What Is Direct Response Copywriting?

What Is Direct Response Copywriting?

by | Jan 31, 2023 | Copywriting

Direct response copywriting is the antithesis of the ad copywriting you see on TV. Those TV copywriters are focused on a long-term game.

They want you to remember their product if or when you see it on supermarket shelves.

In contrast, direct-response copywriting focuses on the immediate moment. This is copy that’s about inspiring the buyer to take action as soon as they’re finished reading. It can be an important tool to improve conversion rates on landing pages, blogs, and other types of content.

With direct response copywriting, you’re trying to get them to complete an action like:

  • Making a purchase
  • Signing up for your newsletter
  • Downloading a freebie
  • Following you on social media

To do this, you must craft copy that tugs at your reader’s emotions and, most importantly, addresses their worries, fears, pain points, or immediate needs.

  Direct Cta

The Art of Deeply Understanding Your Reader

Renowned copywriter David Ogilvy is perhaps the best-known direct response copywriter. In fact, he is frequently called the father of modern advertising.

Ogilvy headed up incredibly successful and memorable campaigns for some of the top brands in the 1950s and ‘60s, including American Express, Rolls Royce, Hathaway, Shell, Dove, and others.

Ogilvy understood that the most effective direct response copy isn’t just directed at your target audience – it speaks to them on a personal level.

The combination of this deep understanding and direct, personal approach is the engine that runs this form of copywriting.

X Direct Response Copywriting Takeaways from Real-World Examples

How do you write great direct response copy? There are a few key principles you must follow:

  • Write a powerful, compelling headline
  • Use long-form copy
  • Add an irresistible CTA
  • Stay customer focused
  • Follow K.I.S.S. principles
  • Cultivate a sense of urgency

To understand these principles better, we will look at a handful of real-world examples

1. A Great Headline Snags Your Readers

The first and most important principle of direct response copywriting is to craft a powerful, compelling headline. Your headline should snag your reader’s attention and entice them to keep reading.

A recent study by Microsoft showed that the average human attention span has dropped to just 8 seconds. With such limited time, crafting the perfect headline is even more important.

The right headline sparks their interest and encourages them to continue reading, helping you overcome that 8-second barrier.

Here is a classic example from none other than David Ogilvy:

“At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.”

Ogilvy described this headline as the best he ever wrote. This headline was so effective, other world-class companies like Shell specifically requested Ogilvy for their campaigns and wouldn’t settle until he agreed. They refused to even consider another copywriter.

Why is this headline so effective? It follows the proven headline formula:

  • The benefit is cleverly hidden within the headline. It’s not stated but implied. When you’re driving 60 mph on the highway in this car, it’s so quiet, you’ll only hear the clock.
  • It’s simple and to the point. It doesn’t use any hyperbole or fluff to pad it out. It only states facts.
  • It states something exciting and provocative. When this ad came out, most cars had loud and obnoxious engines. Readers might think, “I would love to enjoy a quiet highway drive.”
  • It’s useful information. For anyone looking to buy a new car like this, the headline offers helpful information – it’s quiet.
  • It sparks curiosity. The headline makes the reader want to learn more. What kind of car is this? How can it be so quiet? What else can it do?

Headlines are crucial because they convince someone to read everything else. You must write a headline that makes readers want to know more. This is the keystone of writing direct response copy.

2. Long-Form Copy Informs, Persuades, and Convinces 

Most direct response copywriting is long form.

Why is this?

To be more persuasive, you need to give the reader a lot of information. It is easier to convince someone to buy something with an entire page’s worth of information than a couple of sentences.

To quote Davie Ogilvy again, “The more you tell, the more you sell.”

The more information you can give your reader, the more likely they will want to follow up on the desired action.

For a good example, let’s look at this sales page for Adobe Photoshop:

Photoshop Headline

It starts out with a solid headline – Everyone can. Photoshop. This plays on the prevalence of Photoshop in today’s world. The brand name has practically turned into a verb.

Along with the headline, there is some compelling introductory copy and an eye-catching animation.

Keep scrolling down the page, and you’ll see real-world examples of how professionals use Photoshop today to make their visuals more powerful.Photoshop Example

Near the middle of the page, Adobe offers a captivating CTA in the form of a quiz.

