AIDA and 14 secret copywriting formulas

September 2, 2009 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: Copywriting Tips 

If you put 100 copywriters into a room and ask each for a copywriting formula, they would all pay homage to “AIDA,” but you’d ultimately get 100 different answers (and about 17 fist fights).

I don’t put a lot of faith in rigid formulas, since they are often of little use in writing copy. But they are quite good at analyzing copy after it is written.

So here is the famous AIDA copywriting formula and 14 lesser-known formulas.

AIDA — This is the best-known copywriting formula of all time. It stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. Every successful promotional message must attract Attention, arouse Interest, stimulate Desire, and present a compelling call for Action.

ACCA — Awareness, Comprehension, Conviction, Action. This is similar to AIDA, but “Comprehension” stresses the importance of clarity and understanding, which is vital for any persuasive message. Also, “Conviction” is much stronger than “Desire.” It suggests certainty.

Attention-Interest-Description-Persuasion-Proof-Close — This is another AIDA variation by Robert Collier. Intended for sales letters, it outlines what he thought was the correct sales sequence.

Interest-Desire-Conviction-Action — Yet another AIDA variation, this one from Earle A. Buckley.

AAPPA — The eminent Victor O. Schwab suggested a very commonsense and clear formula. Get Attention. Show people an Advantage. Prove it. Persuade people to grasp this advantage. Ask for action.

AIU — This is my own formula for envelopes. It stands for Attention, Interest, Urgency. Something about an envelope must get your attention, whether it’s teaser copy, graphics, or just blank paper. This should lead to interest in the contests and an urgency to open the envelope immediately.

PPPP — This is a formula by Henry Hoke, Sr. It stands for Picture, Promise, Prove, Push. In many ways, it’s easier to implement than AIDA because it shows you four specific tasks you must perform to make a sale. Picture: Get attention early and create a desire. Promise: Make a meaningful promise, describe benefits and what the item will do. Prove: Demonstrate the value and support your promise with testimonials. Push: Ask for the order.

Star-Chain-Hook — This is Frank Dignan’s charming and surprisingly fresh way to approach an advertising message. Hitch your wagon to a Star with an attention-getting opening that is positive and upbeat. Create a Chain of convincing facts, benefits, and reasons and transform attention into interest and interest into desire. Then, Hook them with a powerful call to action, making it easy to respond.

ABC Checklist — William Steinhardt’s formula is more detailed than most and very practical. Attain Attention, Bang out Benefits, Create verbal pictures, Describe success incidents, Endorse with testimonials, Feature special details, Gild with values, Honor claims with guarantees, Inject action in reader, Jell with postscript.

The String of Pearls — This is a particular method of writing copy. The idea is that you assemble details and string them together in a long line, one after another. Each “pearl” is complete in some way, but when you string them together, their persuasive power becomes overwhelming.

The Cluster of Diamonds — Similar to the String of Pearls, this formula suggests assembling a group of details under an umbrella concept. For example, an ad might have the headline “7 Reasons Why You’ll Save Money With XYZ.” The copy would then list these 7 reasons. Each detail is like a “diamond” in a gold setting.

The Fan Dancer — The analogy here is perfect, though a bit racy. The idea is to tantalize with specific details that never reveal any actual information. It’s like teaser copy or what one influential writer called “fascinations.” For example, let’s say you’re selling a book on reducing your taxes. Part of your copy might read: “The one secret way to pay zero taxes and get away with it — page 32. How the IRS uses your mailing label against you — page 122. Three clever ways to turn a vacation into a business tax deduction even if you don’t own a business — page 158.” As with a fan dancer, you’re left wanting more.

The Five-Point Formula – Jack Lacy offers this guideline often used for sales letters:
1. What will you do for me if I listen to your story?
2. How are you going to do this?
3. Who is responsible for the promises you make?
4. Who have you done this for?
5. What will it cost me?

