Thursday, December 20, 2012

To write persuasive copy, pack it with facts

One way to make your copy persuasive is to pack it with facts. More precisely, pack it with statements of fact. Unlike a statement of opinion, a statement of fact is verifiable: it can be checked against reality and found true or false.

For example, this is a statement of fact: “Meryl Streep has won four Oscars.” It is false. This is a statement of fact: “Meryl Streep has won three Oscars.” It is true.

This is a statement of opinion: “Meryl Streep is more talented than Katharine Hepburn was.” One could take a survey and see what percentage of people agree with that statement, but it cannot be found true or false.

When you make a statement of fact, you command the reader’s attention. He knows that: (1) your statement is true; or (2) you are mistaken or misinformed; or (3) you are lying. Like all sane human beings, the reader is more interested in reality than in opinion.

Therefore – other things being equal – the more statements of fact you can pack into your copy, the more persuasive your copy will be.

The great adman David Ogilvy (pictured) was renowned for his skill with this technique. In one famous advertisement that he wrote for Rolls-Royce, he begins with this statement of fact:
“At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.”
He follows with more than a dozen additional remarkable statements of fact, including these:
“Every Rolls-Royce engine is run for seven hours at full throttle before installation, and each car is test-driven for hundreds of miles over varying road surfaces.”

During final testing, “the engineers use a stethoscope to listen for axle-whine.” (Italics in original.)

“By moving a switch on the steering column, you can adjust the shock-absorbers to suit road conditions.” (That was 50 years ago!)
“You can get such optional extras as an Espresso coffee-making machine, a dictating machine, a bed, hot and cold water for washing, an electric razor or a telephone.”
Mr. Oglilvy’s book Confessions of an Advertising Man contains several additional descriptions of historic ad campaigns.

The Takeaway: If you want to write persuasive copy, pack it with facts that will guide the reader toward agreeing with your main point.

See disclaimer.

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