5 Copywriting Tactics You Can Steal from Seth Godin

5 Copywriting Tactics You Can Steal from Seth Godin

Seth Godin is known for many things—marketing wizardry, paradigm-shifting books, standing ovation-inducing speech presentations, brief yet profound blog posts, impeccably smooth head, recipient of endless praise, etc.

But there’s one thing I’ve never heard anyone praise him for—sales copy.

It makes sense. I mean how often does Seth Godin write sales copy for anything anymore? He could hire any number of incredible copywriters to do it for him.

So when I received an email in which he linked to five highly recommended holiday gifts, I was treated to a pretty friggin’ sweet surprise…

Seth had personally written several paragraphs of sales copy for each item.

And guess what? I had to throw my wallet across the room to keep from buying every single one of them.

(That’s a lie. My card info’s all in 1Password. But you get the picture.)

He wrote about the following items:

On a more embarrassing note, I was sold enough on the headphones to put them on the Christmas list my mom still requests that I write every year. Thanks in advance, mom!

Having been so affected by Seth’s copy (trust me, it ain’t easy to earn a spot on my Christmas list), I decided to jump headfirst into the copywriting tactics going on in all five of these pieces. I figure we’ll all learn something in the process.

Tactic #1: He reveals the MAGIC

Let’s face it—none of these items are essentials.

No one really needs a $90 flashlight, $100 headphones, etc.

But we sure do like that magical feeling we get when using them. And that’s exactly why Seth taps into that magic early on in almost all of these five items.

Example 1 – Headphones:

Alright, let’s agree that you possess more music, in your pocket, than any human of previous generations could even imagine.

That, in your pocket, right now, are fifty years of pop music, thousands or tens of thousands of songs. Songs from Mali and Liverpool and Austin and that town in Georgia I can never remember the name of–Rome–no, Athens!

It really is easy to forget how spoiled we are with music these days. I remember when my hometown of Florence, Alabama, got a Best Buy when I was 12.

I rejoiced at the exponentially increased availability of CDs…even though there were still CDs that I couldn’t find without taking a trip to Nashville or Huntsville.

Just like Seth says, now, no matter when or where it was recorded, we’ve got it in our pocket.

Now that’s magic.

But wouldn’t it be a shame for that magic to fade in the face of sub-par headphones?

Example 2 – Flashlight:

This is a light sabre.

This is a vessel of fire.

This is the most powerful magic wand you will ever own.

You had me at light sabre, Seth.

Example 3 – Book:

Books of course don’t need batteries, don’t wear out and fit people of every size.

Wait, this thing charges on its own?

What’s that you say? IT DOESN”T HAVE TO BE CHARGED AT ALL?!

What novelty!

We’re so plugged in that the ordinary magic of unplugged things has gained traction once more.

Tactic #2: The “Or Do They” Method

Seth knows that you already have cheap, yet reliable versions of many of these items. And in some cases, you have cheap and more convenient versions.

There’s a key distinction: you aren’t necessarily dissatisfied with your cheap versions of these products.

So what does he do? He immediately attacks your objections by cluing you in on the things you don’t know you’re missing. It’s kind of like he adds an “…or do they?” to all of your objections.

Those free white earbuds that came with my MacBook work just fine…or do they?

The free flashlight apps in the app store give me everything I’ll ever need…or do they?

Streaming Dylan’s catalog on Spotify is way more convenient and, plus, CD’s have no use anymore…or do they?

Seth, of course, doesn’t accomplish this by literally coming out and asking you to question those things. Instead, he starts each piece of copy off by revealing the details that will cause you to question those things.

Example A – The Grado Prestige Headphones:

My guess, if you’re like the masses (at least so far) is that you’re listening through the cheapest white headphones the purchasing agent at the fruit company that made your smartphone could buy.

By Ed Kavishe via Wikimedia Commons

This guy might have a few words for Seth.

Or maybe, just maybe, you were seduced by loud marketing and louder bass and bought a pair of truly lousy headphones that rhyme with pleats. Or almost rhyme with fleeced.

It’s not too late to fix this problem. Not too late to give or get a gift that will completely and totally transform the way you listen to music.

If you don’t feel that you’ve disrespected the entire canon of human music by using crappy headphones after reading that, I don’t know what to tell you.

On second thought, yes I do. If that doesn’t make you feel bad for using Apple earbuds, you just don’t like music all that much.

Example B – The Fenix Flashlight

It will give you peace of mind when the power goes out, get you unlost when you are lost in the woods, and probably save your life one night on a dark road when you wish, really wish, someone had given it to you as a gift.

I’ll admit, my iPhone flashlight is effective enough to make me feel alright about the power going out.

But lost in the woods? Stranded on a dark road?

Hmmm…I wonder how long the iPhone battery will last before I get eaten by— OKAY OKAY GIVE ME THE DAMN FLASHLIGHT, IT IS THE ONLY THING I CAN TRUST IN THIS CRUEL WORLD.

Tactic #3: He taps into our love of “things.”

