30 Copywriting Secrets from the Best Ad Campaign of All Time
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30 Copywriting Secrets from the Best Ad Campaign of All Time

Learn how to write compelling copy by studying dozens of successful print ads written by award-winning copywriters.
4.6 (61 ratings)
Instead of using a simple lifetime average, Udemy calculates a course's star rating by considering a number of different factors such as the number of ratings, the age of ratings, and the likelihood of fraudulent ratings.
370 students enrolled
Created by Alan Sharpe
Last updated 6/2016
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Current price: $10 Original price: $20 Discount: 50% off
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  • 3 hours on-demand video
  • 111 Supplemental Resources
  • Full lifetime access
  • Access on mobile and TV
  • Certificate of Completion
What Will I Learn?
  • Write headlines that grab attention
  • Write headlines that compel prospects to read the body copy
  • Write headlines that work with visuals
  • Write opening lines that compel readers to read the rest of the ad
  • Use irony to grab attention
  • Follow a simple, step-by-step formula for writing body copy
  • Build trust with body copy
  • Find and write unusual testimonials
  • Write effective endings to a sales message
  • Write copy that keeps readers reading right to the end
  • Write clever, effective endings to sales copy
View Curriculum
  • Students must know how to write well in English

In this course, you’ll learn how to write copy that grabs attention and motivates prospects to buy. 

I designed this course for anyone who wants a shortcut to learning how to write great copy. By the end of this course, you’ll be able to write copy that gets noticed, gets read and gets results.

You and I will examine the most successful advertising campaign in history. I’m talking about the newspaper ads for Volkswagen that ran during the 1960s and 1970s. This campaign took a boring, ugly, unknown product and made it one of the most talked-about, popular products in history. I’m going to show you dozens of ads from this campaign. Each one is a case study in how to write clever, powerful, funny, amazing copy.

You'll see how a successful ad is built. We'll cover headlines, visuals, opening lines, body copy, format of a sales pitch, testimonials, features and benefits, reader engagement, humour, irony, keys to being original, endings, and plenty more.

I designed this course for two people: copywriters who want to improve their craft, and aspiring copywriters who want to learn what actually works in copywriting.

This course contains no theory—just dozens of examples of copy that works, and a detailed explanation of why it works. To get a good idea of what we’ll cover, preview some of the lessons below. Then take this course. Forty years from now, people might be talking about your copy. Hey, you never know.

Who is the target audience?
  • Any copywriter who wants to learn copywriting tips from the most successful print advertising campaign in history
  • Copywriters who want to perfect their craft
  • Writers who want to learn the basics of how to write effective print advertising copy
  • This course is not for people who want tips on SEO copywriting
  • This course does not deal with online copywriting
  • This course does not offer any advice on how to start a copywriting business
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Curriculum For This Course
32 Lectures
Introduction and background to the campaign
1 Lecture 08:29

To understand why the Volkswagen ad campaign was so successful, to understand why the copy was so effective, you need to understand something of the environment in which these ads were created.

Preview 08:29
12 Lectures 01:06:34

When you sit down to write your headline, think visually. If you can find an intriguing or funny or puzzling visual to go with your headline, you can relax. Your headline doesn’t have to try so hard to be “strategic” and “on-brand.” And you can ignore that excellent conventional wisdom you’ve heard for years about how to write your headlines

Secret 1: Write a weak headline if your visual is strong

Contrary to popular opinion, a picture is rarely worth a thousand words. And a thousand words usually need a picture or two. A picture usually needs a headline. And a headline usually needs a picture. Your goal as a copywriter is to write headlines that only work when they are placed next to the picture. Your best headlines only work when they work with the visual. If your ad has a visual, your headline should not be able to work when the visual is removed.

Secret 2: Sync your headline and your visual

Headlines serve one essential goal: Compel potential customers to read your copy. That’s it. No more. Interrupting people isn’t enough. Grabbing their attention isn’t enough. Your headline must motivate them, tease them, intrigue them and compel them to read what you have to say in your body copy. So how do you do that? If you study the most successful ad campaign in history, you’ll discover three ways to get readers to read your body copy.

Secret 3: Write headlines that compel buyers to read your copy

Your first job as a copywriter is to interrupt people. No one is going to read your copy until you can first grab their attention and get them to pay attention to you. In print advertising and online, you only have two ways to grab people’s attention: a great headline, or a great visual. But what can you do if you don’t have a strong visual? What if your product is boring to look at? That’s the challenge that Volkswagen faced. They had to create advertising for the Volkswagen Beetle and the Volkswagen Station Wagon. Both vehicles were boring to look at. The ad agency on Volkswagen account knew that if your visual is lame, your headline has to be amazing. And so their copywriters wrote some of the most memorable headlines in advertising.

Preview 06:08

Hey, want to know one of the easiest ways to grab the attention of a potential customer? Want to learn one of the easiest ways to write a headline? Ask a question. Putting a simple question mark at the end of your headline helps you take a straightforward feature or claim and make it a little more interesting and a lot more compelling.

