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FutureNow Article
Wednesday, Jun. 11, 2008

Superhero Copywriting Tips: “Holy Persuasion, Batman!”

By Jeff Sexton
June 11th, 2008

future web copy superheroDo you have unique, untapped talents to show the world but find your efforts frustrated, either because you’re an outsider or because your own internal resistance gets in the way?

Would it surprise you to realize that most people self-identify with that description?

At some level, all of us feel alienated — from others, from ourselves, or both. We worry about not living up to our talents, so we gravitate toward things that allow us to feel empowered.

(iPhone 3G, anyone?)

Audiences love superheroes because they dramatize these psychological conflicts in exaggerated, symbolic glory. Superheroes are not only uniquely talented but uniquely broken; their very talent is what alienates them from the same society they struggle to help with their superpowers.

The emotional resonance generated by this formula – even more than their over-the-top action sequences – is the real secret to superhero-sized success at the box office, with 7 of the top 20 biggest movie openings belong to superhero flicks. And with Ironman, we’re starting to see even the less popular comic book heroes transform into smash hits — a superhero plot in itself.

So my advice is simple: Borrow these same elements to magnetize your copy and draw popular readership. Speak to the inner superhero in them. Here’s how…

The Three Essential Traits of Superhero Web Copy:

  1. Superheroes are outsiders – learn to see like an outsider, to appeal to the outsider, and to give other outsiders an insider’s insight into your area of expertise. You don’t think all those “for Dummies” books succeeded by freak accident, do you? Provide readers a free pass to cross daunting knowledge barriers and they’ll feel like they’ve just been given the ability to fly.
  2. Superheroes want to overcome limitations, their “brokenness”, and use their “freakish” gifts productively. Learn to appeal to one or both of these needs in your audience, either by showing readers how to overcome their own personal “suck factors” or by helping them use their natural talents to thwart evil. (43 Folders does an incredible job at the former, and Creating Passionate Users remains a perfect example of the latter.)
  3. Superheroes’ motives are bound to the greater good. Ensure that your copy is directed toward the good of your readers. Remember, they should be the hero within the drama unfolded by your copy. In a way, self-centered copywriters and selfish bloggers behave like super-villains who try to game the system. But in the end, “we-we” copy never really wins.

Do these three things and your copy will draw enough fans to make even Spider-Man jealous.

To Be Continued…

If you liked this post, join me over the next few weeks for a technique-driven, step-by-step look at how to turn your company’s hidden superpowers into web copy that performs wonders.

. .

About the Author: Jeff Sexton is a Persuasion Architect at FutureNow, Inc. Yes, that’s his real title and, yes, his superpowers can be harnessed to persuade speeding visitors to take action.

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Comments (8)

  1. Excellent article Jeff.

    ‘If only I could fly like a super hero with my copy.’

    Maybe one day I could be more like SuperCopyMan, aka Jeff Sexton. :-)

  2. I am a super hero!!

    Great post Jeff. I would like to underscore the number 3

    Superheroes’ motives are bound to the greater good. Ensure that your copy is directed toward the good of your readers. Remember, they should be the hero within the drama unfolded by your copy. In a way, self-centered copywriters and selfish bloggers behave like super-villains who try to game the system. But in the end, “we-we” copy never really wins.

    This has been a struggle around these parts but we are moving into that realm, slowly but surely.

  3. Yes – we love super heroes. We love heroes – period. From fireside storytelling to the amazing high tech Marvel Comics renditions of the Hulk and Ironman, we gravitate to these stories.

    One – because we love a good story.

    But what makes a good story? The struggle – the hero, someone with a challenge to overcome, a weakness, an incredible burden, a failure, a loss – finding their power to accomplish, rescue, become strong, claim their identity, reach their goal.

    It’s the classic power of a before and after shot – if you can get people to identify with your before picture and believe that they can get to the after picture – if you can convince them that they can take this hero’s journey, you’re tapping into one of the oldest, almost instinctive draws to human nature.

    As a copywriter, the best nugget I can find when writing for a product is that beautiful nugget of story that shows how the reader can indeed transcend limitations, achieve, realize – or more eloquently – Hulk Smash!

  4. You guys have to be the best at copy writing suggestions. As a matter of fact I was reading “Call to Action” last night and on page 78 there’s the line about copy needing to be long enough to cover the essentials, yet short enough to be interesting. Keep up the great work and thanks for all of the great info!

  5. Repeat appreciation for “…self-centered copywriters and selfish bloggers behave like super-villains who try to game the system.”

    There is a lot of linkbaiting and article writing that is narcissistic and focused on “me, myself and I.” In addition, most companies write content about themselves rather than about the needs of the customer.

    This made me wonder how many people are optimizing (without realizing it) for “our company,” “our products” or “our services.” Google these phrases for fun.

    Your article helped me draw a parallel to training principles. One always wants the audience to leave feeling good about themselves, to feel empowered.

    And you left us with a cliffhanger… To be continued… When?

  6. fun flicks…

    As you seem to know what your doing blogging wise, do you know what the best time of the week is to blog and have them read?…

  7. fun flicks,

    I know that there have been studies done for e-mail newsletters regarding best day of the week and there are plenty of people out there that will swear by one day over the others for blog posts (Tuesday is a popular choice), but I’d seriously reconsider the mindset behind your question for 2 reasons:

    1) It’s taking your focus off of CONTENT. Write great stuff, and write it consistently. Do that and you’ll develop a readership who will pick up on your posts regardless of the day you publish. Worrying about the posting date should be a distant afterthought to creating great content.

    2) The actual best day for posting for your blog may be considerably different from the answers you’ll receive based on “traditional wisdom.” Just because Tuesdays work like gangbusters for some people doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be your best day. Your mileage may vary considerably. If posting day is worth worrying about – and I seriously doubt that it is – then it’s worth figuring out based on your own experimentation and data collection for your specific industry/blog/readership/etc.

    Hope this helps.

  8. renditions parallel to training principles. One always wants the audience of the Hulk high tech Marvel Comics and Worrying about the posting Ironman, we regardless of the day you publish.

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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