11 Top Secret Recipes for the
Aspiring Copywriting Chef

Copywriting Chef

Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a fondue pot. Stir in 3 tablespoons of flour and cook on low for 2 minutes. Mix in 1 1/2 cups of dry white wine and stir until thick. Slowly stir in 1 1/2 cups grated Swiss Cheese. Beat 4 egg yolks and 2 tablespoons of thick cream and add to mixture. Season with 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg and white pepper. Add a dash of Kirschwasser. Serve with cubes of your favorite breads and diced vegetables.

If copywriting were only as simple as this tasty cheese fondue, writing sales copy would be easy.

Alas, it’s not.

Copywriting is a craft. And those who excel at it do so only after years of study and practice. But once top copywriters attain a high level of skill, they often formulate their own secret recipes to add a kick to their results.

So here are 11 of the best copywriting recipes from some of the world’s greatest salesmen. It’s possible you’ve heard of the first. But it’s doubtful if you’ve ever heard of the other 10.

These are not magic formulas. They are advanced concepts for copywriters who want to add depth, polish, and selling power to their writing. None is perfect for all situations. Each can be useful as a way to guide and analyze your copy.

AIDA — In the copywriting world, this is the recipe most often quoted. It suggests that every successful selling message must attract Attention, arouse Interest, stimulate Desire, and present a compelling call for Action. If any of these elements are missing from your copy, your message will fail. Look closely at the copy of any good Web sales page, catalog, sales letter, or ad, and you will see AIDA at work.

ACCA — Awareness, Comprehension, Conviction, Action. This is similar to AIDA, but Comprehension stresses the importance of clarity and understanding, which is vital for any persuasive message. Also, Conviction is much stronger than Desire. It suggests certainty.

Attention-Interest-Description-Persuasion-Proof-Close — This is another AIDA variation by Robert Collier. Intended for sales letters, it outlines what he thought was the most effective sales sequence.

AAPPA — The eminent Victor O. Schwab suggested this commonsense, clear formula. Get Attention. Show people an Advantage. Prove it. Persuade people to grasp this advantage. Ask for Action.

AIU — This is my own formula that can be used for direct mail envelopes, e-mail messages leading people to a sales page, or postcards leading to a Web site. It stands for Attention, Interest, Urgency. Something about the message must get your Attention and make it stand apart from other messages. This should lead to Interest in the contents of the message and a sense of Urgency to open the envelope, click on a link, or type in a Web address immediately. Notice that it’s an incomplete formula—there is no close to the sale because the purpose here is to get you to find out more.

PPPP — This is a formula by Henry Hoke, Sr. It stands for Picture, Promise, Prove, Push. In many ways, it’s easier to implement than AIDA because it shows you four basic tasks you must perform to make a sale. Picture: Get attention early and create a desire. Promise: Make a meaningful promise or describe benefits and what the product will do. Prove: Demonstrate value and support your promise with testimonials. Push: Ask for the order.

Star-Chain-Hook — This is Frank Dignan’s charming and surprisingly fresh way to approach an advertising message. Hitch your wagon to a Star with an attention-getting opening that is positive and upbeat. Create a Chain of convincing facts, benefits, and reasons and transform attention into interest and interest into desire. Then, Hook them with a powerful call to action, making it easy to respond.

ABC Checklist — William Steinhardt’s formula is more detailed than most and very practical. Attain attention, Bang out benefits, Create verbal pictures, Describe success incidents, Endorse with testimonials, Feature special details, Gild with values, Honor claims with guarantees, Inject action in reader.

The String of Pearls — This is a particular method of writing sales copy. The idea is that you assemble details and string them together in a long line, one after another. Each pearl is complete in some way. Collectively, their persuasive power becomes overwhelming.

The Cluster of Diamonds — Similar to the String of Pearls, this formula suggests assembling a group of details under an umbrella concept. For example, an ad might have the headline “7 Reasons Why You’ll Save Money With XYZ.” The copy would then list these seven reasons. Each detail is a “diamond” in a particular setting.

The Fan Dancer — The analogy here is perfect, though a bit racy. The idea is to tantalize with specific details that never reveal any actual information. It’s like teaser copy or what one influential writer called “fascinations.” For example, let’s say you’re selling a book on reducing your taxes. Part of your copy might read: “The one secret way to pay zero taxes and get away with it — page 32. How the IRS uses your mailing label against you — page 122. Three clever ways to turn a vacation into a business tax deduction even if you don’t own a business — page 158.” As with a fan dancer, you’re left wanting more.

If you don’t fully understand some of these recipes, don’t worry. Keep them handy and be patient. Just as the fine points of cooking escape the novice chef, the fine points of copywriting escape the novice copywriter. But with time and experience you will come to appreciate and savor these recipes.

Dean Rieck is one of today’s top direct marketing copywriters. For tips on copywriting and direct selling, sign up for Dean’s FREE Newsletter or subscribe to the Direct Creative Blog.

