The 17 Copywriting Axioms of Joseph Sugarman

Who is Joseph Sugarman?

Well, he’s considered one of the best copywriters of all time. He’s up there with David Ogilvy, Eugene Schwartz, and John Caples. He’s the real deal.

And he happened to write a book on copywriting that has become a classic. It’s easily one of the top 5 books on copywriting.

In Advertising Secrets of the Written Word, he breaks down his approach to copy so that you can replicate it. Within the book, he includes 17 axioms of copywriting. To write copy as persuasive as Sugarman’s, this is where you want to start.

I’ve gone ahead and copied each of his axioms here.

So if you want to write better copy that gets you more customers, I’d staple these to the wall behind your desk:

1. Copywriting is a mental process the successful execution of which reflects the sum total of all your experiences, your specific knowledge and your ability to mentally process that information and transfer it onto a sheet of paper for the purpose of selling a product or service.

This is Sugarman’s definition of copywriting. Basically, it’s the process of putting your knowledge and experience in writing in order to sell a product or service.

2. All the elements in an advertisement are primarily designed to do one thing and one thing only: get you to read the first sentence of the copy.

Your entire ad is designed to do one thing: get people to read the first sentence. This is why people include giant, bold headlines. If you can’t get people to start reading your ad, you’ll never persuade them to buy from you. Never design an ad that distracts people from reading the first sentence.

3. The sole purpose of the first sentence in an advertisement is to get you to read the second sentence of the copy.

There’s a lot of formulas out there on how to write headlines and start your copy. But at the end of the day, all it really needs to do is to get people to keep reading. Grab people’s attention with the first sentence and set the stage so that they’ll want to keep reading.

4. Your ad layout and the first few paragraphs of your ad must create the buying environment most conducive to the sale of your product or service.

As you get people to start reading your copy, the next goal is to create what Sugarman calls a “buying environment.” This includes the copy, the layout, design, everything in your ad. The rest of these axioms will help you create that buying environment.

5. Get the reader to say yes and harmonize with your accurate and truthful statements while reading the copy.

As people read your copy, they should say yes to each of your statements. All of your claims should resonate deeply with them. The goal is to write from their point of view so that they get the feeling that you know exactly what they’re going through. This is only possible when you put in the time to deeply understand your customers. The easiest way to do this is by talking to them in person and asking them about their problems.

6. Your readers should be so compelled to read your copy that they cannot stop reading until they read all of it as if sliding down a slippery slope.

Your copy needs to be so compelling that people can’t stop reading. Do this by leading with a personal story, give hints about what’s coming later, or not completing answering a question. Give people a reason to want to keep reading.

7. When trying to solve problems, don’t assume constraints that aren’t really there.

When writing copy, none of us know what will truly work. The only way to find the best solution is to try different approaches. So experiment with your copy and make sure you can measure it to see which versions work the best.

8. Keep the copy interesting and the reader interested through the power of curiosity.

By building curiosity in your copy, you’ll easily get people to keep reading. Sugarman relies heavily on curiosity to keep people reading and it can be a very powerful tool. But make sure you’re using curiosity to attract the right kind of customers for your business. Using massive amounts of curiosity will get you plenty of attention but it won’t do you any good if it doesn’t produce valuable customers.

9. Never sell a product or service, sell a concept.

The benefit of the product is far more important than the product itself. So pay close attention to your positioning and unique selling proposition.

10. The incubation process is the power of your subconscious mind to use all your knowledge and experience to solve a specific problem, and its efficiency is dictated by time, creative orientation, environment and ego.

After you’ve put together all of your notes and done your customer research, take a break. This will give your subconscious time to work through the problem and come up with the best approach for your copy. When you’re ready to start writing, let the copy pour out of you. Don’t worry about grammar or anything else. Your job is to get everything that’s in your head on paper. Editing comes later.

11. Copy should be long enough to cause the reader to take the action that you request.

If you need long copy in order to sell effectively, use long copy. Some products don’t need long copy like a bottle of Coca-Cola. All people need to know is where they can get it, that it’s cold, and the price. But other products will need to take people through an entire sales process before anyone will be willing to buy. Use as much copy as you need in order to make the sale.