Photoshop Cta

The page continues with a how-to section with links to learn more, highlights of the latest new features and improvements, and then a selection of frequently asked questions.

There’s a lot of copy of this page, but it’s all useful, informative, and persuasive. It helps you make that purchase decision.

Most importantly, it keeps you scrolling, learning about each feature, and then entices you to click “Buy now.”

Photoshop Buy Now

If the only copy on this page was the first paragraph, it becomes a lot less convincing. There isn’t enough information to help you decide if you want to buy the product.

Beyond this visual example, there is data to back up the case for long-form copy. Conversion Rate Experts ran a case study for Crazy Egg that compared a short vs. long landing page.

In the case study, they compared the original “control” landing page to a new page nearly 20 times longer.

They ran an A/B split test to gauge which page had a higher conversion rate. The results: the long-form content outperformed the short page by 30%.

These results make sense. With more information, customers feel more confident with their purchase and feel like they’re making a better, smarter decision.

Another consideration is the price of what you’re selling. If you have a landing page promoting a free case study, a short page is likely all you need.

However, the more expensive a product is, the longer your page should be. In the above example, Crazy Egg’s heat mapping service costs as much as $249 per month.

The key to producing long-form direct response copy is keeping your copy engaging. Long, boring content will quickly lose your readers’ interest no matter how good what you’re selling is.

3. An Irresistible CTA Clinches the Response You Want 

Without a call to action (CTA), all the copy you created to inform, persuade, and convince your readers will be useless.

Think of this call as your battle cry. It inspires your readers to act now and do exactly what you want them to do.

Here is a good example of a motivating CTA for the streaming service Hulu.

Hulu Cta

Hulu has an eye-catching homepage that showcases dimmed images of some of their most popular shows. The bold green text overlay tells customers they can bundle Hulu with other streaming services to save money.

The word “get” inspires direct and immediate action, which is the hallmark of a good CTA. Notice how Hulu highlights the high-value offer with the large green, mouse-activated button. Those who want to sign up for only Hulu have to look for the less noticeable, white “Sign up for Hulu only” link.

So why is this CTA effective? It implies visitors are getting a good deal by choosing a bundle. Instead of a simple sign-up button, Hulu uses the “Get the Disney Bundle” message and emphasizes value to encourage visitors to sign up for the bundle.

Hulu’s copywriters made the CTA actionable, concrete, and persuasive – three things you must have to push your reader into the direct response you want your copy to produce.

4. Staying Customer-Focused Keeps Your Copy Relevant

Direct-response copywriting needs to stay relevant for the audience/reader to deliver the results you want. It’s about your customers, not about you.

This form of copywriting exclusively uses the second-person voice to address the reader. It’s focused on “you.”

Here is an example from HubSpot’s homepage that highlights how their CRM platform can help “you.”Hubspot Second Person

In this copy, HubSpot is talking about what it offers the reader/prospect. It is not strictly about how great HubSpot is.

Many well-meaning businesses make this mistake. They make their direct response copy about them when it should be all about their customers.

To make your copy focused squarely on your customers, you must understand their wants, needs, and preferences.

Here are a few concrete steps to help you get to know your target audience:

  • Gather data on your current customers and look for similarities
  • Include social media data
  • Look at your competitors’ customers
  • Define your specific product/service value
  • Write a target market statement

5. K.I.S.S. Ensures You Don’t Go Over Their Heads

If your customers can’t understand your copy, you’ve failed. To inspire direct action from your words, you must write at their level – not over it, and not under it.

Think of it this way: The more readable and understandable your copy is, the more people you can guide toward your desired action.

Don’t speak to your audience like they’re first graders, but don’t make your copy unnecessarily complicated, either.

There are a few ways to make your copy readable:

  • Abide by the I.S.S. principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid)
  • Use tools that grade your copy’s readability and edit as necessary

Use K.I.S.S.

The U.S. Navy originally created the K.I.S.S. principle in 1960 for its designers, but you can apply it to your copy and nearly anything else.