Secret 5: If in doubt, ask a question

Writing a headline that starts telling a story is an effective way to grab attention and motivate prospective customers to read your ad. This technique works just as well for brochures, email newsletters, website landing pages and direct mail sales letters. People love a good story. So if you can start your ads as well as Jane Austen started her novels, you will always find work as a copywriter.

Preview 04:27

If you read just about any book on copywriting or advertising, the author will tell you that one of the best words to put in your headline is the word, “NEW.” That’s because people are fascinated with the latest news. The latest tablet. The latest weather report. The latest movie. If you put the word “new” into your headline, people will notice, and they’ll read your copy. That’s the theory. But what do you do if your product is no longer “new?” What if you don’t have any news to tell, but you still have a product to sell? What do you do then? You tie your product to the news. Find a subject or a person that is trending, and tie your advertising message to that.

Secret 7: Tie your headline to current events

The best headlines make you stop and think. They have a "hunh?" factor. The undisputed masters of this headline writing technique is the creative team who created the advertising for Volkswgen in the 1960s and 1970s. They wrote some of the most clever headlines in advertising history. Learn how.

Secret 8: Aim for the “hunh?” factor

What would you do if someone read your copy and started laughing? Would you be upset? You don’t have to be. Humour is one of the most effective tools in your copywriting toolbox. If you can craft headlines and body copy that put smiles on people’s faces, you’re a rare copywriter. And a valuable one.

Secret 9: Make them smile

One of your main jobs as a copywriter is to translate product features into benefits. People buy benefits, not features. In print advertising, one of the most effective ways to communicate product benefits is by demonstrating them with a visual.

Secret 10: Use headlines for features, images for benefits

As a copywriter, you have to talk about your competition. So how can you compare your product against a competing product without sounding like a high-pressure, boasting salesman? How can you compare your product against the competition in such a way that your potential customer feels respected, even flattered? By getting creative with your headline and your visual. 

Secret 11: Comparing yourself? Better be clever.

If you’ve been writing copy for any length of time, you’ll know that one of the hardest things to write is a good headline. Headlines have one of the toughest jobs in advertising: grabbing the attention of distracted people and persuading them to pay attention. If people don’t read your headline, they don’t read your copy. So you can appreciate why headlines are so important. And why writing them is so difficult.

Here’s a tip to help you write better headlines, faster. I learned this tip when I was a copywriter in Ottawa, back in the late 1980s. Write your body copy first, and find your headline in the copy that didn’t make it into your final draft.

Secret 12: Find headlines in your body copy
Opening Lines
3 Lectures 14:19

Grabbing someone’s attention with a great headline is one thing. Having a conversation with that person in your body copy is a lot harder. The first thing you must understand about the opening line in your body copy is that it must deliver on the premise of your headline without repeating it.

Preview 05:52

The opening line of your body copy has only two functions: one, deliver on the premise of your headline, and two, compel your reader to keep on reading. For this reason, writing a great opening line is just as tough as writing a great headline. But one shortcut to writing a great opening line is to open with a question. Take a look at these ads for Volkswagen to see what I mean.

Secret 14: If in doubt, ask a question

Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them, and sometimes it's an ad. One way to improve your copy is to make it more interesting to read. One way to make your copy more interesting to read is to use irony. One place you can be ironic is your opening line. When you make your opening line more interesting, you increase your chances that your reader will read all your copy, right to the end.

Secret 15: Start with irony
Strategic Body Copy
5 Lectures 26:45

When you sit down to write an advertisement, aim to say one thing. Stick to one idea. Don’t be like the advertisers who try to say dozens of things in one ad. Be like the ad agency that created these Volkswagen ads: say one thing.

Secret 16: Stick to one idea per ad

If you want prospective customers to read your copy all the way through, and not get confused along the way, you need to follow a simple, step-by-step script. I’m talking about a logical way to structure your sales pitch. When your prospective customers read your copy, they expect to read a sales pitch that is logical, and easy to follow. Like a good movie script, your sales copy needs to follow a logical structure. Here's how.

Secret 17: Follow a simple script

For every feature of your product, there are usually multiple benefits. Discover them all, rank them in order of their importance to buyers, and then spell them out in your copy, one after the other. The benefit of doing so is simple: people will buy your product.

Preview 04:50

Back in the 1960s, a car in the United States developed a reputation for being an “honest” car. The car was the Volkswagen Beetle, and its reputation for being an honest car was largely because of the advertising campaign that launched the car in North America. How did Volkswagen persuade people that their car was honest? With advertising that was filled, not with hype, but with proof. If you want people to trust your advertising, learn a lesson from Volkswagen.

Secret 19: Back all claims with proof

When you go to Amazon to buy a book or a blender, do you ever read the reviews? Most buyers do. Most buyers want to know what other people think of a product before they buy it. But the opposite phenomenon also happens. Some people will buy a product simply because others bought it. This phenomenon is known as “Social proof.” You can use social proof to your advantage in your advertising copy. 

Secret 20: Borrow credibility
How to Write Memorable Copy
7 Lectures 37:06

Anglers in Maine catch trout using dry flies with barbless hooks. Unless the anglers keep tension on the line all the way to the net, they lose the troutYour sales copy must do the same. You must keep your reader hooked all the end of your copy if you hope to land a sale. Learn how it's done.

