“Study and copy out famous old ads by hand. Like this one.”

“Read and digest the Boron Letters until you know them inside-out-backwards. Then read X,Y,Z books on copywriting, published 40 years ago.”

I see a lot of advice circulating online telling beginners to read and copy “the greats”.

To consume a ton of content created by Don Draper types for audiences that are already dead.

I disagree with this advice.

Copywriting beginners: don’t copy outdated copy.

Old ads use outdated language and the last thing a beginner needs is to internalize phrases that were cool during the turn of the century.

This could actually do more harm than good in the beginning of your learning process.

You might seriously end up writing copy that sounds rigid, formal and downright weird!

These ads might’ve worked on your grandma during the pre-Internet days, but the 2020s is a whole new ballgame.

20, 40, 100 years ago, human behaviors, values and cultures were completely different. These factors are constantly changing and evolving, every single day.

Which means your writing needs to evolve with the times.

What convinced a 1960s housewife to write a check won’t convince a 2020s stay-at-home mom to whip out her Mastercard.

The way modern audiences speak, think and act couldn’t be more foreign compared to our WWII counterparts.

Your writing needs to speak to a digital audience bombarded by more advertisements in ONE DAY than our ancestors saw in a lifetime.

Your copy needs to hook in readers who are used to microcontent and have attention spans that only last as long as a few blinks of an eye.

We no longer live in an age of patience, where it’s common to see people reading full-length newspaper advertorials because there’s nothing better to do.

We live in an age of A.I., infinite scrolls, pop-ups, programmatic advertising, algorithms and 24/7 social media.

Keep that in mind as your practice your writing.

Do THIS instead to write better copy:

Pick your target audience and study the hell out of them.

For example, if you want your ad to speak to a millennial, consume the media they love.

Hop on Netflix and YouTube. Watch The Simpsons. Family Feud. The Tonight Show. The Bachelor. (Even if you don’t like them, or think they’re stupid)

Study viral content and break down why it works. Read the comments sections on YouTube. They are gold mines. Trawl through Reddit. Quora. Facebook Groups. Twitter hashtags.

Learn new lingo and jargon. Take notes on how people on the Internet describe products, experiences and opinions.

That’s it. That’s the best way to learn.

Don’t write what you THINK your target audience will wants to read.

Research thoroughly until you KNOW what they want. Internalize their pain points, understand their beliefs about the world, stalk them if you must.

Then, and only then, should you sit down and write copy to sell them something you KNOW they want in a tone that matches the way THEY speak.

Copy out, by hand, recent, relevant ads (that were well received) to get a feel of “what works”.

Modern audiences want smart, modern content. After all, almost all of us have a world of knowledge at our fingertips. It takes milliseconds for a user to navigate away from bad content in search of something more valuable, entertaining or educational.

Ads that worked during a time when:

  • gas was 15 cents a gallon
  • women didn’t have the right to vote
  • nobody wore helmets or seatbelts
  • Google, cellphones, the Internet, and microwaves didn’t exist
  • doctors regularly performed lobotomies
  • pregnant mothers smoke and drank

…should be taken with chunks of salt.

Just my 2 cents on the matter.



Published On: June 2nd, 2020 / Categories: copywriting /