The Copywriting Dilemma: Originality Versus Swipe Files
By 5pm today, you’ve got to write five headlines, two eblasts and one sales letter, then revise a website. You’ve also got to research (definitely), eat (maybe), drink coffee (for sure) and visit the restroom (depends on how much coffee).
Today’s copywriter has less time and more responsibilities than ever. And with conversion measurement more advanced than ever, you have more tools at your disposal. And more pressure to convert.
Enter the swipe files.
Wait. Cue the theme music to “Jaws.”
The swipe file is becoming more commonplace among today’s copywriting toolset because, let’s face it, they’re more easily accessible. And they’re being shared like herpes. Sorry. (Foreshadowing.)
Swipe files aren’t some new phenomenon, of course.
David Ogilvy had his swipe files. Words like:
He also started every single headline (almost) with “How to…” which I dissected in this blog and an article for KISSmetrics. Hurray for me.
The list of ad gurus and their go-to copywriting conversion tools goes on and on.
- David Garfinkel still sells a helluva lot of his book, “Advertising Headlines that Make You Rich.” Swipe files in a book.
- John Carlton offers free swipe files on his website. (Ironically, he also laments seeing ads online that look EXACTLY like his. This he admitted in a recent Perry Marshall webinar.)
- Perry Marshall — god of AdWords — has his Swiss Army Knife series.
- Gary Halbert — god of direct mail — had his writing tricks and tactics.
- Dan Kennedy — god of info-marketing copy — offers swipe files and proven formulas for conversion.
Pray to them. Print them. Save them. Learn them.
Do not steal from them.
This is not an article on ethics. At least, not when it comes to thievery. Do what you want. You wear big boy and big girl pants.
This is an article on ethics when it comes to servicing your clients to the best of your ability.
Someone is paying you a good chunk of change to help their brand stand out in the marketplace. That brand is nothing like David Ogilvy’s clients. Or Gary Halbert’s clients. Or Dan Kennedy’s clients.
What makes people stand up and take notice may not have changed in decades: words like “new,” “advanced” and “hurry.” We’re lemmings. But here is my point:
[Tweet “If you must use swipe files, your client’s brand must be the hero.”]
Better yet, start with your client’s brand before you ever look at a swipe file. Start with the problem. Find a big idea. Then, if you must, implement whatever swipe file you want.
How do I write? I’m sure I have my go-to lines and staccato delivery. But damn if I don’t research the heck out of my clients’ brands, target audience and competition and just start writing. What comes out, come out.
“There is nothing to writing. Just sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
I choose originality over swipe files every day of the week. If you don’t, you will become a charlatan at your weakest moments.
Chad, don’t you dare.
I’ve seen it.
It’s 12:03 am and you’ve got a life-changing pitch the next day. Wait, it’s past midnight. IT’S TODAY!! You’re tired. You’re angry. You miss your family.
What do you do?
If your originality muscles are good and trained, you gut it out.
If you have a stack of swipe files on your desk, you cheat your client.
Yes, I pore through Communication Arts and David Garfinkel and Gerry Graf daily for inspiration. But when it comes time to write, it’s just me, my client’s brand and the great white page.
Brilliance doesn’t always come. But that’s why God invented A/B testing.
[Tweet “Swipe files make you lazy. Originality makes you rich.”]
Note: “Rich” doesn’t always mean gobs of money. Boom. Ethics ninja just got ya.