5 copywriting lessons from Mad Men’s Don Draper

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It’s been 6 years since the iconic TV series Mad Men aired its last episode, but its lessons continue to inspire copywriters. We’ll reminisce on 5 lessons we learned from Don Draper.

Lesson 1 | “You are the product. You feel something. That’s what sells.” 

Don Draper says this in response to Peggy Olsen making a flippant comment that “sex sells”. In regard to this, he says that people who say that also say that monkeys can do copywriting. But any copywriter will know that’s not true. Copywriting is rooted in human behaviour and we should keep sight of who is buying the product. The customer is human, and humans make many decisions based on emotion. We have to tap into our own emotions to get in touch with that. 

Is your copy personal? A great way to check this is by checking your personalism on our tone and sentiment sliders. Sometimes we’re trying to convey our emotion but it doesn’t translate. Something as simple as not using the second person enough can make our writing seem distant. Being able to pick that up on a writing assistant can be a useful second pair of eyes.

Lesson 2 | “Think about it deeply, then forget it, and an idea will jump up in your face.”

This is another example of Don mentoring Peggy. It’s also a good comment on the way we work. Sometimes we get too close to what we’re writing and we get tunnel vision. We’re pouring over our content trying to find just the right word for something and our minds get stuck in a cycle. 

A good way to overcome this is to do an initial brainstorming session, do the research, and then put it to the back of your mind and go outside for a walk, or a run, or take a shower – anything that you find gets your mind to a relaxed state. This slowing down will allow creative ideas to spontaneously pop up where you couldn’t force them to before. 

Lesson 3 | “Advertising is based on one thing: Happiness…”

Another gem from Mr Draper. It’s true that sometimes fear is used in advertising, but happiness and desire always work the best. Occasionally we can get too stuck in a product’s specifications and we forget about what’s going to sell the product – the benefit to the consumer. Remember those emotion-led decisions from earlier. How is any given item going to bring them more happiness? 

You’re not going to find it easy to sell things if your language is too negative, so try to communicate in the positive. Use Readable’s positivity analysis to find out where your copy sits on the positivity scale. If it’s bogged down by too much negativity, take a step back and put yourself in the reader’s shoes. If your reader is shopping for solutions, they want to be persuaded. 

Lesson 4 | “Make it simple, but significant.”

Okay, forgive our shamelessness, but we have to include this one. Simplicity is key. Streamlining your message is a powerful way to get your message across clearly. For example, this mantra would describe Apple’s copywriting style perfectly. It’s crisp and clean, just like their design. 

Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. If you think of simple language and think it’s dumbing things down, it’s time to change your mindset to transform your copy. Using plain language is about opening up. It’s about unlocking a wider audience and unambiguously conveying your message. 

Eight out of ten people will read your content right through to the end when you improve your readability. If your content is a Readable grade A, it will be understood by 85% of people. That’s a big funnel. Test your readability to ensure your copy is clear. 

Lesson 5 | “Success comes from standing out. Not fitting in.”

We’re ending with a zinger, and it’s all about being unique. This is a reminder to not mimic your competitors too much. What is it that makes your product different? What do you do that your competitors don’t? 

We can all fall prey to clichés, buzzwords and lazy language. Readable makes it easy for you to check where you could use more dynamic and engaging language in your copy. You can find our cliché, buzzword and lazy word detectors in your language tools in the Readable editor. 

Laura Kelly

Laura is a freelance writer and worked at Readable for a number of years. Laura is well-versed in optimising content for readability and Readable's suite of tools. She aims to write guides that help you make the most out of Readable.

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