him that your product fulfills it.

Take this famous ad for Hitchcock Shoes (see right). It has run unchanged for years, which tells us that it works.

The product, men’s shoes in EEE widths or greater, are not easy to get – especially in upscale stores catering to men with a European build and narrow feet. Therefore, availability is “limited,” not plentiful. Shoes that fit are about as basic a human need as you can get. It’s something you have to have: You can’t go around barefoot unless you live in a commune, and wearing shoes that are the wrong size can be both painful and harmful to your feet.

When we combine a “need” product with “limited availability,” we end up in quadrant II on the Copy Intensity Grid, and we see that copy should be “clear and straightforward,” describing “what it (the product) is” and its “benefits.”

The Hitchcock Shoes ad, known to be a successful control, precisely fits these copywriting guidelines. It tells you exactly what is being sold: “Men’s Wide Shoes, EEE-EEEEEE, Sizes 5-15.” The benefits of responding to the ad are that you get a free catalog and 200 styles to choose from.

On the other hand, let’s consider a nutritional supplement for male potency and libido that sells for $49 per bottle for a one-month supply. With hundreds of such offers promoted online and offline, the field is crowded, and so availability is “plentiful.”

Do you need a male potency supplement? Not at all: No doctor is prescribing one. You may desire great sex, or any sex at all, but you do not have to have it. For most men, increased potency is optional, not a life or death situation. This is a product we “want” but do not “need.”

A product we want and that is plentiful puts us in quadrant III. The copywriting guideline here is “ultra-creative,” which can mean hype or at least hard sell. “Core emotion” means we must convey dramatically what the reader feels about his diminished potency and lack of performance in the bedroom.

Notice that quadrant III says “delayed product mention.” Unlike the Hitchcock ad, which says “MEN’S WIDE SHOES” in big, bold, all-cap letters, the best ads for erectile dysfunction don’t say “pill” or “nutritional supplement” in the headline. With consumer offers like nutritional supplements or financial newsletters, we often delay mentioning what the product is (a pill, a newsletter) until many pages into the letter.

This is because we are not selling the actual item: Nobody wants to take another pill or get more stuff to read in the mail. We are selling the fulfillment of a core desire or emotion, e.g., to feel more virile or smarter or successful.

With the Copy Intensity Grid, you can determine the appropriate amount of hype or hard sell for your promotion and write the copy with greater confidence. You also can use the grid to explain to your client or boss the copy approach you took, and why.


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