The Nine-Point Formula — A detailed sales letter formula from Frank Egner:
1. Start with a headline (or first paragraph) to get attention and arouse desire.
2. Follow with an inspirational lead.
3. Give a clear definition of the product.
4. Tell a success story about the product.
5. Include testimonials and endorsements.
6. List special features.
7. Present a statement of value to the prospect.
8. Use specific and urgent action copy.
9. End with a postscript.

The Seven-Step Formula — This gem is from Bob Stone primarily for sales letters:
1. Promise your most important benefit in your headline or first paragraph.
2. Immediately enlarge upon your most important benefit.
3. Tell the reader specifically what he or she is going to get.
4. Back up your statements with proof and endorsements.
5. Tell the reader what might be lost if he or she doesn’t act.
6. Rephrase your prominent benefits in your closing.
7. Incite immediate action.

Related posts:

  1. What is the matrix? The secret tool for focused copywriting

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Smart Comments

24 Comments on AIDA and 14 secret copywriting formulas

  1. Chad Kettner on Sep 4th, 2009 8:30 pm
  2. Very cool article, Dean. Formulas are the bomb…as long as you don’t tie yourself to them completely when you write. No one formula will always outpull another. It’s all about knowing the correct copywriting theory and then creating a flow that fits with the product, target audience, and so forth. And that flow, of course, could be any of these formulas depending on the specifics.

  3. Dean Rieck on Sep 4th, 2009 8:34 pm
  4. Chad, you’re right. There is no universal formula. Thank goodness. We’d be out of work!

  5. Ted Grigg on Sep 5th, 2009 11:57 am
  6. Your article sparked the primary quality that separates the great direct response copywriters from the average ones. It revolves around the concept of creating desire or conviction.

    For example, a regional wireless telecommunications company performed a customer profile analysis of their customers discovering they had deeper penetration of the single mom market than their competitors. The reason for this probably related their very competitive pricing structure.

    The client wanted to attract more single moms by offering customized products.

    The copywriter did a great job of outlining the products benefits. But knowing the client had to penetrate more deeply into this market meant that they had to attract those single moms who did not own cell phones.

    I think the copywriter missed the breakthrough key by not coming up with powerful compelling reasons why the single mom needed to buy a cell phone to begin with. Research showed that single moms sacrificed other needs to buy cell phones because of security.

    It requires unusual talent to understand why someone buys the product in question in order to create the need.

    The great writer analyzes the purchase decision process knowing that buyers need an excuse to buy what they want to begin with.

    Thanks for such a comprehensive list that reminds us about the discipline that goes into great writing.

  7. Jay Craig on Sep 8th, 2009 8:46 am
  8. As always, the AIDA formula belongs at the top!
    Thanks, Dean

  9. Richard Dickerson on Sep 8th, 2009 10:02 am
  10. Great article Dean. Spot on about about the formulas. I appreciate the detail listing of the formulae. Well done!

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  11. Ben Hunt on Sep 8th, 2009 10:33 am
  12. Fantastic collection of tips, thank you. I’m working on bringing classic marketing wisdom deep into the web design fold, through exploring test & measure techniques in combination with quality copy, and can’t get enough of the old-timers’ proven wisdom. Kudos.

  13. Stan on Sep 8th, 2009 10:57 am
  14. 1. Dean, thanks for a great list.
    How about considering PDF-enabling of your blog posts?
    Would save me, and perhaps others, doing a copy, paste into Word.

    2. Will you be sending blog post notifications to people on your list?
    It’s how I found out about your blog.

  15. Dean Rieck on Sep 8th, 2009 11:12 am
  16. Stan, just subscribe by RSS and you’ll get notifications. But I don’t understand why you’d need to cut and paste anything into Word.

  17. Antti Kokkonen - on Sep 8th, 2009 11:49 am
  18. This will make a great reference for me — Let’s just say even AIDA was new to me as an acronym, even that I knew the concept — and I’m sure it’ll help others as well, so thanks again for the list.

