Are You Trying to Be Creative? I Hope Not. Direct Response Copywriter on Preparation (Part 4)

Outside and inside the advertising world, we’re all supposed to be creative.


I guess, as a direct response copywriter, I’m supposed to be ‘a creative’ type. But most of the time, I want to avoid being creative.

On my desk sits Denny Hatch’s book, Million Dollar Mailings, which details some of the most successful direct mail campaigns of all time. It's not a book, it's a tome and if I dropped it from my office window, you could measure the impact on The Richter Scale.

Please tell me why I would NOT want to emulate the campaigns in the book. And yes--they were mailings and most of my work is digital but the fundamentals are the same for all direct response copywriters.

I rarely work on marketing for local small businesses but I will if I know and like the product/service/owner(s). I’m helping a local restaurant build a database and we’re using the oldest trick in the book: FREE dinner on (or near) your birthday. We’ve got 289 opt in emails in six weeks and the redemption on the free dinner is at 42%. And each birthday boy or birthday girl brings an average of 4.2 people with them and they usually drink like fish.

The promotion also brings new people to the restaurant. BOOYAH!

Not exactly creative, though. Just a tried and tested irresistible offer.

When you prepare a campaign, look around for what’s worked before and what’s working now. Look at your competitors. Ignore any prizes they’re winning for creativity. Look at their results. Several web-based tools let you spy (legally) on your competitors.

There is no rule saying you can’t use what’s worked before. You can’t plagiarize copy, etc. but you can use what’s worked before; the list of highly successful direct response copywriters who have simply used the techniques of their predecessors is long...

Here’s a little secret. If you set out trying to be creative, two things are going to happen.

  1. You’ll lose sight of the goal—which is to generate a response.
  2. You’ll create something that’s vapid. You might win a prize. But your client will be asking, "show me the money" and there won't be any.


When I start by following the proven principles of direct response copywriting, the creative juices kick in and I can add some creative flair. And the response is solid or above.

This just in...the person reading the copy doesn't care about creativity. They want a solution to their problem or they want to become:

  • Younger
  • Wealthier
  • Safer
  • Happier
  • Slimmer
  • Better at golf

And so on...


I'm a direct response copywriter based in Charlotte, North Carolina. I specialize in providing copy and content for the direct marketing environment for clients around the world. I increasingly specialize in sales pages and landing pages. Enter your info to the right for my free series: Seven Steps to High Converting Copy. Or contact me here.