The Adweek Copywriting Handbook: Book Review

What’s the secret to crafting copy that instantly grabs attention, draws readers in, and motivates them to take action?

According to legendary copywriter Joseph Sugarman, it all comes down to understanding human psychology. Harness that, and you hold the power to persuade.

In The Adweek Copywriting Handbook, Sugarman condenses decades of front-line experience into a comprehensive playbook for writing high-converting copy. He draws back the curtain on human behavior to expose the inner desires, fears and triggers that all compelling copy targets.

Let’s dive in to extract the key lessons from Sugarman’s swipe file of secrets.

Who is Joseph Sugarman, the Author

Joseph Sugarman

Joseph Sugarman is an American entrepreneur and a pioneer in the field of direct response marketing. He is the founder and former chairman of BluBlocker Corporation, which sold sunglasses through direct response ads and infomercials.

Sugarman has written over 300 direct response television commercials and is renowned for his ability to craft persuasive copy that converts. He has been inducted into the Direct Response Hall of Fame and the Direct Marketing Association Hall of Fame for his contributions to the industry.

The Adweek Copywriting Handbook condenses Sugarman’s proven copywriting techniques into an accessible guide for new and intermediate copywriters. Backed by decades of hands-on experience, Sugarman provides practical tips and strategies in the book to help copywriters craft compelling messages that sell.

Overview of the Book

The Adweek Copywriting Handbook

The Adweek Copywriting Handbook is structured into 25 short chapters, each focused on a specific aspect of crafting effective copy. The book covers the entire copywriting process, from understanding your audience to writing compelling headlines and calls-to-action.

Some of the key topics covered in the book include:

  • Getting inside the customer’s mind: Understanding customer motivations, objections, and psychology to craft messages that resonate.
  • Headline and subject line writing: Creating headlines that stop the reader and compel them to keep reading.
  • Crafting compelling leads: Opening copy with impact to draw readers in.
  • Persuasive writing techniques: Using rhetorical strategies like repetition, social proof, irony etc. to influence readers.
  • Storytelling: Using narratives strategically to craft relatable and memorable copy.
  • Calls-to-action (CTA): Motivating customers to take the desired action through clear CTAs.
  • Direct response techniques: Strategies for writing copy optimized for response and conversions.
  • Reviewing and testing copy: Iterating and improving copy through rigorous testing.

The book provides examples of successful advertisements and copy from Sugarman’s portfolio to illustrate effective copywriting techniques. It also includes writing exercises and worksheets for readers to put the concepts into practice.

Key Highlights and Takeaways

Here are some of the key highlights and lessons from The Adweek Copywriting Handbook:

  • Know your audience inside out: Good copy is always written from the reader’s perspective. Thoroughly understanding your target audience’s hopes, fears, interests and objections enables you to craft copy that speaks directly to them.
  • Focus on benefits over features: Customers ultimately buy for emotional reasons rather than logical ones. Effective copy focuses on the benefits, feelings and transformations that the product or service enables, rather than just its features.
  • Headlines make or break response rates: Compelling headlines can increase open and response rates by up to 500%. But most headlines fail because they focus on the advertiser rather than the customer.
  • Tell stories that sell: Human brains are wired to respond to stories. Using narratives allows you to engage emotions, build relationships and communicate ideas more memorably.
  • Use persuasive writing techniques: Strategies like repetition, social proof, scarcity and specificity can subtly influence readers over the course of your copy.
  • Write conversational copy: Adopting a conversational tone builds trust and rapport with readers. It avoids an overly salesy or formal style.
  • Test and iterate constantly: Copy improvement is a continuous process. Use split testing and reader feedback to refine copy and increase its selling potential.

The core message is that effective copy is customer-focused, benefit-driven and psychologically astute. Keeping the reader’s perspective and motivations at the heart of your copy will make it more compelling and converting.

Critique and Review

The Adweek Copywriting Handbook offers an excellent entry point for aspiring copywriters looking to grasp the fundamentals of effective copywriting. Seasoned copywriters may find some of the lessons basic, but the book can serve as a handy reference guide on core copywriting principles.

The biggest strength of the book lies in Joseph Sugarman’s deep expertise in direct response copywriting. Readers get access to time-tested formulas, techniques, and examples that Sugarman has honed over his long and successful career writing high-converting copy.

The chapters on customer psychology provide great insights into how to get inside the reader’s mind and craft copy that targets their desires, fears, and motivations. Sugarman stresses the importance of focusing on emotional benefits over features, using compelling narratives, and adopting a conversational tone—all evidenced-based copywriting best practices.

However, the tight focus on direct response copywriting also represents a weakness. Readers interested in crafting unique brand narratives and conceptual copy may find the techniques laid out too formulaic and salesy. The book provides less guidance on writing copy aimed at brand-building versus copy optimized for direct response.

With the rise of digital marketing and social media, the book could have offered more insights into writing effective copy for online formats. Much of the advice centers heavily around traditional media like print, radio, and television. Covering strategies tailored for digital lead generation, website copy, email campaigns, social media ads, etc. would expand the book’s usefulness for modern copywriters.

As it stands, the highly direct response approach may not appeal to copywriters looking to produce innovative branding campaigns or conceptual creative work. Those interested in creative brand storytelling may find the techniques too limiting.

Additionally, the book does not delve too far into copy research, planning, and strategic thinking. It focuses mainly on copy execution and tactics for persuasion. Expanding on the upstream marketing and research processes that inform great copy could provide more context for readers.

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Overall, The Adweek Copywriting Handbook succeeds as a primer for aspiring copywriters to develop core skills in benefit-focused, direct response copywriting. The lessons on customer psychology and persuasive writing will aid any copywriter.

However, the tight focus on direct response copy limits its usefulness for conceptual creative copywriting. The book serves well as a playbook for clear, benefit-driven copy aimed squarely at driving conversions.