Sharpen your writing skills with the stopwatch challenge

November 22, 2010 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: Copywriting Tips 

copywriting stopwatch challengeMost people who gravitate toward copywriting love words. Dishing up lots of them is relatively easy. The real challenge is editing to achieve a tighter and more lively style.

So if your writing has become bloated and sluggish, perhaps what you need is a little challenge to trim the fat and energize your selling copy.

The exercise I have in mind is based on radio advertising and will challenge you to write a complete, action-inducing sales pitch that can be spoken aloud in 60 seconds.

I have a background in writing radio advertising. And I got the idea for this challenge while writing radio ads for several products. It occurred to me that while this form of writing uses few words, it takes incredible discipline to make those words sell.

This is especially true when you realize that the words are fleeting. Unlike print advertising, your target audience cannot go back and review the copy. They have to hear it, understand it, and respond to it after just 60 seconds.

As a former announcer and commercial producer for radio and TV, writing short ad scripts comes naturally. But it’s not a common assignment for copywriters, so you may find this to be harder than it looks.

There are many ways to structure a radio ad, but the simplest, and often most effective, is an announcer speaking directly to the listener with no music or sound effects.

While radio ads can be produced in various lengths, 60 seconds is traditionally the time allotted to a single commercial. It’s also about as short as you can get if you intend to grab someone’s attention, describe a product or service, present a call to action, and expect to get a measurable response.

This isn’t a lesson in radio ad writing, so we won’t get into specifics about the medium.

First let’s look at a script for a 60-second radio ad. It’s for a weight loss product. The primary demographic is women, 18 to 49, middle to upper middle income. The product here is fictional, but typical.

Announcer:
Ladies, throw away those do-nothing diet pills! Now there’s a proven way to lose weight fast.

It’s called Fat Buster and it can give you visible results in 20 days! Guaranteed.

The trouble with weight loss pills is that they only do part of the job. Sure, they might block fat, but what about the fat you already have? And what about the carbs that turn into fat?

Fat Buster is a great-tasting chocolate shake that delivers a complete “fat attack formula.” It burns and blocks both fat and carbs 24 hours a day … while you work and while you sleep.

Testimonial:
Fat Buster is amazing. I lost 19 pounds in 2 weeks!

Announcer:
Fat Buster is so effective, you’re guaranteed to see visible results in 20 days or your money back

But if you’re not convinced, try it FREE! Just call in the next 20 minutes and we’ll give you a one-month supply of Fat Buster FREE. No strings. No obligation.

Hurry! To get your free sample of Fat Buster, call 1-800-123-4567. That’s 1-800-123-4567. 1-800-123-4567.

Okay, that might sound a little too promotional to you. Or the product might not be appealing. But this is just an example to get you started.

Notice that the structure of the ad includes elements of other forms of ad writing. The first line or two function as the headline. The copy identifies a problem, presents a solution, and makes a dramatic promise. There is a guarantee and a testimonial to enhance credibility. And of course there’s a compelling offer and a call to action.

You don’t have to follow this structure exactly, but I can tell you that it’s a highly effective way to formulate a radio ad. The overall idea of the exercise is to balance the amount and strength of your sales pitch with the strict 60-second time allotment.

You must read it aloud with a stopwatch in hand and not go even a fraction over 60 seconds. If you do, you have to rewrite and edit until the script reads just shy of the 60-second mark. Technically, you’re shooting for 58.5 seconds.

If you don’t have an actual stopwatch, just use a clock with a second hand. On Windows, you can double click on the time in the lower right hand of your screen, and the date and time window will pop up, giving you a handy on-screen clock.

Where will you get your product ideas? Anywhere you like. Choose a product you use. Google a product that interests you . Look through a catalog or take an idea from a TV commercial. Real or fictional. Funny or serious. It’s up to you.

The only rules are:

  • It must be a complete sales pitch with a specific call to action.
  • You must be able to read it aloud in about 60 seconds. No more or less. And no speed reading. Read with enthusiasm, but at a natural pace.
  • You must pretend that real money is riding on your copy. People will respond or they won’t based on hearing your pitch once.

If you’re used to writing long sales pages or print marketing materials, you’ll probably find that you have dozens of benefits or features you want to talk about, but simply won’t have time for. So it forces you to get to the point, write lean, and choose your ideas and words carefully.

I’m obviously not suggesting that you use this as the pattern for all your copywriting. Length, tone, and structure differ from product to product and medium to medium. Just consider it a nifty little exercise to hone your skills and beef up your wordsmithing muscles.

Feel free to share your ad and what you learned.

Related posts:

  1. Take the Duluth catalog copywriting challenge
  2. The OTHER skills you need to be a great copywriter

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Smart Comments

4 Comments on Sharpen your writing skills with the stopwatch challenge

  1. Tombee on Nov 24th, 2010 10:22 am
  2. A 60 second radio ad?! LOL – I wish…

    You guys must have it easy in America. I write a lot of radio, and I’m lucky if I’m given 30 seconds, and in that I have to fit everything; creative idea, call to action, phone numbers – everything! Normally, I only get around 20 seconds.

    Man – 60 seconds… what I could do with a whole 60 seconds.

    You guys are spoilt.

  3. Dean Rieck on Nov 24th, 2010 11:13 am
  4. Tombee,
    Are you saying you do 30-second direct response ads? 30s are typical for ordinary “awareness” ads, but not for real direct response … as in generating phone or web orders directly from the ad … which are generally 60 seconds.

  5. Tombee on Nov 25th, 2010 8:23 am
  6. Good point. The direct response part isn’t usually the main thrust of the stuff I do.

  7. Luis Perez on Dec 23rd, 2011 11:48 pm
  8. If you don’t have a stopwatch handy you can always use an online stopwatch like http://ipadstopwatch.com