The Verbal Identity Monday morning copywriting exercise: Write it backwards

Even though I’ve written commercials for British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, won awards with press ads for the Times and the Guardian, and walked past giant posters I’d written for Selfridges and Harrods, I still get stuck.

Recently, I was stuck trying to write some copy for a professional services company. It was due with the client the next day.

So I did what all good copywriters do in this situation and took a random walk around the local bookshop.

I found a book called “The Jelly Effect: How to Make Your Communications Stick.”

In a 30-second flip-through while standing at the book shelf, it helped me identify my problem.

When I was writing for the brand, I was thinking in the internal-logic way: we started xx years ago, we were founded by Person Z and Person Q, we now do this, it helps our customers do that.

I was writing from the brand’s point of view, not the consumer’s.

One page in particular helped me. It said, “Start with the AFTERS.” The Afters are the value-message you want to leave the reader with.

What’s the single, most compelling message you have? Start with that.

So instead of opening by talking about how the company had been founded 20 years ago, I should have said, “This firm saves you time every month.” Or even better, “This firm can save about 5 hours of your CEO’s time, every month.” I would then go on to support and expand on my proposition, talking about the unique skills of the Founders and how they had been honed and proven over 20 years.

If I’d read the book earlier, it would have saved me hours.

Even though I’d already absorbed its advice, I bought the book anyway.

Or to demonstrate The Jelly Effect’s effectiveness in another way, here are the 16 sentences  I’ve just written, but in the Jelly Effect way:

A new book called The Jelly Effect: How to Make Your Communications Stick saved me hours of frustrated writing.

In fact, I liked it so much I bought it after a 30-second flip-through.

It advises writers always to start copy with “the AFTERS” – the single most compelling message you want to leave your readers with.

The author, Andy Bounds,  got me through a tricky piece of copy by forcing me to focus me on how my client’s consumers would benefit – much more engaging than talking about the history of my client’s company or its founders.

I found the book on a random walk around the book shop, just when I needed it: with copy due at a client the next day.

Even though I’ve written commercials for British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, or won awards for press ads for the Times and the Guardian, and walked past posters I’d written for Harrods and Selfridges, I get stuck sometimes.

But after 20 years, I think I’ve finally found a way through those moments. 

The last 9 lines are a little bald, and they read a little ‘selly’ to me. But they’re sharper and I do find them more compelling. All they need now is a little polish and pizzazz.

If you have a trick you’d like to share, please let me know and I’ll pass it on.

And if you’re stuck this morning, email me: I keep Monday mornings free to help out.