According to Forbes, this means you should:

  • Keep your content clear and straightforward. It can be tempting to move towards witty writing. However, not everyone has the same sense of humor. What is funny and clever to you might come across as trivial or even confusing to your readers. Clarity should always win out over comedy.
  • Skip the jargon. Every industry and business has its own “shop talk” and jargon. While you might use these words with your business partners, avoid using these words in your copy. You risk alienating your potential customers if you use this unfamiliar or complicated language. Stick with plain language that clearly conveys your message.
  • Avoid over-explaining. No one wants to read through pages of unnecessary information to get to the point. Most will give up before it comes to that. Keep your explanations of your products and services concise and well-rounded. Tell customers how it solves their pain points and what other people think of it.
  • Present trustworthy content. Your customers want guidance. Present content that’s well-researched, cites reputable sources, and presents facts and statistics to show you can be trusted.

Use Readability Checkers

A good readability checker gives you a quick glance at how easy your copy is to read.

Most checkers base their scores on the Flesch-Kinkaid Reading Ease formula. This formula determines the readability of a piece of text by looking at the ratio of words to syllables to sentences.

There are two basic scores you that come from the formula: a readability score and a grade level (i.e., the minimum grade level knowledge a person needs to understand the text).

The readability score is scaled from 0-100 (hardest to easiest). The higher the readability score, the lower the grade level that can understand it.

Here are some readability checkers you can use to test how easy your copy is to read:

For an example of incredibly simple and readable direct response copy, let’s look at the Band-Aid brand home page:

Band Aid Readability

When we plug this copy into the Hemingway App, it earns a “Grade 6” score for readability. It’s so simple, nearly anyone will understand it:

Band Aid Hemingway

Also noteworthy: 0 sentences are “hard to read” or “very hard to read.”

We can also test the readability of the entire page by plugging it into WebFX’s Readability Test:

Band Aid Webfx Readability

The page will be “easily understood by 11 to 12-year-olds.” The demographic for this website would be adults, so anyone in Band-Aid’s target audience should have no problems reading its website.

6. Cultivating a Sense of Urgency Makes Direct Customer Action Inevitable 

The final piece of the direct response copywriting puzzle is urgency.

For a great example of cultivating urgency in your copy, we will look at the product page for the Apple Watch Ultra. The page starts with a bold headline of “Adventure awaits.”

Apple Watch Ultra

If you are interested in an Apple Watch, you might read this headline and wonder, “How can this watch improve my adventures?” As you scroll down the page, you learn about some of its adventure-ready features:

Apple Watch Ultra Adventure Ready

As you continue to scroll, the features keep adding up. This is what builds anticipation. You might start thinking, “What can’t this watch do?”Apple Watch Ultra Retina DisplayApple Watch Ultra Ready For Action

As the benefits pile up, you may feel more excited about the watch. It’s an irresistible build-up that will inevitably convince at least some potential customers to add the Apple Watch to their cart.

What’s another way to create urgency? Use the scarcity principle. The scarcity principle taps into a basic instinct – the fear of missing out. When you use this principle in your direct response copywriting, you encourage customers to purchase an item or sign up for a service before it’s gone.

You’ve likely noticed this phenomenon in your online shopping. Urgency is usually triggered by key phrases, including:

  • Hurry – While supplies last!
  • Only 3 left in stock
  • Limited quantities available

Amazon does an excellent job of adding urgency and scarcity to many of its products:

Scarcity On Amazon

In this example, Amazon has a countdown for delivery and a description that says only two are left in stock. If you are considering this product, this emphasis on urgency and scarcity might encourage you to quickly click “Add to Cart” or “Buy Now.”

Make Direct Response Marketing Work for You in Your Copy

Direct response copywriting is a tried-and-true method to compel readers to act, whether it’s on your sales page, landing page, blog, email, or any other piece of content.

The compelling examples we included above can help you make your copywriting even more effective.

To learn even more about direct response copywriting and its powerful effects, read this blog from CoSchedule that explores how junk mail uses direct response techniques and how you can use those principles in your marketing.

Looking for a Direct Response Copywriter?

If you need a direct response copywriter who can inspire the customer actions you need, you’ve come to the right place.

Here at Express Writers, our talented team of expert writers can craft compelling direct response copy that gets results. See what we can do for you and check out the possibilities for web pages, email marketing, and expert blogs.

Ready to get started? Contact Express Writers today to put your direct response plan into action.

Direct Actual Cta