Compelling copy draws readers

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The Chasers are fond of copy that carries its message on the wings of well-chosen words. The writing should be in active voice rather than passive; short words and short sentences create a lively rhythm; and frequent use of the personal pronoun "you" engenders a more conversational tone. In short, the copy must sparkle.

Unfortunately, b-to-b copywriters don't get to rhapsodize about the virtues of an expensive sports car or a luxurious resort—products that naturally seem to lend themselves to poetic turns of phrase. Try sounding Shakespearean when your task is to tout new technology designed to improve the performance of multiheaded software products.

But it is possible to write sparkling copy about less-than-glamorous products and services. And it is possible to write conversationally while delivering the kind of technical information engineers, members of purchasing committees or other decision-makers need to know. We found several outstanding examples of the always-challenging straddle between the conversational and the technical.

We weren't being facetious when we said you can make a technology designed to improve the performance of multiheaded software products sound engaging. Hewlett-Packard Co. managed to do it in an ad for its ProLiant BL460c server blade. In an ad clearly targeting plant engineers, copy speaks their language but in a way that sounds like one friend telling another about a good thing: "Thanks to our intuitive Thermal Logic Technology, now you can assess your power usage and system temperature so you can respond to changing needs. The graphical thermal dashboard provides you with an instant snapshot of the power consumption, heat output and cooling capacity of your environment—all on one screen. With the HP system, you'll have the ability to lower power usage and heat without sacrificing performance."

The brightly turned copy invites readers to stay on track as it delivers the benefit of efficiently controlling power usage. It's evident that the copywriter had a keen grasp of what the product actually does and what it can deliver to an end-user. The writer could have played it safe, stuck to the script and made the copy sound like a spec sheet. But what's the point?

Copy in an ad for Cisco Systems sings thanks to the formula we described in the opening paragraph of this column: "On the human network, people everywhere are experiencing a new kind of day. … Welcome to a place where wikis, collaborative applications and social networks are making us smarter, better and faster. Welcome to a network where anything is possible. Because when we're together, we're more powerful than we could ever be apart."

The superbly written copy keeps readers on the hook to the last line, when it invites them to learn about the human network at its Web site. There's no doubt in our mind that readers will at least reach that critical point in the ad because of the deft handling of the copy.

The copywriter for an ad for Dassault Falcon Jet Corp., maker of corporate jets, all but puts its target audience of corporate executives into one of the well-appointed seats aboard the aircraft: "You're flying into the future—on the incredible Falcon 7X. First to enjoy the precision smoothness of fly-by-wire. With the power and security of tri-jet design. The serene comfort of an ultra-quiet cabin. And wings that sweep you 5,950 nautical miles across oceans and continents with an efficiency that others can only imagine." Note how the writer takes creative liberties with the sentence structures by stringing together a series of fragments that drive the message ahead at supersonic speed.

Admire the storytelling quality of the copy in an ad for Cargill Inc.: "Conventional wisdom would tell you small farms can't operate as efficiently as large ones. But in Poland, Cargill is going beyond the conventional to help small livestock farmers compete. Large farms in Europe have traditionally had the advantage of feed delivery services while small producers must travel to dealers to buy the few bags they require. So Cargill worked with feed dealers to bring the store to the farm on trucks that efficiently deliver small feed orders on a regular schedule…." It's a well-told problem-solution scenario thanks to crisp-sounding copy.

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