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Do You Make This Mistake in Copy Catting?

January 14th, 2009 by Bob Bly

“Copy catting” is a perfectly legal, time-honored, and very effective technique in copywriting.

It means you find an existing ad that is making money, and “borrow” the main money-making idea for your own ad.

Unfortunately, unskilled marketers usually bungle this: they rip off the words or style of the ad they are copy catting, while totally missing the key selling idea.

For instance, one of my favorite ads is a tiny display ad selling a course on making money with mail order ads.

The classic headline: “Do You Read Small Ads Like This One?”

A local media company that sells space on park benches, bus stops, and other public areas where signage can be placed tried to copy cat this approach.

Their headline: “You’ve Just Proven That Signs Work!”

Do you see why “Do You Read Small Ads Like This One?” works but “You’ve Just Proven That Signs Work!” is a poor imitation that doesn’t work at all?

First correct answer gets a free copy of my e-book Scientific Advertising Illustrated and Annotated.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 14th, 2009 at 7:42 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

52 responses about “Do You Make This Mistake in Copy Catting?”

  1. Kassy said:

    My thought is that the “sign” hasn’t worked just b/c you read it. So their logic is off. The small ad is pointing out that even though it’s small, people still read it, so it argues that you can get your message heard with a small ad, but that it’s up to you to make it effective.

    The sign doesn’t engage the viewer to think about their ability to get a reaction from their own sign… just that, yep, I saw it.

  2. Jim Logan said:

    The key selling idea they missed is your headline is tied to the small space used in mail order ads.

    The headline they used doesn’t directly tie to park bench, and bus stop advertising.

  3. Gerold Braun said:

    They make their reader think “what does it mean?”, while the answer to your headline is clear the moment one reads it.

  4. Note Taking Nerd #2 said:

    “Do You Read Small Ads Like This?” doesn’t pre-suppose anything. It simply asks a question.

    If you say “yes” to yourself you’ll be pulled into the next sentence. You’ll feel like this person is speaking to you.

    The question hints there’s something here for a unique person like me who reads these small ads.

    This example is an elegant invitation to engage in a conversation with you.

    “You’ve Just Proven That Signs Work!” reeks of the tone “ha, ha, sucka!!! Gotcha. Even you can’t resist the mesmerizing power of a billboards.”

    This doesn’t make me feel special. It corrals me into a herd of “ordinary” people.

    The message’s indirect, belittling language communicates “You’ve been worked.” Who want’s to be worked? Yuk.

    If I had my choice of politely being courted or hustled by a sleight of mouth con job I’ll opt for the former everytime.

    So will your prospects and clients.

    Note Taking Nerd #2

  5. Bob Bly said:

    The answer is this:

    “Do You Read Small Ads Like This One” resonates with the reader. The answer HAS to be yes since he is reading a small ad when he is reading that headline. So the proposition is immediately credible.

    Yes, by extension, this implies that there is a money-making opportunity in small ads, and it’s convincing because the reader comes to this conclusion on his own. If the headline would have said “Make Money Running Small Ads Like This One,” it would have been less powerful because it would trigger skepticism: “Yeah, sure,” the reader would think. “Prove it.”

    “You’ve Just Proven That Signs Work” fails because reading that headline does not prove that signs work (i.e., generate a good marketing ROI for advertisers); it only shows that signs are READ. That is not the same as signs making sales. In fact, it sort of proves that signs do not work: the viewer has read the sign but not bought anything.

  6. Michael Kelberer said:

    Hi Bob et. al.
    I think that both ads mechanically achieve exactly the same thing, including the sense of “gotcha”. The difference is that the first leaves me with a positive feeling (of discovery as Bob alluded to), whereas the “gotcha” of the second leaves me with a “I’ve been had” feeling, as “Note Taking Nerd” emphasized. After the first, I’m inclined to follow up. After the second, raising my middle finger is the only follow up I’m motivated to do.
    Michael Kelberer

  7. Deji said:

    The headline “Do you read small ads like this one?” is similar to the headline “Do you make these mistakes in English?” which makes the reader to be curious to know what these mistakes are and whether she makes them,amongst other things.The first headline will draw the reader into reading the “small ad” because she will want to know if she reads small ads like “this one”.
    However,the ad “You’ve Just Proven That Ads Work” seems to play on the prospects intelligence and seems to be trying to use gimmicks on the prospect by saying something like “Since you are reading this ad,then it means that ads work and it has definately worked on you”.This would definately throw the prospect off since the ad is trying to be clever.In any case,the headline does not offer the prospect any benefits or build up their curiousity but instead tries to use reverse psychology.
    And according to master copywriter Bob Bly,your ad should not be clever,funny or creative just for the sake of been clever,funny or creative.

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  9. Mark said:

    The answer has already been mentioned I think; the ads elicit opposite personal responses.

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