  19. David McCauley on Sep 8th, 2009 6:01 pm
  20. In the 25+ years I have been involved with marketing, I have read/heard of most of the formulas. The different formulas work with different aspects of marketing (direct response, online marketing, sales letters, etc), but I think Michel Fortin said it best “Know your product, Know your audience, Know how to sell (i.e., how to connect the first two)” – everything else is just details.

    Btw Dean, I also save certain reference type articles, such as yours, in a word or pdf doc, mainly because it acts as a personal reference. When I have a need to reference something, it is a whole lot easier in my binder rather than try to remember what RSS feed or web favorite I saved it too.

    Thanks for the list!

  21. Dean Rieck on Sep 8th, 2009 6:18 pm
  22. I occasionally save information in doc files too, but it ends up just sitting there and I can never find what I need when I need it. I have WAY too much information I have to keep track of. Searching Google works best for me. Whatever works.

  23. Karri Flatla on Sep 16th, 2009 12:05 am
  24. Wow … some of these are totally new to me! I use a version of AIDA not so much as a rigid formula per se (breaking rules is fun), but as a checklist of sorts. Except I’ve always struggled with this grey area between “Interest” and “Desire.” It’s a tangled interplay that you can’t always neatly tease apart in your copy … Instead, I tend to check my copy by thinking of it this way:

    1) Did I get ATTENTION with a compelling headline/subheadline/etc.?
    2) Did I create immediate INTEREST / DESIRE through “relatable” copy, including benefits/results?
    3) Do I go into enough DETAIL so the prospect feels he/she can make an informed decision to take action? (Features, testimonials, etc.)
    4) Call to ACTION (did I tell my visitor exactly what to do next? Or do they have too many confusing choices to make?)

    Fab post that I will be bookmarking.

    .-= Karri Flatla’s last blog … Web Copywriting for Dummies: Be Interesting, Not Brilliant =-.

  25. Pat on Sep 24th, 2009 9:09 pm
  26. The quality of this blog is fantastic. I don’t remember your old blog being this good. Keep up the good work Dean!

  27. Dean Rieck on Sep 25th, 2009 9:37 am
  28. Thanks, Pat. Um. I think.

  29. Sonia Simone on Sep 29th, 2009 12:09 pm
  30. Creating a downloadable PDF of a killer reference like this isn’t a bad idea at all. With, of course, all of your contact information discreetly but clearly in place. :)

    Great series, bookmarked & tweeted, thanks for it!
    .-= Sonia Simone’s last blog … What Makes Marketing Hard? =-.

  31. Dean Rieck on Sep 29th, 2009 12:20 pm
  32. Thanks for the tweet, Sonia.

  33. Best Pro Copy Tips blog posts of 2009 on Dec 18th, 2009 1:03 am
  34. [...] AIDA and 14 secret copywriting formulas 117 tested advertising headlines that made money 30 copywriting blogs that are actually worth reading Cut research time in half with this copywriting checklist 9 copywriting “number tricks” to manipulate readers 7 ways to drive a copywriter stark raving mad Double your reading speed with this odd little trick 30 sales letter openers to kick start your sales pitch 187 marketing terms every copywriter should know [...]

  35. Tombee on Aug 9th, 2010 8:51 am
  36. When I was being taught to write copy for press ads, I was taught to “Tickle, Tell & Bounce.”
    Has a nice ring to it and it’s easier to remember than some of the other ‘formulas’ I’ve come across.

  37. Dean Rieck on Aug 9th, 2010 9:20 am
  38. Tombee,
    Can you give a short explanation of that formula?

  39. Olin Hyde on Oct 1st, 2010 11:16 am
  40. Authenticity has no formula and the formula that matters is more mathematical than linguistic: ROI. To get there requires writing about something that matters… which you do well… but the formulas do not.

    Thanks for the posting.

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    [...] (If the whole idea of copywriting formulas is new to you, you can find 15 of them here.) [...]