Write on Target: The Direct Marketer’s Copywriting Handbook

Renée J. Fontenot (Department of Marketing, New Mexico State University)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 1 April 2000




Fontenot, R.J. (2000), "Write on Target: The Direct Marketer’s Copywriting Handbook", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 17 No. 2, pp. 172-185. https://doi.org/10.1108/jcm.2000.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Few books are written, as Write on Target is, that are able to so fully serve the needs of the beginning direct response copywriter as a reference and how‐to‐manual for copywriting. This is a book that belongs on the desk of the novice direct response copywriter alongside other reference works such as the dictionary and thesaurus. Experienced copywriters who are looking for a refresher on techniques that are proven to work will find this book useful and informative.

Throughout the book there are real examples that clarify and serve as models for each of the aspects of copywriting that the authors discuss. Because the examples are real and not mock illustrations, they provide credibility and added interest for the reader. Each component of an example is explained so that the reader may fully understand the depth and complexity of each element within the lesson. There are no assumptions that the reader must try to decipher for themselves. Where appropriate, checklists are provided that serve both as a guide and as a final confirmation that important elements are not overlooked by a copywriter.

The book is well laid out, with the title of each chapter clearly indicating the contents discussed within the chapter. The authors write in easy‐to‐read language, avoiding jargon unless it is first defined. They begin with a basic introduction defining the role of the direct response copywriter. Chapter One: Copy: What It Is and What It Can Do succinctly states the reason why this book is a must read by anyone interested in direct marketing: so readers can produce “messages that are useful, copy that is targeted, will be able to persuade...to sell” (p. 3).

Chapter Two: Writing to a Market delineates the importance of target marketing better than most marketing books. The authors stay focused on telling the reader how the right copy can make a difference in attracting an audience’s attention. Readers are directed beyond the obvious and typical market segmentation approaches to possible sources through which the direct marketer might gain better insight about the segmentation tools and how they might be used.

It is not enough to simply write a letter to a prospective customer asking them to try your product. Direct mail, as is pointed out in Chapter Three: Anatomy of a Package, must be a carefully planned and executed set of integrated components that lead the intended recipient to open, read, and act upon the information contained within. The authors stress the importance of not overselling or making false promises in an effort to move a recipient towards the desired response.

Taking the main elements from Chapter Three, i.e. the “individual components of this powerhouse marketing tool” (p. 46), the authors further extend the reader’s understanding of their role and importance in the next four chapters. Chapter Four: The Envelope, Please, details the importance of choosing the right envelope and the message it should convey. “Response is the end result of every word you write” (p. 87) and Chapter Five: The Response Form gives the direct marketing copywriter plenty of examples and means for getting consumers to respond. Chapter Six: The Letter explains the various roles the letter can perform as well as how to write a letter that will get the “interest and action” (p. 107) a marketer desires. Finally, Chapter Seven: Brochures details the complementary role brochures play in telling the consumer more about a product.

Completing the book this far gives one the sense of empowerment. By this point even a novice should feel sufficiently armed with the knowledge to venture forth to try their ability at developing and writing copy aimed at a targeted audience, in a suitable direct marketing package that should arouse interest and gain response. However, the book does not stop here but continues with five more chapters filled with informative and useful techniques aimed at getting a message in front of an audience and garnering their response.

A brief history of the development of catalogs begins Chapter Eight: Catalog Copy. It may seem as though writing copy for a catalog should be easy since it often seems to have the mere task of complementing the pictures, but this is deceiving. Catalog copywriters are often charged with the added task of not simply writing attractive copy but following tight guidelines for giving specific information within limited space constraints. The importance of catalog copy is best summarized as: “The next time someone says to you, ‘I never read catalog copy,’ ask how he or she places an order without knowing if the product is really what it appears to be. Ultimately, it’s the copy that closes the sale” (p. 162).

Not all direct response advertising is direct mail, as is detailed in Chapter Nine: Direct Response Print Ads. The most critical element in a direct response print ad is the headline. The authors present and explain John Caples’ five rules for writing headlines. The other key elements of a direct response print ad, the response form and body copy, are also discussed.

Twenty‐one detailed tips on making TV and radio commercials more memorable and effective are part of the discussion included in Chapter Ten: Copy That’s Said, Not Read: TV, Radio, and Telephone Marketing. The importance of identifying the benefits that stimulate consumers’ interest in a product is key to the development of an effective telemarketing campaign. The development of scripts, including closing methods, is also explained.

One of the newest marketing media forms, the Internet, is the topic of Chapter Eleven: Copywriting for Online Media. The authors do not tell you how to write HTML or how to do Java Scripting. They do give detailed and complete guidelines, including several checklists, that will allow the direct market copywriter to make the most out of their Internet presence.

Saving perhaps the best for last, Chapter Twelve: The Ethics of Advertising reminds the reader that it is the ethical responsibility of the direct mail copy to tell the truth. Consumers are more skeptical and more informed than ever before; they are not easily fooled, and a marketer should never try to trick the customer. Reputation, honesty, fairness, and a commitment to quality and value to the customer should be the hallmark conveyed by copywriters.

This book fulfills the promise made in its title – it is truly a “handbook” that serves as a primer to copywriting and an instruction manual for direct marketers.

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