A Dictionary of Common Copywriting Terms
If you’ve scratched your head wondering whether there were dirty secrets behind copywriting jargon such as “Johnson box,” “bangtail,” “greek,” and “knock-out type,” you’ve come to the right place for enlightenment. (Though you might be disappointed to discover that they have rather pedestrian and un-sexy meanings.)
Here you’ll find brief definitions of commonly used terms among writers, designers, creative directors, advertising folk and other people who create, or manage the creation of, marketing materials.
What we’re supposed to establish in our communications. Fake this and you’ve got it made!
One of the goals of brand advertising, as brand advertising doesn’t solicit immediate, direct sales, but intends to form favorable impressions that will (hopefully) motivate the consumer to seek out and buy the advertiser’s product or service.
On a return envelope, the slip of paper between the envelope’s back and the adhesive flap. Since the envelope cannot be sealed without removing the bangtail, it is certainly seen by the prospect and almost certainly read, hence its significance for marketers.
What your product or service actually does for your customer. Benefits are the crucial “what’s-in-it-for-them” that must form the core of your marketing message.
A way to disguise direct mail as ordinary correspondence to increase the likelihood that it will be opened. The typical blind envelope is sent without a teaser (see “teaser” below”), without a company name or logo in the return address, but with an ordinary first-class stamp (as opposed to metered mail).
The text of a given piece of copy, as opposed to other written elements such as headlines, subheads, captions, etc.
In the Old West, cattle ranchers seared their mark, the brand, onto the hides of bulls and cows. Today, a brand is the sum of the ideas, feelings, thoughts, and experiences of and/or about a company or organization seared onto the consumer’s brain. Different worlds, different goals, but a lot of the bull still remains.
The art/science/black magic of making a brand. Do not confuse the creation of a logo, which is the graphic representation of the symbol of the brand, with branding, which encompasses an enormous range of messages and experiences.
Business Reply Card, a pre-paid and pre-addressed postcard the prospect returns in response to a direct mail campaign.
Business Reply Envelope. Like the BRC, it’s prepaid and preaddressed. Although it’s more expensive to produce and fulfill, the BRE ensures greater privacy (for things such as credit card numbers) and can support a larger, more complicated response form.
A brief selection of copy that is deliberately designed (often within a “box” or with different type) to stand apart from the main body of text and draw attention to a special point, such as a sale, free shipping, or an important feature.
call to action
The written equivalent of the sales close, the call to action incites the prospect to take a specific action in exchange for a specific offer. While it’s one of the most important elements of a marketing piece, it’s also frequently neglected and/or insufficiently considered.
Printed material — such as brochures, pamphlets and sales sheets — created to provide information and support sales.
A visual mock-up of a set of concepts or work in progress used to either sell or present ideas to the client.
In advertising/marketing lingo, the “big idea” behind a given marketing element or campaign.
Material, such as ebooks, blog posts, newsletters, podcasts, videos, etc., that prospects might actually want to read, as opposed to marketing impositions (such as broadcast commercials, print ads, junk mail) that are frequently perceived as annoying interruptions.
The written word. All the writing found in ads, direct mail, brochures, Web sites and other marketing materials.
In an agency, the document that paints the target the copywriter must hit. Good briefs define the objectives, articulate the strategy, illustrate the intended audience, outline a number of “points” the writer must include, and lists items of evidence the writer can use to make a persuasive case.
The art/science/craft of writing copy. Not to be confused with “copyrighting,” which concerns the legal rights and obligations of intellectual property.
No, this isn’t a pervert stalking the aisles of The Body Shop. It’s a graphic element, such as a starburst or button, that deliberately “violates” the design harmony of a piece in order to draw attention to its message, i.e., “Sale ends March 31!” or “Free overnight delivery!”
The physical product of a marketing/advertising campaign or project, such as an ad, a press release, a TV commercial or a Web site.
A mailing piece with some heft and immediate visual presence, such as a box or tube, that often contains a gift or premium for the recipient. While dimensionals are expensive to produce and mail, they can be the most cost-effective way to reach difficult audiences, such as C-level executives or very wealthy consumers. Also known as “lumpy mail.”
direct marketing or direct response marketing
Marketing that aims for an immediate action, response or sale (as opposed to “awareness”) from its intended audience, who are often directly targeted through personalized communications (such as mail or e-mail). David Ogilvy considered direct his “secret weapon,” though most mainstream agencies still regard direct as a bastard step-child of “real” brand advertising — you know, the kind that wins awards, regardless of its actual effectiveness.
What bottom-feeding clients offer to writers in lieu of actual money, i.e., “We can’t pay you much