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Key Questions to Ask Before Writing & Before Testing Advertising Copy

By Steve Bareham |

Writing effective advertisements is a complex undertaking that requires much more than language proficiency and more even than good products or services presented with compelling offers. The best copywriters combine the foregoing to be sure, but these should be latter stages, completed after carefully considering human psychology and target recipient knowledge and perceptions.

For example, if you've witnessed the copywriting process in action, how often have you heard this question asked: "Should we pursue a deductive or an inductive strategy?" Failing to ask this single simple question can produce advertising campaign messages that miss customer needs and knowledge and, therefore, that miss profitability and response objectives. What's the problem?

The problem is that most organizations that create advertising copy do so quite naturally from a deductive perspective, meaning that they understand their products and services so well that they fail to appreciate the need to persuade prospective customers with the more seductive inductive approach.

For those who aren't familiar with the terms, "deductive" can be likened to the approach used by Sherlock Holmes when he would proudly pronounce: "The butler did it." Then he would go on to provide details as to how he solved the case. A deductive approach gives the bottom line first and then it "may" educate.

If Sherlock had been more of an inductive character, he would have started with the details, slowly assembling and weaving logical connections until he built to the conclusion that: "The butler did it." The inductive approach educates first and then it offers the answers and solutions.

The deductive approach works well with people who are equipped with adequate advance knowledge about the bottom line, but it works less well with people who need to be educated before they are prepared to make mental commitments. The differences between the two approaches are not trivial considerations for serious copywriters, and the danger is that the more one knows about the products or services about which they write, the more inclined they are to write deductive copy because they assume others are ready for the punch line. Similarly, the more you know about what it is you sell, the more likely it is that you will be tempted to focus on features at the expense of benefits (another version of deductive over inductive). Blindly choosing the deductive approach can be a fatal error in marketing judgment.

Let's look at real world examples. As you read, think about which approach makes the strongest impact on you.

Tri-State Alarm Company

  • The Security Alarm 2000 utilizes exciting new technology developed for the US Department of Defense to guard every door and window in areas up to 4000 sq. ft. Full Guarantee and Warranty
  • The ultimate value in security, for a fraction of the price of other alarm systems.
  • Provides excellent protection without the extra costs of installation and maintenance.
  • DOOR CHIME feature is excellent at home for monitoring the entry and exit of children, pets, or those requiring special care and at the office for monitoring the entry and exit of customers and deliveries.
    • ReadyGuard Home Security Master Control Keypad
    • ReadyGuard Power Supply
    • ReadyGuard Rechargeable Battery Backup Power Pack
    • 35' X 35' Interior Motion Sensor
    • Wireless Remote Control "KeyFob" with Panic Button
    • Doors or Windows Protected Against Forced Entry
    • RJ31X Telephone Connection
    • "Protected by Tri-State Alarm" Lawn Sign and 2 Decals
    • Certificate of Installation
    • Apply for your 10-20% homeowners insurance discount
    • 24 Hour UL Approved Central Station Home Monitoring

Summit Home Security Products

What will you do? You lay in total darkness, it's 3 a.m. You hear glass smash and footsteps coming toward your bedroom? You don't own a gun and suddenly the golf club you stash under your bed seems clumsy and inadequate. God, it sounds like more than one of them! Can you protect yourself and your loved ones against violent criminals who may want to do more than just steal?

Although no one likes to dwell on crime, it's important to realize its effect on your community. One in ten homes will be burglarized this year, according to the National Crime Prevention Council.

And, one third of all burglaries in which the burglar encounters someone at home lead to assault.

Our goal at Summit Home Security Products is to provide you with the tools to keep you from becoming a statistic. We do this quickly, with no mess or disruption to you and we do it cost effectively with a single phone call from you. It's an easy call to make, but it's not one you want to still be thinking about at 3 a.m.

It isn't difficult to analyze that the people who wrote and who approved the Tri-State ad copy understand their product very well and it may well be that this company offers vastly superior services to Summit Home Security, but what was the emotional impact on you from the deductive, features dominant copy as opposed to the inductive, benefits dominant approach? If you're like most people, the emotional pull of the Summit copy was much more compelling. They could sell you on features later; the important thing for the ad is to get the exploratory call in the first place.

The Government of Canada has made a decision to pursue a deductive strategy on the anti-smoking copy it requires on all cigarette packages. It's pretty difficult to imagine more unequivocal, bottom line messages than: "Smoking Will Kill You!" or "Cigarettes Cause Lung Cancer" Inside the packages the messages are much more inductive: "Can tobacco cause brain injury? "More than 2,500 people in Canada die each year from tobacco caused strokes," and "Quitting smoking reduces your chances of having a stroke."

Logically, of course, this anti-smoking campaign's deductive hit-them-over-the-head message seems necessary given that the longer, inside package copy wouldn't fit on the outside. Presumably, though, someone thought about the deductive vs. inductive options or softer, inductive strategy could have appeared as educational leading questions on the outside. Which would work best? Who can know without a lot of research?

Speaking of Research
Let's suppose you have an advertisement that you've spent a lot of time developing and that you believe is ready to launch in some form of media. How can you ensure that it's as good as it can be? Try testing it on real respondents (not colleagues, not your relatives and not your friends—real prospective customers.) What can you test for?

Here are seven copy-testing concepts that can produce quantifiable data and information:

Persuasiveness: will the offering and the words make people want to buy?
Communications: is the point we want to make the point that really comes across?
Recall: Will customers remember our message among all the others in the media when it comes time to buy?
Self-Involvement: Does the message strike personal emotional chords with the people it targets? Do they see themselves as needing/desiring what we offer?
Credibility: Does the message sound believable to those it targets?
Clarity: Is the message(s) comprehensible?
Tastefulness: Would the copy turn anyone off? Does it appropriately reflect our company?
Stimulation: Does our message make our products/services stand out creatively so it will be noticed among thousands of others?

If you have asked and answered your questions about the most appropriate approach to use—deductive or inductive—and if you have taken steps to objectively test your advertising copy on "real" prospective customers, you are better prepared than many to succeed in the competitive world of advertising. If you have not, don't be surprised if advertising outcomes are consistently mediocre.

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