Why Every “Copywriting Formula” Sets You Up For Utter Failure

Are you a copywriter or are just you pretending to be a copywriter?

“It’s not real art unless I say it is”Every self-loathing community college art teacher in existence.

copywriting artist


When I took my first art class in college, I already had a good few years on most students.  I was never ‘trained’, but I had spent my entire time at school drawing on the backs of notebooks and term papers that my teachers handed back to me.

So imagine my surprise when I found out (from my very tight lipped art teacher) that I had learned everything ‘wrong.’

I had never learned to use perspectives, shading, lines.  And yet, people seemed to love my work.

Yet suddenly, in the space of an hour long orientation class, I had gone from being a ‘talented artist’ to a ‘confused doodler who wasted paper.’

Well maybe ‘talented artist’ is a bit of a stretch – but I knew I was good.

And yet, when my teacher told me I was doing things wrong, I sucked it up and tried to follow her methods…

…and ended up with shaky, poorly drawn pieces.

You see, I was still at a young and naive time in my life where I assumed that if a person was in a position of power, they must know something I don’t – so for a while I listened.

And I started to feel apathy for art.  I stopped drawing all together – and my artwork suffered.

It wasn’t until later that I realized I had given this woman and her ‘techniques’ way too much credit…

What does this have to do with copywriting?  Well, quite a bit.

You see, I’ve met a lot of starting out copywriters who get into this business – and the first thing they do is look for courses, for training, for templates – for some sort of guidance for GOODNESS SAKES!

I know, I did the same thing when I started out.

I bought every book I could get my hands on, I read them, I went to forums, I rubbed elbows with ‘real copywriters’ – I tried to absorb every method I could like a vicious copy amoeba.

copywriting as a cell

mmmm... primordial copy goodness

But what I found was whenever I tried to write copy by carefully following these professional formulas, I created a strange, stuttered form of sales copy.

I was so focused on hitting the points of the templates, but I wasn’t even selling.

I’d read back what I wrote and It just sounded… awful.

It felt like a manuscript for a snake oil salesman.

snake oil salesman

"Excuse me sir, I'll sample a bottle! ... Wait a second..."

Who would buy from this piece of copy?  Why would any marketer suggest these methods?  Where was the REAL copywriting template that would actually work?

Then it hit me – I was relying so heavily on the templates that I forgot to use my own head.

Using a template for ANY marketing venture is like turning on cruise control when you hit the freeway – then letting yourself fall asleep.

I suddenly realized the HUGE problem with following copywriting templates – or just about ANY template for that matter!

Let’s use story writing as an example for a moment:

In a story you have a plot, a climax, characters, conflicts.  But if you tried to write a story in such a stringent way without putting any real thought behind your characters, without using your mind, you’d likely end up with a poorly written piece of garbage.

So when you’re writing copy, are you writing to sell… or are you trying to impress other copywriters?

A huge mistake is to try to do something ‘exciting’ that will make others think you’re clever and scratch their chins in appreciation and go “Great scott!  What a fantastic copywriter they are!”

But to borrow a frequently used phrase, K.I.S.S. – Keep it simple, stupid.

Your goal isn’t to win awards, to impress the other copywriters… or to even feel smart.

Your goal is to help your client.

Help them make sales, help them get new referrals, help them get more opt ins, help them achieve whatever their goal is.

I’m not saying be mediocre.  I’m not saying don’t look for cool, catchy angles.  But instead of pigeonholing yourself, really stop and think about who you’re writing to.

How to use templates without failing.

Get an idea for how to lay out things.  Then go ahead and research your subject.  The Internet has made that insanely easy.  Check out Facebook pages where people who are into your topic gather.  Hop onto forums.  Look at how they talk.  Check out their lingo.  Then write the copy in a way that speaks to them – in THEIR language.

If you’re doing a great job, your copy shouldn’t read like you’re selling anything at all – it should read like you’re helping them solve a problem by pointing them in the right direction – straight to a product that will improve their lives!

You can use the templates to check if you’ve hit the points you should be hitting.  But if you didn’t do everything in order, don’t fret!

The most important part is to connect with and sell to your prospect.

Now go forth and prosper!


P.S.  I wasn’t joking about my art story – check out my old gallery made mostly of dragons doodled on the back of old school papers:

Dragon Face

"Dragon Face" - Danielle



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10 Responses to Why Every “Copywriting Formula” Sets You Up For Utter Failure

  1. Lauren May 30, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

    You are absolutely right! It’s so easy, especially when you’re first starting out, to try to desperately gain the respect of your fellow copywriters–rather than making money for your client!

    One of the first sales pages I wrote made my client burst out laughing. She said, “Lauren, you must own a whole book of clever adjectives!” She was right! lol. I had been referring to a list of “power words” that had been proven to provoke an emotional response in potential customers. How embarrassing!

    Whenever writers/copywriters follow a template for their work, it isn’t just obvious to other professionals: It’s obvious to EVERYONE.

    Knowing the “rules” is fantastic. But knowing when and how to break them is even better.

  2. Isla McKetta July 3, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    Thanks for this, Danielle! It can be all too tempting to try and impress a client with something you aren’t when really they hired you because they liked who you already were.

    A few guidelines can be helpful, but it is so easy to get hung up on “shoulds” and waste your creative energy trying to be someone other than who the client wanted in the first place.

  3. german technical translation July 5, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

    Lets assume you know about your consumer and what their interests are, use their interests to frame your copy.

  4. copywriting skills August 7, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

    In my opinion whenever you are working as a copywriter than you should use main points and main features of any product and website for which you are making content. Copywriter must use hitting points of any business.

  5. Astro Gremlin September 16, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

    Danielle, using ANY template as more than a guideline is no replacement for good writing judgement. However, for commenting I use the following template. “[Name} terrific post! I have always felt [paste in a blurb from the post]. Couldn’t agree with you more that [paste in another blurb from the post]. Keep up the good work!” I’m lying, I don’t use a comment template. :)

    • Danielle December 12, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

      LOL – You’re just too fantastic for words sometimes :)

  6. Martin September 27, 2012 at 8:33 am #

    Great post Danielle. It is all too easy to get wrapped up in what you think you ‘should’ be doing when starting out, rather than showing what you can do yourself.

    • Danielle December 12, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

      Thank you Martin, I fully agree – luckily, we usually have those friendly ‘life knocks’ to keep us on track!

  7. Gail Moore December 12, 2012 at 5:33 am #

    I really enjoyed reading it. This website has got some really useful info on it! I was looking for this. It was excellent and very informative. PLEASE keep it up!

    • Danielle December 12, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

      Well thank you Gail! :) Let me know if there’s something else you were looking for that’s not currently up here and I’ll see what I can dig up.

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