Copy: easy to overlook, but impossible to go without.

If I had to sum up a copywriter’s lot in life, it would probably fall along those lines. After all, when it comes to advertising in today’s multi-screen world of instant gratification, impactful design takes precedence when you only have seconds to catch a consumer’s eye. However, impactful creative requires the right messaging, and to create a real brand impression, great copy is not just ancillary, but essential.

A great example of copy taking an ad to the next level. Source: Best Copy Ads

However, as any copywriter knows, writing copy is easier said than done. An email or tagline may seem like a straightforward ask, but there are various factors to consider in the short and long term.

So what are the fundamentals of great copy? Where does one begin when writing copy?

Context = Key

With so much emphasis on targeting and hard data today, it should come as no surprise that one of the first steps to writing copy is having all the information upfront, especially your target audience. This includes who loves a specific brand currently and who has the potential to love the brand in the future.

The reality is a specific target audience is at the center of any marketing strategy. It affects which content mediums to utilize, a brand’s objectives and as a result, a brand’s voice. To write effective copy therefore requires keeping in mind all those contextual factors—who’s receiving the ad, the content vehicle and of course, the purpose of the deliverable, i.e., what action you want the consumer to take. In short, without a sense of context, great copy isn’t possible.

A perfect example: this Durex ad from 2006.

Why it still holds up 10+ years later is directly correlated to how it speaks to its audience: sexually active males who don’t see fatherhood in their future any time soon. It also accomplishes its objective of convincing consuners that their products are superior to those of their competitors. The ad also takes advantage of the constraints of the print ad—something succinct and direct was exactly what they needed, especially in lieu of a splashy design.

Pure & Simple

Occam’s razor. The KISS Principle. Whether you’re talking about copy, design or even engineering, there’s a common philosophy that applies to almost anything: humans have a tendency to confuse complexity for superiority and more often than not, keeping it simple is the way to go. And just like how there are UX issues when it comes to design, there are comprehension issues when it comes to copy.

So it follows that another copywriting tenet is the power of clarity and brevity. There is a reason why writers constantly say to “kill your darlings.” Just because there are millions of words out there doesn’t mean one needs a lot to communicate something. It’s the exact opposite: copywriters should demonstrate a level of control and subtlety while flawlessly executing a message.

Apple, of course, does this particularly well. Yes, their designs are stunning, customer service unmatched and products practically cult-worthy. But every impression you have of the brand is because of their coherent yet dynamic messaging.

Just look at their iconic “Get A Mac” campaign, which ran from 2006 to 2009.

Source: Campaign US

According to Campaign US, it all started with Steve Jobs wanting a campaign that demonstrated the Mac’s superiority to the PC; no specific deadline was given. After seven months of presenting 10-15 ideas per week and Jobs threatening to fire the agency, two creatives realized they didn’t need to explain the merits of the Mac, but rather show the difficulties of the PC. “Let’s make it really simple. A Mac walks into the room right now. What does he say?” said Associate Creative Director Barton Corley.

The rest is history. Via clean 30-second vignettes, the team was able to communicate exactly what the client and consumer wanted, leading to market share growth of 42%, record sales and cultural impact.

All The Feels

Think about which ads resonated with you the most. I’m willing to bet 100% of the time they were memorable because they made you feel something, whether it was empathy, positivity or laughter. Utilizing the power of emotion is a standard tactic of great marketing and for good reason. Studies show that not only do consumers rely on emotions rather than information to make brand decisions, but also that an emotional response to an ad has more influence on a person’s intent to buy something than the ad’s content. There’s even proof that emotions are the key to content going viral.

So where does a copywriter fit into all this? To create messaging that emotively engages with the consumer to create a real brand impression. Good copywriters always remember to make a brand’s audience feel understood rather than manipulated, no matter the product in question. However, there is one caveat: great copy arouses a consumer without sacrificing clarity of message. There still needs to be a bottom line at the end of the day.