How “friends with benefits” applies to copywriting


See how quickly people are moving these days? Nobody has time to read ads in depth.

You know the phrase, “friends with benefits?” Yeah, we’ve all been there (most of us, anyway).

The great thing about friends with benefits is that there’s always something in it for you without any kind of commitment. The same is true with writing.

“Benefits first” copywriting is nothing new…yet, there are times when this “benefits first” approach is ignored, at risk of disengaging a potential customer.

Here’s why “benefits first” is so important. Let’s say there’s a journalism course you’re interested in taking. And the course description is something like this…

Our expert faculty members at this very prestigious university have all worked for large-circulation daily newspapers and have many years of experience in the field. One of our faculty members is even friends with Barbara Walters! Don’t miss this amazing class! You will learn:

• the 5W’s of good writing and reporting
• the basics of good grammar and AP style
• interviewing techniques
• shorthand and much more.

Now, to some people, this might sound like a pretty decent course description.

For me, not so much. Here’s why:

  1. It’s nice that you pointed out “expert faculty,” but would you really hire someone at your prestigious university who wasn’t an expert? And if they are experts, isn’t it pretty clear they would have many years of experience in the field? If not, I wouldn’t be expecting them to teach this course.
  2. You can teach me all you want about the 5W’s, but what am I really going to get out of it? I’ve never taken a journalism course before, so the 5W’s means nothing. Tell me how you’re going to make me a stealthy reporter who will stop at nothing to get the story out quickly and accurately.
  3. The basics of good grammar and AP style. These are lifelines for journalists. I wouldn’t expect anyone to teach bad grammar or AP style.
  4. Interviewing techniques. This sounds good, but what am I really getting out of it? Tell me I’m going to learn how to ask the same question three different ways in case my source is tight-lipped on a controversial topic. Or, how I can get the information I need quickly from my sources when I’m working furiously on election night.
  5. Shorthand. Just tell me you’re going to teach me how to write at lightning speed, so that if I’m covering a murder trial and my iPhone battery dies, I’ll be able to quote the DA’s every word.

I’ve been guilty of writing descriptions or sales copy that sounds like this. Most of the time, it’s because the information I received just wasn’t enough to create a solid benefit. If you find yourself in this trap (and I do often), ask yourself– if you can’t come up with a good benefit, is it even worth promoting?

Just like friends with benefits, everyone wants to get something out of said promotion–otherwise, they’re going to disengage after reading the first sentence. After all, statistics show readers don’t commit–they bounce around online from one page to the next. Leave the features–like expert faculty, AP stylebooks, and other things–for the very end. Those items aren’t really “selling” the object at hand–they’re just providing a little something extra once the consumer has decided to buy what you’re selling.

And don’t confuse the reader with technical jargon or something that’s just completely out of scope for a newbie. Be realistic. Tell them how you’re going to change their careers or their lives, whether it’s by helping them learn a skill that will result in a promotion or saving their company tons of money. Whatever it is, they have to get something out of what you’re selling. And that’s the real benefit.






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