Secret 21: Keep your reader reading

If your write an ad or brochure or sales letter that is factual and true, will prospective buyers believe every word you write? Not necessarily. Many people don’t believe what they read in advertisements. Many people don’t trust the claims made by manufacturers. So how can you help your readers to trust your copy? By being specific.

Secret 22: Build trust with specifics

If you’re like most copywriters, you want potential customers to trust your copy. You want them to find your copy compelling, interesting and, most of all, believable. If that’s the case, my recommendation to you is that you let an amateur write your copy for you. Don’t panic. What I’m talking about is including a testimonial in your copy. In the world of sales and marketing, a testimonial is a statement made by a satisfied user of a product or service. Testimonials make your copy more believable because they show potential buyers why your current customers are happy with your product. But testimonials only work if they meet two criteria. They must be specific, and they must be authentic. 

Preview 08:01

One of the hallmarks of a good copywriter is original copy. You know good copy when you read it because you’ve never read it before. Good copy is original. It says familiar things in unfamiliar ways. One way to be original is to use parallel structure in your copy. 

Secret 24: Use parallel structure

If you want people to take an interest in your copy, you have to make your copy interesting to read. One way to do that is to take a strong feature of your product and spin it into a theme. 

Secret 25: Spin your strongest feature into a theme

Clichés are the mark of a hack copywriter. But all copywriters think in clichés. If you’ve ever sat through a brainstorming session to create a headline or a slogan, you’ll know that clichés are the first things that everyone thinks of. But just because an expression has been beaten to death, excuse the cliché, that doesn’t mean you can’t use that cliché in your copy. The secret is to take that cliché and give it a tweak to make it original again.

Secret 26: Use original clichés

How can you get a prospective buyer to see things your way? By painting a picture with words. People are visual. They respond to images, pictures, colors and shapes better than they respond to words. So if you can create an image in the mind of your potential buyer, you are more likely to make sense, make your point, and make a sale.

Secret 27: Write in pictures
Your Ending, and Some Final Thoughts
3 Lectures 16:35

How you end your copy is almost as important as how you start it. What you say in your last line is almost as important as what you say in your first line. One way to finish your sales pitch is to come full circle back to the beginning of your copy. Let me show you what I mean.

Secret 28: Come full circle at the end

One primary goal of all your copy is to change people’s perceptions about your product. I realize that you and I write copy to sell products and services. That’s a given. But a great deal of what we write doesn’t lead to an immediate sale. Instead, it leads to a potential buyer seeing our brand in a different way. Since one goal of all copy is to change people’s thinking, your copy should end in a way that makes the reader think. What you say at the end of your copy should motivate prospects to think differently.

Secret 29: Give your buyer something to think about

What does good copy sound like? When you read a sentence or a paragraph or well-written copy, what does it sound like? To answer that question, look at some of the ads written during the 1960s and 1970s for Volkswagen. This ad campaign is considered the most successful ad campaign of all time. Let’s look at one of their ads to hear what good copy sounds like.

Secret 30: Write like a pro (a few words on style)
Bonus Lecture
1 Lecture 01:12

I want to give you a free special report for taking this course. The report is called, “101 Terrific Opening Lines for Your Direct Mail Sales Letters.” Simply visit www.sharpecopy.com/udemyreport to sign up for my weekly newsletter, and to get your free report.

I’d also like your advice. In what way was this course helpful to you? How should I improve this course? Let me know by writing a review. I want to know your opinion. Thanks.

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About the Instructor
Alan Sharpe
4.6 Average rating
662 Reviews
11,862 Students
2 Courses
Veteran direct response copywriter

Are you reading my bio because you want to improve your copywriting? Bonus. That makes two of us.

Are you looking for a copywriting coach who has written for Fortune 500 accounts (Apple, IBM, Hilton Hotels, Bell)? Check.

Do you want your copywriting instructor to have experience writing in multiple channels (print, online, direct mail, radio, television, outdoor, packaging, branding)? Groovy.

If you had your way, would your copy coach also be a guy who has allergic reactions to exclamation marks, who thinks honesty in advertising is not an oxymoron, and who believes the most important person in this paragraph is you? 

Take my courses.

I'm Alan Sharpe. Pleased to make your acquaintance. I'm a 27-year veteran copywriter who has been teaching people how to write persuasively since 1989.

Through my conference workshops, copywriting classes, telephone seminars, webinars, trade journal articles, newsletters, blog posts and in my many books, I have helped thousands of copywriters on four continents master the craft of persuading on paper and in pixels.

I taught myself the craft of advertising copywriting, and worked as a freelance copywriter as well as a senior copywriter for two advertising agencies. I sold everything from pump parts to utility trailers to digital video transmission systems and insurance services, working in every media. I even helped a client use direct mail to sell a coffee table book about Elvis Presley. Don't ask.

After working for a decade as a copywriter, I narrowed my focus to two specialties: writing direct mail letters for businesses, and fundraising letters for non-profits.

Now I'd like to help you write copy that gets noticed, gets read, and gets results. Let's get started.