We’ve traded books for kilobytes, CDs and DVDs for streaming access, tools for apps, craftsmanship for graphic design and pre-programmed usability.

We don’t hold things in our hands anymore. (And before you object…trust me—it’s only a matter of time before your computer can do THAT for you too.)

Instead, we now see things on screens.

But wasn’t it awesome when we did have all those things? Doesn’t thinking back to flipping through a new CD’s liner notes make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside?

That feeling is exactly what Seth taps into throughout his sales copy for these items.

Check out the closing paragraph from his flashlight copy:

Careful, and this part is true, when it’s on full power, it’s so bright it gets hot. When was the last time you felt a flashlight get hot?

Or this line from the Dylan box set, after he finished listing all the objections you might have:

I have no answer to these arguments. None, really, other than to point out just how inspiring it is to hold this volume in your hands, to measure, with a RULER(!) the output of our generation’s greatest troubadour.

Take a look inside...it's my career in a box

Take a look inside…it’s my career in a box

The screens may have capture our eyes, but the things still have the power to capture our hearts. Remember that.

Tactic #4: Good old-fashioned value.

It might not be sexy or unconventional, but always remember that value is something to showcase when it’s there.

The interesting thing, however, is that Seth casually mentions value rather than showcasing it. Take this line from the Dylan box set, for example:

As I write this, the box set delivers more than 40 Dylan albums for less than $5 each.

While you could argue that this says quite a bit about the state of the music industry, it still represents (to the recipient) a bounty, the work of one artist’s genius, fifty years worth of leaping forward.

He instantly keeps that first sentence from feeling too “salesy” by throwing in a smart line about the state of the music industry. You’re sly, Godin. You’re sly.

Remember: If you’re writing about a fantastic product, be confident. You don’t have to make it sound like the bargain of the century. People will pay for excellence IF you convince them of the product’s excellence.

But when you have excellence AND a hot deal, never be afraid to mention the deal. Especially if you can mention it as smoothly as Godin.

Tactic #5: It’s FUN to read.

I wish I could tell you there’s some quick and easy “formula” for creating copy that’s fun to read (somewhere, there’s probably someone selling one), but the fact is that it’s not an exact science.

The reality is that this sense of fun comes from a variety of factors, but—most of all—it comes from one thing…


Sure, you can point to certain things that create the sense of fun: the “magic” factor I mentioned earlier, Seth’s casual tone, the short paragraphs, the little jokes sprinkled throughout…but the root of it all is practice.

Just because Seth Godin takes a hilarious shot at Beats headphones in his copy doesn’t mean you can automatically pull off the same thing.

BUT—and this is a big ass BUT—that also doesn’t mean that you should never attempt to do similar things in your copy.

If you never take risks and introduce new techniques (which will often fail) along the way, you’ll never widen your skillset.

That’s the essence of practice.

Copy can be analyzed and presented in a teachable way, but all the knowledge in the world is useless without that intangible, unexplainable thing called experience.

There is no success formula other than know what has been proven to work most of the time and apply those techniques to your copy while also testing and experimenting in small doses along the way.

Respect and utilize what’s been proven to work, but remember to be bold.

It’s like learning to handle dynamite, except you won’t die when it explodes.

It’s going to backfire. It’s going to blow up in your face. But, over time, you’ll learn how to properly handle these delicate techniques.

And you’ll learn a hell of a lot about copywriting in the process.

Question: How do you plan on using any of Seth’s tactics? Leave a comment below and let me know!

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  • Brandon Triola

    Great post, Will. Also…now I’ve just spent 5 minutes debating to buy a flashlight, looking through previews of that Comedy Book, and untangling my apple ear buds so I could debate whether to throw them away or not…

    • Thanks, Brandon! Haha I know what you mean. I can attest that the headphones live up to the hype.

  • Brandon Triola

    Great post, Will. Also…now I’ve just spent 5 minutes debating to buy a flashlight, looking through previews of that Comedy Book, and untangling my apple ear buds so I could debate whether to throw them away or not…

  • sethgodin

    Can I tell you what made the writing easy? It was about stuff I really liked. This is an underrated essential.

    Thanks for this post. I loved all of it. Nicely done.

    • Never imagined you’d find your way to this post. Thanks so much, Seth! I’m honored.

      Please continue writing about products you love. You could even start a good old-fashioned catalog. I’d be the first to subscribe. 🙂

  • Outstanding concept! I love ad copy. I love to study it. Have read tons about it. This is one of the best explanations and analysis of copy I have ever read. GREAT job!!

    • Thanks Robert! Glad you enjoyed it. I really enjoy your blog.

  • Will, just came to your blog after listening your interview with Copychief…

    And in just one session here I already added 2 articles as favorite ….

    Damm man, you’re content is hot

    • Thanks, Max! That’s great to hear. 🙂

      Curious, what was the other article?

      • Ramit’s one…

        I’ve being following him for a while now, and I feel the same as you…

        IMO he’s one of the best copywriters out there, and your article summed amazingly what he does 🙂

        • Agreed, he’s great. And only gotten better as the years have gone on.