Follow the Formula to the ‘C’

I confess: I love copywriting formulas! Why? For two reasons.

First, the best formulas are simple, easy to remember and rapidly mastered. Knowing them can enable you to create copy that’s twice as effective—in half the time.

Second, the reason they became formulas in the first place is that they work.

Old-timers like me know there are literally dozens of time-tested copywriting formulas. Yet most of today’s newbie copywriters have only heard of a handful, and have mastered even fewer.

Why is that bad? Because if you, or your copywriter, don’t know all the formulas, you could unnecessarily be wasting your time reinventing the wheel with each promotion you write. You also could be writing inferior copy that diminishes your sales.

In my day, no self-respecting copywriter or marketer worth his salt wrote copy without first studying the classic copywriting formulas and committing them to memory.

One of the oldest copywriting formulas—and perhaps the most famous—is AIDA: attention, interest, desire and action. It says persuasive copy first must grab the reader’s attention, get him interested in what you are selling, create a desire to own the product and ask for action.

AIDA is one of my favorite formulas. Yet in seminars today, when I ask attendees if they know the AIDA formula, not one in 10 people raises his hand.

Less well-known than AIDA, but in its way almost as powerful, is the largely forgotten SELWAB formula. SELWAB is a mnemonic device to remind marketers what’s most important to the prospect. It stands for “start every letter with a benefit.”

Another useful—and little-known—copywriting formula is Star, Chain, Hook. The formula says every letter needs a “star” to capture attention, a “chain” to pull prospects along through the sales presentation without losing interest and a “hook” that holds them until they are ready to take action.

Lastly, a copywriting formula I use—one of my own invention and never before published—is the “Secret of the 4 C’s.” It says that every good piece of copy is: clear, concise, compelling and credible. Let’s take a look at each element of the 4 C’s formula in a bit more detail.

Now, you may be thinking that “concise” might apply to other types of writing but not to direct marketing, because direct response favors 
long copy.

But concise and brief are not synonyms. “Brief” means “short.” If you want to be brief, you simply cut words until you reduce the composition to the word count desired.

“Concise” means telling the complete story in the fewest possible words. Direct response copy is long because, to make a sale or generate a qualified lead, we often have to convey a lot of information. But in good direct response copy, we convey that information in the fewest possible words—no rambling, no redundancy, no needless repetition, no using three words when one will do.

Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter who has written copy for more than 100 clients including IBM, AT&T, Praxair, Intuit, Forbes, and Ingersoll-Rand. McGraw-Hill calls Bob “America’s top copywriter” and he is the author of 90 books, including “The Copywriter's Handbook.” Find him online at or call (973) 263-0562.