Do the Old Rules Still Apply?

The old formula, developed by experts at direct response press advertising many years ago, is still a good starting point for copy structure. This is known as ‘AIDCA’ (though usually pronounced without the C) – attention, interest, desire, conviction, action.

Here’s the thinking behind it.

  • You won’t have any readers unless you gain their attention. Attention on its own won’t get a response. You have to move quickly on by stimulating the reader’s interest.
  • However strongly interested, the reader won’t act unless he or she really wants. You have to convert interest in the subject matter into desire to do something about it. And a belief that the donor really can do something about it.
  • Even this is not enough to secure a donation. Before parting with any money the skeptical reader will need convincing that his or her money will be well spent and will achieve what you claim.
  • If you stop here, you still won’t get any money. You have to direct the donor to the action you want him or her to take, showing how easy it is, and why it is important to do it now.
  • Most good copywriting practitioners these days include several ‘calls to action’ throughout the appeal letter. It is a mistake to leave it to the end.
  • If you have the nerve to write in a very familiar way towards your reader, you’ll find that you can gain the reader’s trust by being disarmingly frank about concerns, things that have gone wrong etc.
  • Empathy with what the signatory is struggling with or trying to achieve can be a very powerful thing if used properly.

Remember, the power of a letter is that it is (or can be) a private communication between one person and another. Don’t waste this very valuable feature by using third person, newsletter style copy. Ask yourself: what will get a more attentive hearing? A soapbox rant by megaphone. Or a quiet word in the ear from someone who needs your help?

Written by Chris Stoddard; courtesy FR Strategy