June 29, 2013What’s the catch?

“Don’t think about the skeleton. Whatever you do, don’t think about the skeleton.”

What are you thinking about? The skeleton. Why? Because I just told you not to. Thus neatly drawing your attention towards it.

It’s an iron law of copywriting. Whenever you mention it, they think about it. Consider the oldest, worst piece of copywriting in the world — the rhetorical device ‘why not’…

“Why not book a holiday today?”
“Because I’ve got no bleeding money, that’s why.”

“Why not top up your Oyster online?”
“Because it’s a pain in the arse, that’s why.”

“If you like our shop, why not sign up to our mailing list?”
“Because you’ll bombard me with spam, that’s why.”


If you don’t want to draw their attention to it, don’t say it.

Don’t mention it. Don’t make them think about it.

So it was with great amusement that I read this terrible sales letter from my local estate agent.


“There’s no catch!!!” it screams from one headline. Immediately I’m thinking — what’s the catch?


“Our offer may sound too good to be true…”

It’s a horrible, trite, hackneyed piece of copy. I’d say someone in the marketing department was astute enough to make a witticism: “Foxton’s is opening up a new branch in Hackney – let’s make the copy hackneyed!” but that would be giving them too much credit.

But never mind the cliche. Sometimes cliche can work. They’re making an even more fundamental mistake. Pointing attention to your trustworthiness in this negative way (“there’s no catch!!!” “too good to be true!!!”) immediately makes me think there is a catch, and you’re fundamentally untrustworthy for this amateur attempt at sleight-of-hand. Even if your offer is 100% genuine, you’ve made me think it’s not. This is copywriting at its very worst.

Don’t think about the skeleton. Don’t think about the catch.

The first chapter of my book, Think Like A Copywriter, explains why this is bad copy and how it gets written by amateurs. When an amateur first starts writing copy, they go with what they’re most familiar with, thinking that because they see it everywhere, it must automatically work.

The classic example is putting the word “just” before an overinflated price. “Slice of pizza ‘just’ £3.99”.

It’s easy to see how it happens. The owner of the pizza stall has seen the word “just” in front of prices everywhere, knows that the average price of a whole pizza is way lower than his overpriced slice, so he inserts the word “just” in front of the price — drawing attention to its ridiculousness.

Don’t think of the skeleton. Don’t think of the catch. “Just” £3.99 for a slice of pizza. Yeah, right.

It’s easy to start writing copy — forget everything you’ve learned. Bad copy is everywhere and you’ll have certainly picked up bad habits over the course of your life.

But Foxtons’ sales letter is a classic example of what happens when you let salesmen, who are used to speaking from sales script and talking business bollocks write your copy.

If you can’t write good copy, hire a copywriter instead.

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