How to ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ for More Persuasive Copy

How to ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ for More Persuasive Copy

Reader Comments (45)

  1. Sonia, as always you manage to grab the essential ingredients of the message, making you a great messenger and pro at understanding how copywriting works.

    Loved your reference to using colors too. Your second example of the Jenny Lee and her pies was so palpable that I got really hungry. Damn you for making me lust after something sweet right now.

  2. I think it’s important to keep in mind that although adding details, benefits, and telling a story is generally a good idea, it is also important that your copy not be too long.

    Long copy might out perform short copy in many instances – but just make sure it’s not too long.

    Sometimes less is more.

  3. How could I not like this?

    And I am in love with that slab of concrete.

    Thanks for reminding me of Homer’s wine-dark sea. Touchstones. Strong ones elicit a response.

    Memorable, thanks.

  4. Good reminder! This is something I know, but when in a rush, the old reliable terminology just flows off my fingertips.
    My best garage sale ever was years ago when we paid extra to itemize our inventory in the classified ad… “Barney comforter” instead of bedding. The comforter was gone at 7 am, but people came all day asking about it and as a result only one load of leftovers went to charity at the end of the day.
    I’d be interested to see some “before” and “after” examples of the bakery marketing, just to prime the pump, so to speak.

  5. Even someone (Theophile Jules-Henri Marzials) who wrote what may be considered as the world’s worst poem likes to use color;

    “From the slimy branches the grey drips drop…
    To the oozy waters, that lounge and flop… “

  6. Show don’t tell is one of the cornerstones of screenwriting as well. When you’re writing for the screen, you want to show action whenever possible, not just two characters talking back and forth. This is somewhat similar. The more details you use in your writing, the more it comes alive. Thanks for the post, as always!

    – Dave

  7. Thanks for reminding me how much resonance the perfect concrete detail can bestow upon a sentence –wine-dark sea and red hills of Georgia: such crystalline mental images.
    In my world of food writing Tamasin Day-Lewis paints vivid word pictures, i.e.: “earthily misshapen artichokes, twisted knobbly roots that are a peeler’s nightmare, but worth every knuckle grating minute.”

  8. The concrete does make a nice contrast with the naked lady.

    @John Hoff, hmm, I wonder if a post on how to cut copy effectively would be worthwhile.

    @WDOC, that quote is astonishing. Thank you, I think. 🙂

  9. Absolutely, absolutely! Nothing has been more powerful – for my work as a copywriter or my reactions as a reader – than deep and colorful details. Good storytelling has been so overlooked in corporate copy over the years, I’m glad to see it making a comeback.

  10. Good post Sonia…We like Jenny Lee’s version of the baker’s example because we can associate with real people. We need real life examples before some one can convince us of their stories.

  11. I like to remind my clients that “sensory detail is the difference between a statement — and a story.”

    About the cobalt call to have you post on cutting crimson copy, it might be fun to send out a purple paragraph (or maybe the sparkly story you posted) and let your luscious loyal readers try their hopped-up hand at 1 of 3 tingling types of edit: say, one for a wrinkled word count; one for salty sales; and one for… well, it’s your goose-bumped gig, don’t mean to blast over and butt in…
    (See how tough — and necessary! — self-editing can be? I have a delete key right here and I still can’t stop…!)

  12. Terrific, and you know why? Because you stressed the need for relevant details. Adding numbers, personality, and colors are very vivid and memorable. But what adds even more to that is when it’s oriented towards readers and their needs/goals/purpose. Great reminder!

  13. That was as good as sweet potato pie covered with freshly made whipped cream after Sunday fried chicken.

  14. Hi, Sonia! Thanks for posting this. I’ll learn to write a better details on my copy. Love the idea about colour. For sure, I’ll use it.

  15. Thanks a lot for the info. I started writing not so long ago (at least for my blog) and I’ve been thinking about ways to make my articles more interesting. The subject itself is interesting enough I think but you will remember it better when it was fun to read.

    There are a few blogs I sometimes read that provide super helpful information, but they’re just no fun to read, and that makes a lot of difference, because I’m not very tempted to read every article then!

  16. @John Hoff, ok, the “how to cut” post definitely goes on the list. Thanks for the suggestion!

    @GirlPie, LOL. You’re scaring me a little there. I like that “salty sales,” though.

  17. Your comments are ideal for aspiring writers, and a great reminder for seasoned pros.

    One note I’d like to add — one of the elements that made your examples compelling was the combination of concrete images and storytelling. If you can turn a cold phrase into a hot story, you’ll win every time.

  18. Creative licence at its finest!

    Thanks for a very timely post, which will be forwarded to a new writer who needs to be liberated from the confines of reality. If the bakery is a faded grey, let’s encourage our readers to believe that it is sunny yellow.

  19. Great blog, I was introduced to it from Viral Garden. As a marketing copy writer, I sometimes feel the pressure to cram as much detail and visualization into a small space – this is a good reminder that brief still needs these aspects, and when possible extend the length. I love the credibility section. I’ll be checking in here often!

  20. Unfortunately (and often out of necessity) the web has created a bunch of piece-meal readers who only skim and look for the most relevant content without reading into things. That’s why relevant, short, detailed, keyword-style content will always be much more hard-hitting. Great post!

  21. Very interesting thoughts. In fact this approach has significantly helped me write better copy for my clients. People want to read about the actual beneficiaries, they want to see the actual number of benefits your product or service has. You need to know what motivates your readers.

  22. I shared your article with my students and they loved it. They like to hear real world examples of the concepts I teach them. Effective, powerful, and persuasive writing is not just for school!

  23. “Details about most products are boring. Details about people and how they’re solving their problems are much more interesting.”

    So true. Apple understands this. Esthetics aside, the details of Apple computers are arguably not a whole lot different from PCs. But boy, does Apple make it look like their users are creative and hip.

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