12. Every communication should be a personal one, from the writer to the recipient, regardless of the medium used.

Your copy should be in the first-person. We don’t connect with amorphous “brands.” We connect with people. Make your copy personal so that readers feel like it was written directly to them from someone else.

13. The ideas presented in your copy should flow in a logical fashion, anticipating your prospect’s questions and answering them as if the questions were asked face-to-face.

Each new claim should logically flow from the previous one. If you jump around between all sorts of different ideas, people will get confused and feel like you’re trying to trick them. Keep it simple by moving people from one step to the next.

14. In the editing process, you refine your copy to express what you want to express with the fewest words.

The most important role of editing is to remove unnecessary words. This makes your copy more persuasive and easier to read. A lot of people skip this step and end up with rambling copy that doesn’t get great results. The best copy has been edited and refined countless times.

15. The more the mind must work to reach the conclusion successfully, the more positive, enjoyable or stimulating the experience.

You can’t just grab people’s attention, throw out some basic copy, and hope for the best. You need to engage people and get them to form their conclusions with you. If copy is too obvious, people will feel dumb or bored. Then you lose them. Build some intrigue into your copy.

16. Selling a cure is a lot easier than selling a preventative, unless the preventative is perceived as a cure or curative aspects of the preventative are emphasized.

People don’t care about prevention. They’re not willing to spend money to prevent a problem they don’t have yet. Cures on the other hand sell VERY well. Even if you have a preventative service or product, you want to position it as a cure instead of a prevention.

17. Telling a story can effectively sell your product, create the environment or get the reader well into your copy as you create an emotional bonding with your prospect.

People love stories. It’s the single best way to communicate a message and persuade people. Whenever you get stuck and don’t know what to do with your copy, start with a story.

There you have it.

The 17 copywriting axioms of Joseph Sugarman.

If you want to dive into all this and get better at copywriting (one of the most important skills in business), I highly recommend picking up Sugarman’s book.

The hardback version of Advertising Secrets of the Written Word can be pretty hard to get your hands on (copies usually sell between $50 and $300). But the publisher just released a Kindle version for $10.

I’ll show you how to build an unstoppable growth machine. Don’t miss any of my new essays.

I don’t share emails. Ever. And your trust means a great deal to me.

{ 11 comments… add one }
  • Ludvig Sunström December 10, 2013, 9:37 pm

    Very interesting post. Thanks for this Olof!

  • Ludvig Sunström December 10, 2013, 9:37 pm

    * Lars

    Sorry about that 🙂

  • Joseph Sugarman May 7, 2014, 3:27 am

    Would you mind correcting your spelling mistakes (like “ad” and not “add”)? After all you are a copywriter…

    And yes, I pretend to be Joseph Sugarman just to grab your attention. In reality I am just a victim of “smart” copywriters.

    • Lars Lofgren May 7, 2014, 4:14 am

      Good copywriter’s know that small spelling mistakes don’t matter. 😉

      I’ve fixed the ad vs add, I’m sure there are other mistakes too.

  • sheree October 30, 2014, 4:26 pm

    #7 “When trying to solve problems, don’t assume constraints that aren’t really there.” Experimenting and trying different things has become a boon to my business. After getting over initial fear of doing something different, I was able to discover client interests and desires in a way never dreamed possible. Great article. Love it!

  • Alan Young June 8, 2015, 10:06 am

    Great post, I really thought copywriting was hard and something I would never be able to do successfully master until recently. Joseph Sugerman books have made a tremendous improvement in my copywriting ability, it is true anyone really can learn this craft if they learn the methods successful copywriters use! Thanks for the great post 🙂

    • Lars Lofgren June 9, 2015, 5:01 pm

      Thanks Alan! I definitely believe that anyone can dramatically improve their copy skills. Even learning a few of the basics can have a dramatic impact on your career, life, and business.

  • Emette October 29, 2015, 5:38 pm

    Great post. Thanks Lars!


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