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Advice for Writers at Ad Agencies—From a Political Strategist

Photo of a young woman working at her desk taking notes; the focus is on her hand writing on a notepad with a ballpoint pen.
Look for the words that trigger emotion. (Photo: ammentorp)

What can you learn about writing advertising copy from a political consultant and Republican Party strategist?

More than you might think.

This man’s 10 rules are so powerful, they pushed Rudy Giuliani to two victories as mayor of New York City—where Democratic voters outnumbered his party by a margin of 5 to 1.

Copywriting isn’t much more than a short speech that appears on paper or on a digital screen, and author Frank Luntz, Ph.D., wants you to remember that.

In his 2008 book Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear, Luntz shared what he has learned about how your chosen words can be incredibly powerful—or miss the mark and become forgotten within seconds. Here are his 10 rules:

1. Ask a Question.

Never underestimate the power of asking a question as opposed to making a statement. Remember the wildly successful “Got Milk?” campaign?

2. Visualize.

Vivid images generated by memorable words = proven formula for success. For further study, see the image below.

Photo of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. giving a speech to tens of thousands of people on the Washington Mall. He is standing, right arm outstretched, smiling.
Best speech of all time?

3. Sound and texture matter.

Do you read your ad copy out loud and listen to how it flows off your tongue and into your ears? Words in a sentence that have the same sound, cadence, or even first letter will be far more memorable to your audience.

Ever thought about what made the “I Have a Dream” speech one of the greatest of all time? Hint: Cadence didn’t hurt.

4. Use small words.

Speak the language that members of your target audience use when they speak to one another.

Bravo to you for wanting to increase your audience’s vocabulary. But if you think readers are going to sedulously look up a word they don’t understand, think again. (Confession: I don’t even know if I used that word correctly.)

5. Brief sentences are best.

As Luntz says in his book, “‘I Like Ike’ was hardly a reason to vote for the man, but the simplicity of the slogan matched the candidate and the campaign.”

6. Speak with aspiration.

Your writing must contain messages that your audience members really want to hear. It needs to be personal for them.

7. Provide perspective and explain significance.

If you don’t give consumers the “why” of a message before you write about the “therefore” and the “so that,” you may not be heard.

8. Consistency matters.

Vintage, black-and-white magazine ad with a smiling woman holding a bouquet, with headline above in cursive that says, "Say it with Flowers." Above the headline is descriptive text that says "The Literary Digest for May 4, 1918." Below the woman in the ad, in the bottom right corner, a man is depicted holding a photo of the woman and smiling.
“Saying it with flowers” since 1917—that’s one consistent message.

FTD has been using the slogan “Say it with flowers” since 1917.

Nearly 100 years. How’s that for consistency?

If doing so is relevant for your ad copy, pick a way of making your point and stick to it. Otherwise, when consumers finally begin to remember that point, you’ll have changed it already.

9. Credibility is as important as philosophy.

Luntz says this beautifully: “The words you use become you—and you become the words you use.”

10. Offer something new.

Does your ad copy convey a sense of discovery?

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Need a professional proofreader to go over your ad copy? Contact Super Copy Editors for a quick quote today.

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Dave Baker

View posts by Dave Baker
Hi, I’m Dave Baker, founder and copy chief of Super Copy Editors. I have more than 25 years of professional proofreading and copy editing experience, including work for The Nation magazine, The New York Times, and The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, where I shared two staff Pulitzer Prizes. At Super Copy Editors, we’re passionate about helping agencies, marketing teams, and education companies refine and polish their text to give them confidence and ensure success. Learn more here.

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