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  1. Hey Dean,

    Thanks so much for the ‘secret recipes’. I have in fact heard of the first one, but there were many more new to me. I’ll be doing a further examination of them and seeing if I can apply them.

    Keep up the good work,
    Hafiz Dhanani

  2. Thanks for the alphabet soup :-) Of course, whenver I see “AIDA”, I can’t help but think of Alec Baldwin’s “Coffee is for Closers!” speech in Glengary Glen Ross.

    I can definitely see that I need to add some Fan Dancer strategy to my page – thanks for the prompt.

  3. Exactly what I needed – a primer on the basics. Persuasive copywriting may be the hardest and coolest thing of all to learn out of everything I’ve ever done online.

  4. Thanks Dean, I’m just starting out in copywriting (6 months in) and have been following the AIDA recipe for the most part. It’s interesting for me to see other recipes – I’ll look into each a bit more and see what works best for me.

    Which one do you find yourself using most often?

  5. Wow…didn’t know so many possible copywriting methods actually exist.

    My personal favorite is the ABC method because it filled with such detail and practicality.

    Followed closely by the PPPP method: Picture, Promise, Prove, Push.

  6. Chad: I probably use the AIU formula most, since it’s my own and since I do a lot of direct mail packages. Getting people to open the envelope is key.

  7. Of course, you can mix and match some of these, blending them into your own recipe. But then it sorta turns into: “just write it.”

  8. So many different ways of describing how to attract visitors. A good reference point for trying new angles. Thanks!

  9. Beware, sometimes the technique and style can be so dominant – that they actually compete with the information being presented

  10. To further the cooking metaphor, I like the idea that if you try something and don’t get it quite right, you can try it again later, and tweak a spice or two if you like.

    Also, it’s a great idea to vary the types of techniques you use in your copywriting, especially if you blog.

    That way, you’re not serving the same meal to your readers over and over again. . . So thanks for providing so many different recipes for us to try!

  11. Love this post, but it would be even more useful if you linked to or described good examples of these (or just did five with examples).

  12. This is a very valuable post. Very helpful to what I will be doing next. I’ll like to start with AIU and PPPP first.

    Thank you very much!

    Say Kin Lee

  13. this is a fantastic list! – thanks for sharing this
    i especially liked the AIU – great stuff!!

  14. I must admit that this list is incredible. I am more and more interested in copywriting and reading your blog helps me a lot. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us and I have to say you know how to learn someone something. It is simple, understandable and effective. Thanks.

  15. I’ve just printed this post so I’ve always got it close to hand. One of my ambitions is now going to have to be trying to discover a new one of my own some day.

  16. Hi Dean – I didn’t realise there were so many different methods.

    Copywriting is tough. I’ve written letters and marketing materials for my own business for years, and I’m nowhere near half good at it even.

    Those superstar copywriters deserve every penny they get.

  17. Interestingly, all these ‘recipes’ are based on the AIDA principles however varied they may appear. AIDA still remains the foundational one.

    I share most of these with my copywriting coaching clients because most new copywriters find it hard to write in a structured way.

    Even if you have all the ‘parts’ of the sales letter you still have to assemble them in a logical way.

    Great post!

  18. Can’t believe I’ve never come across this blog before (blush). Boy, do I have some catching up to do. This article alone has certainly got me thinking about my own ‘copy’. Great stuff. Thanks.

  19. interesting post Dean,

    Almost every tip ends up in prompting the reader to action. This is something that has registered in my mind after reading your post. So I have started calling for an action at the end of each post. Very common action I use is request for comments or ask a question and encourage readers to answer them..

    thanks again


  20. I read with great interest your tips ! I found the string of pearls very interesting ! I remember the early days of The Sharper Image elegantly written full page advertisements bursting with copy ! I do not know if this qualifies as strings of pearls but the grain of sand in the oyster grew a few ! Effective communication is an art, your blog proves this !

  21. what a fabulous post. while i can think of many successful exceptions, you can’t go far wrong by judging your work against these benchmarks. thanks for all the time, thought and effort you put into your posts.

  22. This is a keeper. Thank you!

    I plan to use this list to practice writing using a different recipe for the same material. Might be a fun exercise to share with a colleague for feedback.

  23. great post, thanks for that. I have it saved btw. Looking fwd to your upcoming entries

  24. Thanks for all the kind comments. As a practicing copywriter, I can tell you that it’s terrifically difficult to teach people how to write copy. I’m glad so many people find these recipes inspiring.

  25. Thanks for a fantastic post! It’s nice to see “advanced” copywriting articles out there to help us hone our skills.

    To your success,


  26. Thank’s Dean,
    I am just starting out in copywriting and your stuffs helps me a lot.Keep on your good work up to extend.Three cheers for DEANNNNN.

  27. Thank’s Dean, nice post… :-)

  28. great post, thanks for that. I have it saved btw. Looking fwd to your upcoming entries